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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 April, 2005, 14:31 GMT 15:31 UK
Did BBC ignore weapons claim?
The BBC has been accused of failing to investigate claims that the US used banned weapons in Iraq. Is it ignoring the story or has it done its best to seek out the truth?

A US troop watches the sun rise in Iraq
The US has been accused of using banned weapons in Iraq

There are several reports on the internet claiming that the United States used banned weapons in Iraq, especially during its assault on Falluja.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, these articles have been picked up on by some of the BBC's more web-savvy audiences.

And several have emailed in, demanding to know why the BBC has not reported on these allegations - some even suggesting the BBC was ignoring the claims because it was biased towards the US.

We asked Director of News Helen Boaden whether the BBC had, as is claimed, ignored the reports.

Below, she gives an insight into how BBC correspondent Paul Wood has so far failed to see any evidence of the use of banned weapons.

During the assault on Falluja, Paul Wood - one of our correspondents who was an "embed" with the US troops in Falluja - said that he saw no evidence of the use of such weapons.

Paul believes that if the US military were going to use banned weapons, the troops would have to be briefed in advance
Helen Boaden

He also said that there was never any reference made to them at the confidential pre-assault military briefings he attended.

I'd like to quote Paul who said: "The character of the fighting that I saw was bloody, old-fashioned clearing of houses and buildings street by street, block by block, the kind of fighting which is done with little more than an M16 and a handful of grenades.

"It doesn't make sense to use mustard gas, nerve agents, other chemical agents or nuclear devices - to quote the Al Jazeera story - in such a small space also occupied by your own forces.

"The Americans certainly did possess terrifying weapons, such as 155mm artillery, or M1 A1 Abrams tanks, and I questioned the Marines about the use of such powerful arms in an area which might still contain civilians.

"But I repeat the point made by my editors, over many weeks of total access to the military operation, at all levels, we did not see banned weapons being used, deployed, or even discussed. We cannot therefore report their use.

"Of course, we keep an open mind and will always investigate, and report, any hard evidence which comes to light."

Paul was never stopped from going into any meeting he asked to go into.

A US tank
An Abrams tank crushes an old car as it patrols the streets of Falluja

He was embedded at battalion level but, for instance, he did show up several times (and film) at the colonel's morning meeting with senior staff, where orders were given out.

Quoting Paul again, he said: "I attended the eve of battle briefing for the battalion, at which there were slides and folders with "Top Secret" stamped all over them.

"At this briefing, we were given exactly the same information as the officers who were about to command the Marines in battle. We knew what they knew.

"There was incredibly sensitive information, such as the latest satellite imagery of the insurgents and the distilled human intelligence, such as it was, on the insurgents' movements and strength.

'Total access'

"We were, of course, covered by the rules of the embed, which were particularly strict about operational security. That meant I couldn't go on air with the battle plan before it started, or at any stage go into details about the exact rules of engagement.

"Total access also meant access on the ground, going out with individual patrols, hearing the orders as they were given out, seeing how they were implemented."

Paul Wood
Correspondent Paul Wood attended top military briefings

Paul believes that if the US military were going to use banned weapons, the troops would have to be briefed in advance. At the meetings he attended there was no such briefing.

Paul stresses that the point about these kinds of banned weapons is that they do not discriminate between friendly and enemy forces. That means you have to make sure your troops know and you have to make sure they have the necessary nuclear, chemical and biological (NBC) kit.

Paul said: "We would have seen the Americans in full NBC kit, much as they were when they fought their way up to Baghdad in March 2003. That is why I just don't think it plausible that these weapons were used."

Compellingly, Paul Wood has had meetings with the relevant specialists at Human Rights Watch, who have been very tough on the US military as regards abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Paul asked them specifically about banned weapons in Falluja. They said they had heard the claims, had made some investigations, and had found no evidence that such weapons had been used.

In summary, BBC News will continue to do what we can to find independent verification of these claims.

However, it would not be responsible journalism for the BBC to report such claims without having found hard evidence that they are correct.


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