Obama inquired about use of white phosphorus by US military in 2005

For many anti-war activists who are dismayed with Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan, his vast assertions of “wartime” executive power and sporadic strikes on supposed hotbeds like Yemen, it could be interesting to view a letter sent by the then-Senator to the Department of Defense on 1 Dec 2005:

Obama's letter to Rumsfeld on white phosphorus in Fallujah

The letter is part of a large collection of Congressional Correspondence between Senator Obama and the Pentagon between 2005 and 2008 that was posted on the DoD reading room just yesterday. The letter posted above can be found in the 26 MB PDF on page 33.

A transcribed version of the text will be posted later.

Update: Here is the transcribed text of the letter:

December 1, 2005

The Honorable Donald Rumsfeld
Department of Defense
The Pentagon
Washington, D.C. 20301

Dear Secretary Rumsfeld:

I am writing to express my concern over reports of civilian casualties arising from the U.S. military’s use of white phosphorus in Iraq, and to urge your office to thoroughly investigate these incidents.

I understand that while the United States is a party to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), it has not ratified Protocol III of that convention, which regulates the use of incendiary weapons, such as white phosphorus. As a result, the United States has not agreed to ban the use of white phosphorus against military targets. Nonetheless, any use of white phosphorus — or any other incendiary weapon which ignites on exposure to oxygen and can burn human skin down to the bone if not extinguished — in an area with a large civilian population is deeply troubling.

Initially, the Department of Defense claimed that the white phosphorus was used only for illumination purposes, but the Department later admitted that in fact it was used to target insurgents in Fallujah. I do not question the honor and integrity of our brave men and women fighting in Iraq, but I am concerned that the use of such a weapon in a highly populated location like Fallujah may undermine a critical aspect of our mission there: winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.

Allegations that white phosphorus may have resulted in the death or injury of civilians are serious, and I ask that your office make the investigation of this issue a priority, for the people of Iraq, for our soldiers, and for the American public.

I look forward to your response within the next ten days.


Barack Obama

United States Senator


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