Byline: Carole Fader
Times-Union readers want to know:
An email I received quotes U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho as saying that chemical warfare has been used "probably 20 times" since the Gulf war. Is that true?
The Florida Republican, whose district covers part of Clay County, told Fox Business Network on Sept. 4 that, "if you go back to the Iraq war, it's been used probably 20 times since then, and I just question the motive of right now in America acting out in the lead of this. I think it's wrong for America."
PolitiFact.com, a Pulitzer Prize-winning project of the Tampa Bay Times, looked into that claim and found that the number depends on how you define a chemical attack and the timeframe you're including.
The 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, under which 189 countries agreed to eliminate chemical weapons, has specific definitions for chemical weapons and controlled substances. The definitions don't include improvised use of industrial chemicals, or certain gases when used by police.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which oversees the Chemical Weapons Convention, officially acknowledges just one chemical attack since 1990 - by a Japanese cult using homemade sarin gas on the Tokyo subway that killed 13 people and sickened thousands on March 20, 1995.
The last use by a country, OPCW reports, was by Iraq in 1988, before the Gulf war. Whether Syria actually used deadly gas last month, is still being investigated.
"There have been numerous other alleged uses of chemical weapons in the Middle East during the period after the Gulf war, but none has been shown to involve standard chemical weapons [by OPCW's definitions]," OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan told PolitiFact.com.
In several countries during the "Arab Spring" protests of 2010 and 2011, for example, there were allegations involving the use of tear gas. But tear gas is allowed in riot control by security forces, Luhan told PolitiFact.com. Other allegations included the use of white phosphorus in Fallujah, Iraq, and the Palestinian city of Gaza, but the convention also allows those chemicals "to illuminate or obscure the battlefield."
When Yoho talked to Fox Business News, his comment came in the context of the Chemical Weapons Convention, PolitiFact.com noted:
"You know, this all goes back to the CWC agreement ... that stated that any country that produces, transports, stores or sells chemical weapons or weapons of mass destruction are in violation."
So when Yoho mentioned "probably 20" attacks since 1990, PolitiFact. …