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Friday, June 10, 2005

What A Scream


Israel is considering using an unusual new weapon against Jewish settlers who resist this summer's Gaza Strip evacuation — a device that emits penetrating bursts of sound that leaves targets reeling with dizziness and nausea.

Security forces could employ the weapon to overcome resistance without resorting to force, their paramount aim. But experts warn that the effects of prolonged exposure are unknown.

The army employed the new device, which it dubbed "The Scream," at a recent violent demonstration by Palestinians and Jewish sympathizers against Israel's West Bank separation barrier.

Protesters covered their ears and grabbed their heads, overcome by dizziness and nausea, after the vehicle-mounted device began sending out bursts of audible, but not loud, sound at intervals of about 10 seconds. An Associated Press photographer at the scene said that even after he covered his ears, he continued to hear the sound ringing in his head.
The military officials said Israel is constantly trying to bring new non-lethal weapons into the field but wouldn't disclose details. Its current arsenal includes tear gas as well as rubber-coated steel bullets, which have caused dozens of Palestinian fatalities.

Critics say Israel, with all its military technology savvy, should have done more in the years since the first Palestinian uprising began in 1987 to develop non-lethal weapons for use against hostile Palestinian masses.

Troops often turn to live fire, sometimes against teenage Palestinian stone-throwers. Police, too, used deadly force in October 2000 to put down rioting by Israeli Arabs at the start of the second Palestinian uprising. Thirteen Israeli Arabs were killed in those riots, and a commission of inquiry found that police used excessive force.

Israel's B'Tselem human rights group says Israeli security officers don't come equipped to police protests. "Although they could have anticipated they would have to disperse crowds, they didn't equip themselves with non-lethal means," spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli said.

Now I find myself in a real quandry, and maybe you folks can help me out.  Obviously I would like to find non-lethal ways to provide order and protect people in dangerous situations.  However, I get worried about non-lethal force because it still is a form of violence and can easily be abused by the government to prevent active resistance to policies by the people.

Maybe that sounds weird, but consider how our precision guided munitions have made wars a bit more palatable for many people.  Oh sure, we still have collateral damage and all, but we don't have to engage in massive bombing campaigns that might weaken support at home and abroad for a war like we saw during Vietnam.  War becomes "cleaner" and hell, when you compare our killing 25,000 Iraqis to the millions of Vietnamese (or Germans and Japanese) we killed, heck it's just a rounding error.

Similarly, police or military action to prevent a population from demonstrating against government actions can become more acceptable and make it harder to garner mass public support for a cause.  "Oooh, you were a little sick to your stomach and suffered some hearing loss.  Well, that's what you get for demonstrating against the USA PATRIOT ACT!"

Or am I all washed up here?  Seriously, I'm trying to get my head around this but I'm having a hard time--maybe it's just the heat and humidity.  Any thoughts are much appreciated.


June 10, 2005 | Permalink


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seems to me that something like "the Scream" is begging for countermeasures. Earplugs, etc.

it may seem a bit fatuous an answer, but i think the best defense is not always the most complicated one.

Posted by: watertiger | Jun 10, 2005 11:58:47 AM

to clafiry: the creation of methods of non-lethal force like this will inevitably lead to the creation of means to combat that force.

Posted by: watertiger | Jun 10, 2005 11:59:58 AM

It's not the 'maybe' part of this whole thing, it's the 'when'. Our government WILL use this against its own people. The temptation to disrupt demonstrations will be too great.

Like the 'ray' that can overheat a single person or make him hear voices no one else hears, this will become a crowd control issue. We will have a few deaths (either instant or delayed); there will be a suit, a trial, and at long last, a verdict against the manufacturer and the government. But by that time it will be 20 to 30 years down the road and the weaponry will be firmly incorporated into our police force and military.

And like Watertiger said, (and I think we discussed it here much earlier) on the ray equipment, they have already found simple foil wrap deflects the effects. Talk about tinfoil hats!

Just envision the demonstrators of the future...goggles and bandanas for tear gas, and wrapped like baked potatoes for the ray guns....

