Monday, January 29, 2007

Great Moments in Crowd Control

It was only a couple of weeks ago that I read H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds for the first time, after seeing the Steven Spielberg movie and hoping that in Wells’ original, the permanently screaming Dakota Fanning character would meet a brutal and hideous end. But no, even better — her character isn’t in the book at all.

However, Wells did mention the “heat ray,” an amazingly prescient idea for a late-nineteenth-century man. Unlike the versions you see in the movies, the original heat ray was invisible; you couldn’t see it coming and had no idea it was there until the heat made you burst into flames.

Now, just over a century later, the United States government has caught up with Wells’ imagination and unearthed an invisible heat ray of its own. It’s called the “Active Denial System,” which sounds much better than the “turn protestors into charred lumplets of carbon system.”

I’m exaggerating, of course. Our government surely won't turn the heat-ray all the way up to “charred carbon” mode. No, we’re told that the heat ray will be another “non-lethal” weapon like the Taser (currently being blamed for at least 74 deaths, according to Amnesty International, though other online sources claim the number is much higher).

I remember when the Taser was first introduced. Its proponents said it would be a safe and humane alternative to guns; instead of shooting and possibly killing a bad guy, the cops would simply Taser him. But read what Amnesty International has to say about the Taser and its use:

many US police agencies are deploying tasers as a routine force option to subdue non-compliant or disturbed individuals who do not pose a serious danger to themselves or others. In some departments, tasers have become the most prevalent force tool. They have been used against unruly schoolchildren; unarmed mentally disturbed or intoxicated individuals; suspects fleeing minor crime scenes and people who argue with police or fail to comply immediately with a command. Cases described in this report include the stunning of a 15-year-old schoolgirl in Florida, following a dispute on a bus, and a 13- year-old girl in Arizona, who threw a book in a public library.

In many such instances, the use of electro-shock weapons appears to have violated international standards prohibiting torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment as well as standards set out under the United Nations (UN) Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement.
Remember back in college, when you’d go to a party and there was always that one paranoid guy ranting about how the US was on its way to becoming a scary police state? Damn, I miss the days when I could dismiss him as having simply taken one bong hit too many.


Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

I'm afraid I have to lift my comment almost whole-cloth from another site (this one dealing with Sonic Weapons):

Is it my imagination, or isn't the [use of a "Heat Ray"] to deliberately inflict pain on crowds "torture" as defined in article 1 of the UN Convention Against Torture?

For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.

Not that it matters under the tyranny of King George, but I think the US is a signatory to the Convention Against Torture.

7:50 AM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

From the Article: "We've looked at the risk of injuries, at the risk of skin cancer, birth defects, impact on fertility and everything has proved to be negative."

Sounds like a "dream tool" for Homeland Security types, and similar thugs intent on "discovering the truth" and "saving us from enemies". It apparently leaves no marks, and no permanent evidence of its use on the victim.

I predict this will become an international best-seller among "intelligence forces" worldwide.

7:58 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I agree, Anne. This does not bode well for us at all.

Imagine if Southern states had had such technology during the Civil Rights movement. Or the Feds, during Martin Luther King's rally in Washington.

8:06 AM  
Anonymous Brad Warbiany said...

It could be worse... Have you seen what happens when the UCLA Campus Police get a hold of tasers?

8:18 AM  
Anonymous Brad Warbiany said...

Oh, and War of the Worlds sucked... They took an old story that has plot holes big enough to drive a truck through (i.e. aliens who can cross space but can't do enough research to understand microbiology?)

And then they added a new plot hole... If these aliens came thousands of years before to bury their attack craft, WHY THE HELL DIDN'T THEY JUST TAKE OVER THE PLANET BACK THEN?!

8:21 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Yeah, Brad, the movie was pretty bad. In the book, the Martians evolved on a planet with no bacteria (which was considered plausible when the book was written), and there was none of this "we came thousands of years ago to bury our pods" business.

8:36 AM  
Blogger rhhardin said...

These things work on women?

8:49 AM  
Anonymous mediageek said...

I don't have a problem with cops being issued less lethal options for dealing with an attacker. Criticizing less lethal weapons for having a less than 100% safety rating is the sort of nutwhacked thinking that Dave W. would spout.

I don't have a problem with the tools so much as with the operators.

These items aren't being used just to subdue violent suspects. They are being used as compliance devices.

That is an abhorrent practice that no civilized nation should tolerate.

10:02 AM  
Anonymous mediageek said...

"These things work on women?"

