New Olympic sport: assaulting civilians

It used to be horses and batons: mounted policemen charging people on foot. Today, it is more likely to be pepper spray and the Taser. Tomorrow, it will be a weapon that bursts eardrums. Why is there no public outcry against these assaults on civilians?

The Taser fires two small dart-like electrodes, which stay connected to the main unit by conductive wire as they are propelled towards their target by compressed nitrogen charges. Each cartridge contains a pair of electrodes and propellant for a single shot and is replaced after use. There are a number of cartridges designated by range, with the maximum at 35 feet. Cartridges available to non-law enforcement consumers are limited to 15 feet. The electrodes are pointed to penetrate clothing and barbed to prevent easy removal.

Tasers function by creating neuromuscular incapacitation, interrupting the ability of the brain to control the muscles in the body. This creates an immediate and unavoidable incapacitation that cannot be overcome. Once the electricity stops flowing the subject immediately regains control of his or her body. Some Taser models, particularly those used by police departments, also have a “Drive Stun” capability, where the Taser is held against the target with the intention of inflicting pain without incapacitation.

Critics say that Tasers as well as other high-voltage stun devices can cause cardiac arrhythmia in susceptible subjects, possibly leading to heart attack or death in minutes. People susceptible to this outcome are sometimes healthy and unaware of the danger.

On 23 November 2007 the United Nations Committee Against Torture (UNCAT), an agency charged with overseeing the application of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, concluded that the use of the Taser gun constituted a “form of torture” and “can even provoke death”. Needless to say, that ruling has not affected their deployment.

A relatively new weapon is the American-built long-range acoustic device (LRAD), which has been used by the US army to control crowds in Iraq. It is an acoustic hailing device and sonic weapon developed to send messages, warnings, and harmful, pain-inducing tones over longer distances than normal loudspeakers. LRAD systems have been used to counter piracy and as non-lethal crowd control weapons. Proponents of the device claim that it is not a weapon but a “directed-sound communications system”, but being within 330 feet of the LRAD is extremely painful and can cause permanent auditory damage.

Euphemisms are evident in the British Ministry of Defence’s confirmation that LRADs are going to be used on the River Thames during the 2012 Olympics. According to The Guardian (12 May 2012), an MoD spokesman said, “As part of the military contribution to the police-led security effort to ensure a safe and secure games, a broad range of assets and equipment is being used by our armed forces.”

For “broad range of assets” read “as many types of weapon as we can get away with”; for “safe and secure” read “undisrupted by any signs of civil protest for whatever reason”; and for “military contribution to the police-led security effort” read “police incompetence requires the peace-time intervention of the armed forces”. And if you imagine that these weapons will be confined to the River Thames, think again!

Extremely high-power sound waves can disrupt the hearing and/or destroy the eardrums of people within their range, causing severe pain or disorientation. This is usually sufficient to incapacitate a person. Less powerful sound waves can cause humans to experience nausea or intense discomfort. Make no mistake. If deployed, sonic weapons will be used indiscriminately and anyone accidentally caught in their line of fire will have little redress. Where is the public protest?

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