Posted by: ellroon | Jun 10, 2005 12:10:51 PM

First, anything can be lethal if used the right way. This reminds me of the discussion about Tasers on Digby's blog.

Anyway, I can see your dilema. On the one hand, a presumably non-lethal way of handing such a situal is obviously proferable to a lethal method. But then, it also makes the submission of the masses easier, and our acceptance of non-lethal brutality easier.

That's what scares me--this isn't about stopping criminals, it's about stopping protesters. It's about stopping the right to peacably assemble. It's about stopping our ability to address government wrongs. But then, I guess you folks know that.

Ultimately? This is a very bad thing.

Posted by: Tlachtga | Jun 10, 2005 12:41:04 PM

I am unambiguous in condemning this weapon and all similar "nonlethal" weapons that inflict excruciating pain. They are implements of torture, and I do not use the word lightly. I'd be willing to bet "the scream" is eventually found to inflict permanent damage on many victims, and that it will kill some of them. Do you believe in the death penalty for protesters? I can think of some people in power who almost certainly do.

Someone mentioned Tasers. In many places (UK, for example), Taser use is authorized only in situations where deadly force is authorized and would otherwise be employed. Similar restrictions should be placed on "the scream," and it should never be used for crowd control at a protest: it is an indiscriminate collective punishment of everyone in the vicinity.

I don't care if it is effective. Tossing a grenade into the middle of a crowd is also effective; does that justify doing so?

Posted by: Steve Bates | Jun 10, 2005 1:00:49 PM

Anything used to make innocent people do things against their will is force. Anything that allows the police, government or military to prevent peaceful protest and assembly by force is supression and wrong. Just because this is non-lethal just makes it possible to go all wishy-washy in opposing it. This is one of those black and white things. It's the same argument about how much pain can you inflict on someone before it becomes torture. The reality is that even suggesting that you will inflict pain on someone in your custody is torture. The end never justifies the means.

Posted by: Fallenmonk | Jun 10, 2005 1:43:27 PM

Don't panic dude, this has been around for years. Formerly known as "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida".

Posted by: Hubris | Jun 10, 2005 2:38:49 PM

I too have mixed feelings. Let's leave speculation about how these devices MIGHT be used in the future aside for a moment. You have to judge this in context. The context here is not US police using this device on Americans. Ultimately, it's about Israeli disengagement and about getting hardline, extremist settlers who would love nothing more than to kill Arabs and cause problems for Israel to get their butts out of Gaza.

One thing I know for sure is that some of the Israeli settlers WILL need to be forced out of Gaza. That's not a possibility, it's guaranteed. The Israeli government knows this too. So they're doing everything they can to try to find ways of forcing the settlers without having to resort to bullets. A side benefit is that it will help in crowd control in other situations as well.

The baseline understanding is very clear: Jews don't kill other Jews. That's why the assassination of Rabin was such a huge deal -- it violated the fundamental assumption that we can disagree with each other without resorting to violence. There's enough people in this world who hate Jews and want to kill them; we should not be doing it to each other. (Yes, I am a Jew, if that's not obvious).

To see news coverage of Jews killing other Jews in the Gaza pullout would be considered a huge, catastrophic failure. It would be a PR nightmare and would set off a political firestorm in Israel. So given that context, developing these sonic devices make a lot of sense.

Israel, and especially the Sharon government, catches a lot of flak in the US Progressive community for its actions. However, at least this time, Sharon is trying to do the right thing. If you think it's a bad idea, I'd like to see some realistic alternatives sugestions.

Posted by: fiat lux | Jun 10, 2005 2:57:33 PM

When I first started blogging I came across a New York Times Magazine article about the inventer of the ultra-sound device; he had developed a speaker that could tightly aim a beam of sound to just one single person in a group of people standing almost shoulder to shoulder. He had already managed to create it to incompacitate a person by jacking up the power. Yet, no one else could hear a thing.

So, when you start seeing Progressive political candadates collapsing on stage for no apparent reason..........

Posted by: Rook | Jun 10, 2005 8:27:28 PM

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