What's the matter, Ron, did you misplace the club you usually use to bash them in the head and drag them back to your cave?

10:04 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Criticizing less lethal weapons for having a less than 100% safety rating is the sort of nutwhacked thinking that Dave W. would spout.

My complaint is more that they're being advertised as "100% safe" when they're clearly not.

Well, my complaint is that PLUS your point about being used as compliance devices. If nothing else, I'd like to see laws which state that Tasers and these damnable heat ray can ONLY be used in situations wherein it would be legal to use a gun. In other words, no using them as compliance devices.

10:17 AM  
Anonymous a moose said...

These things work on women?

Yeah, but they don't pay no attention 'cause they think it's just hot flashes.....

(Ok, I'll go back to cave now)

10:34 AM  
Blogger rhhardin said...

What's the matter, Ron, did you misplace the club you usually use to bash them in the head and drag them back to your cave?

The male mind invents these things for a reason, that's all I'm saying.

11:49 AM  
Anonymous mediageek said...

"My complaint is more that they're being advertised as "100% safe" when they're clearly not."

I know you're using hyperbole, but Taser does warn end users that their product isn't 100% safe.

Law Enforcement Safety Warnings for Tasers (Goes to PDF)

At the very least, the companies seem to be engaging in a basic level of legal CYA.

"I'd like to see laws which state that Tasers and these damnable heat ray can ONLY be used in situations wherein it would be legal to use a gun. In other words, no using them as compliance devices."

I pretty much agree. However, I think a sticky situation arises when a cop confronts a suspect who is non-violent, but also non-cooperative. Is it ok for a cop to use pressure points, choke holds, arm bars, or twisting an arm behind a back to get compliance?

That, I think, is the problem area. Also, I have to wonder if there would be an unintended consequence to requiring that tasers can only be used in a situation wherein use of a gun would be legal. I suspect that in such a situation most cops would simply skip right past using a taser and shoot.

Ultimately, I think its not a matter of gear so much as the mentality of the cop who has it hanging off of his belt.

1:42 PM  
Anonymous mediageek said...

Oh, and the heat ray thing is just right out.

It's an area-of-effect weapon, and you know that as soon as more than a half-dozen protestors leave the "Free Speech Zone" they're going to fire that sucker up.

1:44 PM  
Anonymous Schrecken Licht said...

Actually the "heat ray" has been with us since 1964, the year the carbon dioxide laser was invented - check out the videos on this page:

This relatively low powered laser is "only" 40 watts (industrial versions can go up to 120 THOUSAND watts!) and it CAN set things on fire just like in War of the Worlds (the book). A hit from a really high powered CO2 laser could easily roast someone alive (or slice them up light saber style) with an invisible beam.....

The ADS is a wimpy thing by compare....and by the way - as the ADS has been in development for 10 years (at least half of which was classified), don't forget that Slick Willie was in the Oval Office when it was given the go-ahead to be developed.

But thankfully, unlike a TASER, at least you can run away from this "death ray" (unless someone holds you down - but they're going to get hit too....).

8:23 PM  
Anonymous NoStar said...

"- but they're going to get hit too...

Unless of course, they use the TASER to immobilize you first. ;~)

8:38 AM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

The ADS is clearly intended as a crowd-control weapon. It is vehicle-mounted, not man-portable. In the general concept, it's not much different from using high-pressure fire-hoses. I'm somewhat ambivalent about most of these crowd-control techniques, but if you presuppose the need for a non-lethal crowd-control method (e.g. to break up unruly or violent mobs, without massacring everybody), then the ADS seems like a pretty good solution.

The real problem is "mission creep". These things are going to be used outside the narrow scope of dispersing dangerous mobs. Because they are intended to be non-lethal, the state will deploy them under conditions when it wouldn't otherwise dream of using weaponry. Furthermore, when the inevitable tragedies occur, they will trot out the "non-lethal" qualifications both in court, and in the press. Much like they currently use "rubber bullets" (really, steel bullets with a rubberized plastic coating).

And, of course, these things will be employed for deliberate torture. They seem almost ideal for that purpose, as I indicated above. Intense pain with no lasting physical evidence (if used "properly", of course; I imagine that prolonged exposure would be a different issue).

Of course, now that they exist, they will be used for nefarious "security" purposes, regardless of what the "official" public-policy stance about ADS evolves into. We have no effective control over the Executive Branch, once they invoke "National Security". We aren't even allowed to know what "they" are doing, and if we somehow find out it is illegal (treasonous) to tell anybody else!

11:53 AM  

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