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Hullabaloo


Friday, September 26, 2008

 
Dispatches From Torture Nation

by digby


I've been getting emails about this topic for a few days and meant to write about it. It's exploded into the blogosphere today: the Army has decided that it needs to deploy a unit here in the United States. (I thought that's what we had the National Guard for ...)

The discussion centers around Posse Comitatus and how the long standing legal prohibition against this has suddenly changed. I'll let the experts weigh in on that.

But there's another angle that has me spooked.
The Army Times:


The at-home mission does not take the place of scheduled combat-zone deployments and will take place during the so-called dwell time a unit gets to reset and regenerate after a deployment.

[...]

In the meantime, they’ll learn new skills, use some of the ones they acquired in the war zone and more than likely will not be shot at while doing any of it.

They may be called upon to help with civil unrest and crowd control or to deal with potentially horrific scenarios such as massive poisoning and chaos in response to a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive, or CBRNE, attack.

[...]

The 1st BCT’s soldiers also will learn how to use “the first ever nonlethal package that the Army has fielded,” 1st BCT commander Col. Roger Cloutier said, referring to crowd and traffic control equipment and nonlethal weapons designed to subdue unruly or dangerous individuals without killing them.

[...]

“I was the first guy in the brigade to get Tasered,” said Cloutier, describing the experience as “your worst muscle cramp ever — times 10 throughout your whole body.

“I’m not a small guy, I weigh 230 pounds ... it put me on my knees in seconds.”


So men who've been fighting in Iraq will now be armed with tasers on the streets of the United States. You can be fairly sure that after what they've been trained for they'll believe that tasering someone is completely benign. After all, you get up again.

But as bad as putting more tasers on the streets, there's an even worse possibility. The article says:


The 1st BCT’s soldiers also will learn how to use “the first ever nonlethal package that the Army has fielded,” 1st BCT commander Col. Roger Cloutier said, referring to crowd and traffic control equipment and nonlethal weapons designed to subdue unruly or dangerous individuals without killing them.


I think you have to wonder if this is what they might be talking about:

The US military has given the first public display of what it says is a revolutionary heat-ray weapon to repel enemies or disperse hostile crowds.

Called the Active Denial System, it projects an invisible high energy beam that produces a sudden burning feeling.

[....]

How the heat-ray gun works

The prototype weapon was demonstrated at the Moody Air Force Base in Georgia.

A beam was fired from a large rectangular dish mounted on a Humvee vehicle.

The beam has a reach of up to 500m (550 yds), much further than existing non-lethal weapons like rubber bullets.

It can penetrate clothes, suddenly heating up the skin of anyone in its path to 50C.

But it penetrates the skin only to a tiny depth - enough to cause discomfort but no lasting harm, according to the military.

A Reuters journalist who volunteered to be shot with the beam described the sensation as similar to a blast from a very hot oven - too painful to bear without diving for cover.

[...]


It would mean that troops could take effective steps to move people along without resorting to measures such as rubber bullets - bridging the gap between "shouting and shooting", Col Hymes said.

A similar "non-lethal" weapon, Silent Guardian, is being developed by US company Raytheon.


Here's an article on "Silent Guardian"

I tested a table-top demonstration model, but here's how it works in the field.

A square transmitter as big as a plasma TV screen is mounted on the back of a Jeep.

When turned on, it emits an invisible, focused beam of radiation - similar to the microwaves in a domestic cooker - that are tuned to a precise frequency to stimulate human nerve endings.

It can throw a wave of agony nearly half a mile.

Because the beam penetrates skin only to a depth of 1/64th of an inch, it cannot, says Raytheon, cause visible, permanent injury.

But anyone in the beam's path will feel, over their entire body, the agonising sensation I've just felt on my fingertip. The prospect doesn't bear thinking about.

"I have been in front of the full-sized system and, believe me, you just run. You don't have time to think about it - you just run," says George Svitak, a Raytheon executive.

