Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Pain Ray: How Low Will We Go?

This week former Attorney General John Ashcroft disgraced himself by reiterating the myth that waterboarding, a torture method employed since the dark ages has "consistently" been defined as "not torture." He wouldn't say whether he's okay with the method being used on American soldiers. Jane Mayer's book The Dark Side, released on Tuesday, details that our country has tortured people known to be innocent of any crimes; the administration effectively silenced those who fought against such treatment; and the International Red Cross warned that people at the highest level of our government are in jeopardy of prosecution for war crimes. Her book also raises more questions about the role psychologists have played--directly and through complicity--in the development of torture techniques employed, we know, on children such as Omar Khadr as well as adults. Members of the media and politicians echoed this indifference to human rights. A Fox News Host suggested that Omar Khadr perhaps "deserves" to be tortured; Representative Daryl Issa quipped that American hospital patients are treated worse than al Qaeda detainees and Bill O'Reilly joked about waterboarding his staff.

These days it seems that the concept of torture has been so belittled and minimized that acts of deliberately inflicted suffering have lost the power to shock or horrify many of us. Some in our culture even discuss torture as though it were casual, entertaining, even (heaven help us) titillating. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, for example, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Human Rights described interrogation methods at Guantanamo Bay as "fraternity boy pranks and hazing pranks." From the country's intelligence chief, Mike McConnell's declaration that waterboarding would be torture for him (bless his heart) yet declining to state whether this method is, categorically, torture, to the many YouTubes of excited Americans lining up to be tasered in order to vaunt their machismo, rises an image of torture of as an experience formed in equal parts of thrill, entitlement, danger and self-congratulation. "Real" guys and gals, the subtext implies can "take it." If you break, you're a wuss (or, in McConnell's case, a sensitive plant). Torture is for sissies and losers. Winners by extension, must be the torturers.

Indifference to the suffering of others is not extended only to people tarred--rightly or wrongly--by the bad-guy brush. Despite the fact that the United Nations Committee on Torture has described them as a torture device, and the growing number of taser-related deaths, the use of tasers by police departments and individuals has been accepted with little objection in this country. In the U.S. as well as the U.K., 50,000 volt tasers have been used by the police on children as well as adults (in one case, a six year boy who was threatening to cut himself with a piece of glass).

This complacency, this silent collusion on the part of too many of us bodes ill for the most recent weapon now being used in Iraq and Afghanistan and--someday--for crowd management in our country as well. Raytheon--the fifth largest defense contractor in the U.S.--has developed the Active Denial System (ADS) or Pain Ray for military and domestic use. The Pain Ray (photo above) is a millimeter ray system (not a laser system as I incorrectly stated before): it travels at the speed of light, and can be fired from a distance of half a kilometer. Its millimeter-wave beam is designed to penetrate 1/64th of an inch beneath the skin, heating water molecules to a temperature of 130º F. The sensation has been described as "molten lava or a hot iron." Michael Hanlon of the Daily Mail, who allowed himself to be zapped by a demonstration model described it as throwing "a wave of agony."

A press release from Sandia notes that "this intense heating sensation stops only if the individual moves out of the beam’s path or the beam is turned off. The sensation caused by the system has been described by test subjects as feeling like touching a hot frying pan or the intense radiant heat from a fire. Burn injury is prevented by limiting the beam’s intensity and duration." Specs indicate that the intensity and duration of the beam, however, can be adjusted by the user; it has the potential to cause serious harm, even death. Envision the stampedes caused by masses of terrified and hurting people trying to step out of the way.

Videos of test subjects make this look so easy, so efficient though. And get a load of the cheers and laughter. Torture is FUN, folks!

Its impact on the long-term health of its victims has not been established. In tests it has burnt the corneas of Rhesus monkeys and caused blistered burns on some humans. The Air Force is working on a version that straps to the back of a jet. Will one for Blackwater Helicopters be far behind?

Laser beams directed at missiles can protect human beings. Beams--of whatever sort-- directed at people, at groups gathered to raise their collective voices-- as the Pain Ray is designed to do-- is nothing short of a crime against humanity. It is past time for our nation, for all of us to insist that we consciously, carefully and purposefully decide what actions will be conducted in our name, what tools will be used to do so. Not to think about this, not to be informed is itself a kind of war crime; ignorance will not absolve us of complicity. It is time that we plumb for ourselves the depth to which our country has fallen through its disregard for human rights. How much further will we fall? How low will we go?

Articles from defense tech industry sources suggest the Pain Ray will be put to use in Iraq in 2010. The videos below provide evidence that they've already killed people in Iraq and Afghanistan. Please take a look at these videos and please pass them on.


Anonymous said...
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Laura said...

Spam and hate mail will be blocked.

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elisaphant said...

