Wednesday, August 29, 2007
The Purple Not-Quite-Death
Saddam Hussein had been gone just a few weeks, and U.S. forces in Fallujah, west of Baghdad, were already being called unwelcome invaders. One of the first big anti-American protests of the war escalated into shootouts that left 18 Iraqis dead and 78 wounded.
It would be a familiar scene in Iraq's next few years: Crowds gather, insurgents mingle with civilians. Troops open fire, and innocents die.
All the while, according to internal military correspondence obtained by The Associated Press, U.S. commanders were telling Washington that many civilian casualties could be avoided by using a new non-lethal weapon developed over the past decade.
Military leaders repeatedly and urgently requested — and were denied — the device, which uses energy beams instead of bullets and lets soldiers break up unruly crowds without firing a shot.
It's a ray gun that neither kills nor maims, but the Pentagon has refused to deploy it out of concern that the weapon itself might be seen as a torture device.
Perched on a Humvee or a flatbed truck, the Active Denial System gives people hit by the invisible beam the sense that their skin is on fire. They move out of the way quickly and without injury.
On April 30, 2003, two days after the first Fallujah incident, Gene McCall, then the top scientist at Air Force Space Command in Colorado, typed out a two-sentence e-mail to Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"I am convinced that the tragedy at Fallujah would not have occurred if an Active Denial System had been there," McCall told Myers, according to the e-mail obtained by AP. The system should become "an immediate priority," McCall said.
Myers referred McCall's message to his staff, according to the e-mail chain.
McCall, who retired from government in November 2003, remains convinced the system would have saved lives in Iraq.
"How this has been handled is kind of a national scandal," McCall said by telephone from his home in Florida.
A few months after McCall's message, in August 2003, Richard Natonski, a Marine Corps brigadier general who had just returned from Iraq, filed an "urgent" request with officials in Washington for the energy-beam device.
The device would minimize what Natonski described as the "CNN Effect" — the instantaneous relay of images depicting U.S. troops as aggressors.
I've blogged about my concern about "non-lethal" weapons before, and now I'd just like to make 2 quick notes: I'll give anybody good odds that this will be another part of the "we coulda won if you damned hippies hadn't tied our hands," and this weapon would not change the incontrovertible fact that we are foreign occupiers.
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From the first time I read about this "ray", I have thought that it is torture - just because it doesn't leave permanent marks, it still causes the victims to experience intense pain.
"If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it really make a sound" becomes "if you are made to think that your skin is on fire but it really isn't, can you really say you've been tortured?"
I'm sure that there's nothing quite like feeling as if your skin is on fire, unless it is feeling like you are drowning. And what about people with weak hearts or othe medical conditions? Are they so sure this won't have bigger medical implications?
We are making me sick.
Posted by: mattsmom | Aug 29, 2007 7:45:14 PM
I think in practice non-lethal weapsons expand the situations where force is used as a first resort rather than act as a substitute for lethal force. I've seen many local reports of Taser incidents here in Florida against the mentally ill or drunks where instead of calling for a backup unit to safely take somebody into custody one unit will just go ahead and taser the subject at the first opportunity. So Tasers become in practice not a substitute for lethal force but an time saving device.
Posted by: joejoejoe | Aug 29, 2007 11:56:53 PM
The notion that Tasers are nonlethal is pernicious. If you are in good physical health, and not too old, and not too unlucky, you'll probably survive. But not necessarily.
Amnesty International UK said this after an incident last October:
A March 2006 report from Amnesty International revealed that since June 2001, 152 people have died in the USA after being shot with tasers, 61 in 2005 alone. Most were subjected to multiple or prolonged shocks. In 23 US cases coroners have listed the use of the taser as a cause or a contributory factor in death and in three cases in 2005 the taser was listed as a primary cause of death.
Over three-quarters of UK police forces have deployed tasers to firearms officers and some parts of the police have already called for wider deployment to all officers. Amnesty International UK warned against any move towards the routine arming of police officers with taser weapons.
Regarding the ADS, what about people who are in one way or another unable to move out of range? Is it torture then? If someone is knocked down and is unconscious as a crowd flees, what are the risks to them of using an ADS? If someone is confined to a wheelchair, what about them? A Taser endangers an individual; an ADS has the potential to endanger a whole variety of vulnerable individuals at once, indiscriminately. Torture? yes, I'd say it constitutes torture... especially for those people who are unable to avoid it.
Why does our nation keep developing such horrors?
Posted by: Steve Bates | Aug 30, 2007 3:32:22 AM
(Your commenting system's captcha text is the godawfulest I've seen anywhere. It verified the previous comment THREE times before allowing it to pass. And my eyes are pretty good for an old guy. It's not just the backgrounds, though those are worse than most: it uses intentionally indistinguishable characters such as 1-or-l, 0-or-O, characters with microscopic descenders rendering g indistinguishable from q, etc. I don't know if you have any control over the behavior of this system, but I thought you should know it is the single most obnoxious one I've ever seen.)
Posted by: Steve Bates | Aug 30, 2007 3:38:09 AM
Is where the flying monkeys are going now??
"If we coulda only used ray guns and rubber bullets Iraq would be stable now"
No, if you only would have listened to the military commanders like Shinseki and Zinni who said it would take at least 450,000 troops to pacify Iraq. If you only would have listened to Powell when he said "if you break it you own it".
If you only would have listened to Cheney '94 who knew what a cluster fuck the invasion of Iraq would turn in to.
If Bush had not LIED to the American People, we would have never invaded Iraq.
Posted by: polishifter | Aug 30, 2007 12:10:02 PM