Silent Guardian is supposed to be the 21st century equivalent of tear gas or water cannon - a way of getting crowds to disperse quickly and with minimum harm. Its potential is obvious.

[...]

This machine has the ability to inflict limitless, unbearable pain.

What makes it OK, says Raytheon, is that the pain stops as soon as you are out of the beam or the machine is turned off.

[...]

But there is a problem: mission creep. This is the Americanism which describes what happens when, over time, powers or techniques are used to ends not stated or even imagined when they were devised.

With the Taser, the rules in place in Britain say it must be used only as an alternative to the gun. But what happens in ten or 20 years if a new government chooses to amend these rules?

It is so easy to see the Taser being used routinely to control dissent and pacify - as, indeed, already happens in the U.S.

And the Silent Guardian? Raytheon's Mac Jeffery says it is being looked at only by the "North American military and its allies" and is not being sold to countries with questionable human rights records.


That's funny ...

In fact, it is easy to see the raygun being used not as an alternative to lethal force (when I can see that it is quite justified), but as an extra weapon in the battle against dissent.

Because it is, in essence, a simple machine, it is easy to see similar devices being pressed into service in places with extremely dubious reputations.

There are more questions: in tests, volunteers have been asked to remove spectacles and contact lenses before being microwaved. Does this imply these rays are not as harmless as Raytheon insists?

What happens when someone with a weak heart is zapped?

And, perhaps most worryingly, what if deployment of Silent Guardian causes mass panic, leaving some people unable to flee in the melee? Will they just be stuck there roasting?


It sounds that way. Have you ever seen a stampede?

Silent Guardian and the Taser are just the first in a new wave of "non-lethal" weaponry being developed, mostly in the U.S.

These include not only microwave ray-guns, but the terrifying Pulsed Energy Projectile weapon. This uses a powerful laser which, when it hits someone up to 11/2 miles away, produces a "plasma" - a bubble of superhot gas - on the skin.

A report in New Scientist claimed the focus of research was to heighten the pain caused by this semi-classified weapon.

And a document released under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act talks of "optimal pulse parameters to evoke peak nociceptor activation" - i.e. cause the maximum agony possible, leaving no permanent damage.


Apparently, the new operating principle really has become that any level of pain is fine as long as it leaves no marks. When did that happen?

Perhaps the most alarming prospect is that such machines would make efficient torture instruments.

They are quick, clean, cheap, easy to use and, most importantly, leave no marks. What would happen if they fell into the hands of unscrupulous nations where torture is not unknown?


They already have

The agony the Raytheon gun inflicts is probably equal to anything in a torture chamber - these waves are tuned to a frequency exactly designed to stimulate the pain nerves.

I couldn't hold my finger next to the device for more than a fraction of a second. I could make the pain stop, but what if my finger had been strapped to the machine?

Dr John Wood, a biologist at UCL and an expert in the way the brain perceives pain, is horrified by the new pain weapons.

"They are so obviously useful as torture instruments," he says.

"It is ethically dubious to say they are useful for crowd control when they will obviously be used by unscrupulous people for torture."

We use the word "medieval" as shorthand for brutality. The truth is that new technology makes racks look benign.


There was a time when I would have thought this whole thing was hysterical and paranoid. Not any more. We are living today under a government that has legalized torture and which sees absolutely no problem with shooting people full of electricity on the streets of America every day in order to force compliance.

This isn't some dystopian future we're talking about. It's already here. Now they are going to empower the Army to use these non-lethal torture devices right here in America as well.

Near the end of the Army Times article comes one of the most Orwellian quotes I've seen in a long time:

“I can’t think of a more noble mission than this,” said Cloutier, who took command in July. “We’ve been all over the world during this time of conflict, but now our mission is to take care of citizens at home ... and depending on where an event occurred, you’re going home to take care of your home town, your loved ones.”


I'm sure these guys believe that.


.