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The rotten cost of non-lethal weaponry comes home

Yesterday, the Rachel Maddow Show devoted a short segment to non-lethal weapons and the Occupy Wall Street protests. It started with a showing of graphics and citations on the more exotic and menacing non-lethal gadgets developed for the US military, justified by and during the war on terror. First up was the microwaving pain ray, aka The Sheriff, written about many times on this blog.


The transcript of the show reads:


MADDOW: "From the files of accurately nicknamed weapons, this is the so-called giant pain ray. It`s technically called the active denial system, but really the nickname pain ray is so much more descriptive. This giant satellite looking thing, it shoots electromagnetic radiation at a target, also known as a human. It's intended to cause a lot of pain. The top layer of skin is supposed to absorb the radioactive rays and get very hot."


[Maddow then went on to describe other weapons, including the spotting of LRADs (or Long Range Acoustic Devices) in the hands of police at OWS protests. However the salient point made is in the next bit where it is explained that non-lethal weaponry is rationalized as "an alternative to deadly force."]


MADDOW: "But it turns out it`s not the way nonlethal weaponry gets used. Often, instead of substituting for lethal force, nonlethal weapons just increase the number of occasions, the types of occasions on which force is used at all. Seattle police, for example, probably would have never used guns and live ammunition to shoot this 84-year-old woman who was the defining image [as someone who had been pepper sprayed] of Occupy protests last week."


A couple of week ago I made a similar point here at Dick Destiny blog, one linked to here at SITREP over the weekend. And it's worth repeating in light of what is being done to OWS protests.


That part of the private sector homeland security industry now of importance is the one devoted to "non-lethal" weaponry in the United States. Small and large businesses, as well as the big arms developers, got involved in peddling various new arms to the government and police forces, all using the argument that technological advances would allow for non-bloody crowd control. This was all funded by and recommended for use in the war on terror.


The most public example was The Sheriff, a high-powered microwave gun mounted on a Hummer and developed by Raytheon. The Sheriff took over a decade of taxpayer investment and an incredible public relations effort to push it (one that failed spectacularly) as a revolutionary weapon which could be used to disperse crowds.


Publicly, it was a disaster. The Sheriff -- or pain ray as it's now called -- was taken to Afghanistan a year or so ago and quietly brought back without firing one microwave shot in anger. It was, and still is, simply viewed as a device for torturing people who can't fight back. However, the idea of inflicting pain on others is now at the root of the measures being used against OWS protests.


The essential point to be made is a simple one and it transcends the types of devices and weaponry used. All the arguments for the development and use of non-lethal arms rely upon the success in getting people to believe there is some magic point of force application in which people are not irrevocably injured or killed.


In real life, this point is imaginary. It does not exist. And there is no scientific method that can be used to find or elucidate it. As any perusal of the literature on use of tasers, rubber bullets, tear gas rounds -- and now pepper spray -- quickly reveals.


However, the argument remains seductive particularly when governments or law enforcement need rationalizations for using force short of bullets on the unarmed.


What the non-lethal weapon has done in this country is furnish an excuse for setting the bar lower on the use of force. When one equips a military or law enforcement agency with weapons which the average soldier or policeman believes will not hurt people because they have been told there is a science to them making them safe, the problem becomes obvious. They're going to use it.


All restraints have been removed.



And the results have been appalling. There is no getting away from the imagery of a police man blithely emptying a canister of pepper spray into students sitting harmlessly on the sidewalk. Then shaking it and looking for more.


The use of brute force as an answer to everything in Iraq and Afghanistan over the course of the last decade went a long way toward rubbishing the nation's reputation worldwide. It destroyed legitimacy. The turning loose of the same practice at home, except as practiced by police forces with weapons that are only supposed to cruelly hurt, is woefully similar.


The protests may never have the nastier things in the non-lethal arsenal, like the pain ray, used on them.


However, it doesn't really matter. Pepper spray, as everyone has seen, is more than bad enough. The old-fashioned lo-tech stuff -- capsaicin, tear gas rounds and rubber bullets -- have been sufficient to horrify.


Use of non-lethal weapons on unarmed crowds in the United States has led, and will only lead, to more civil unrest. And that's because the rationalization for their use is rotten. Their practical use is in handing out severe punishments for stepping out of line. Everyone knows it, too.



This post was originally published at Dick Destiny blog.

 
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