Thanks for your link at Gorilla's Guides. I hope you can find another video host - I've noticed that U-Tube has a somewhat arbitrary censorship policy.

Gnome de Plume said...

My father worked for Raytheon for almost 40 years. Fortunately he retired before they started this horror. When I use to challenge him on the ethics of making weapons of death his reply was that he worked on defensive weapons that protected us, not offensive weapons. I don't think they could say that about the Death Ray.

Larian LeQuella said...

Hey there. I read your blog about ADS, and I must take exception to numerous statements you made in the blog. First of all, it is not, nor has it ever been, in Iraq or Afghanistan. So far there are only 3 systems capable of generating the millimeter wave beam (not quite laser). One is a fixed, non-mobile site at Kirtland AFB. The other is the one shown on your web page, which can't handle temperatures greater than 95 F. The final system (System 2 as it is called), is still in the states. As a matter of fact, the USAF is having a hell of a time even finding anyone who thinks this would be useful.

Also, I have personally been shot by the system over 100 times. While it does get my attention, and focus it on moving away from the beam, I would in no way describe it as molten lava or anything that drastic. It is much milder than a tazer, and thousands of time less aggravating than rubber bullets or tear gas.

I am proud to say that I am working on this system. I woud rather shoot an unruly crowd at a food dispersal point with this, than an M-16. With an M-16, they tend to end up dead! True, this system can be misused, and I am fully and wholly against that. But a PENCIL can be misused to cause a great deal of pain. I suggest you blog about outlawing pencils too if you wish to eliminate options from the people who protect your right to speak as you see fit. (That statement is made independent of the current foreign policy and such, I'm just a Uniformed Member that takes what I do seriously.)

If you wish to maintain any credibility, please make sure to check your facts before making outlandish claims. I applaud you for wishing peace (remember, soldiers want peace more than civilians since WE are the ones getting shot at). If you have questions, feel free to contact me.

Laura said...

Thanks for visiting and commenting Larian. I stand by my story, though. The descriptive terms used were quotes from reputable sources, including a Sandia press release. Sandia, by the way, has its own version for domestic sales (to protect DOD sites as well as its own locales). The Brits are testing a prototype backpack version at Sandridge (obtained from Raytheon), for possible police use, and Air Force Times reports that at least two soldiers have suffered second degree burns in ADS trials.

Did you have a chance to watch the bottom 3 vids? I wonder if you have any ideas about the type of the weapon that burned the passengers skulls but left the rest of their bodies intact? (I'm not being sarcastic--you are far more knowledgeable about weaponry than I am, I'm quite sure. )

I'd like to know too if you have a sense of what this weapon would be like in a crowd situation. I presume (from the vids and articles) that volunteers always have a way to step out of the way. Real life, tho, isn't like that. What happens to a person who cannot leave?

Again, appreciate your visit. Hope you'll return for a longer chat. Best wishes, L.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad Larian provided his comments. I also work with the ADS program among others, and he was spot on. ADS is not laser weaponry. I have rarely seen that mistake in media. The most frequent mistake I've seen is characterizing it as "microwave", which is also incorrect, and leads to misconceptions about the system. Yes microwaves do cook things for the inside out. Yes that would be lethal. ADS is not microwave, but millimeter wave, which only creates surface heating. I did appreciate the fact that you put the correct picture along with your article. I have seen some articles where a reporter or blogger sees a picture of a satellite communications vehicle in NYC and immediately writes an article saying the ADS death ray is going to be used on Americans. Doesn't do much for their credibility. :-)

We have been unable to field ADS into any combat theater, and it has never been used operationally.

As Larian pointed out, you can kill with a pencil, but that is not the intent. You could do great harm with ADS, but when used in accordance with its intent, and within proper parameters, it is safe. The instances mentioned in the article where test subjects received burns were due to improper settings, aand errors, not an inherent danger of the weapon when used properly.

I am unaware of any animal testing, but know that in 20 thousand shots on humans, there has been no indication of eye damage. Again, if set improperly or misused, I am sure it could hurt the eyes.

As for back pack versions, mounting ADS on jets, and many of the other things I saw in this article, those are comletely conceptual ideas. No one has figured out how to make it work on a ship much less "strap it to a jeet". The DOD is also working on non-lethal weapons which would work like a Star Trek Phaser set to stun. Though scientists think the concept might work, it is still only a theory, just like the things you described as theough they were around the corner.

As for backpack versions, the Brits must have stronger backs than I. The smallest version of ADS is called Silent Guardian, is the size of a dumpsster and weighs thousands of pounds. That, BTW, is the item that Raytheon hopes to market to the civilian sector.

I couldn't see any videos, so I don't know what to say about those.

I was glad to see that you pointed up some of the taser misuse by police in your article, also. I am a believer in the utility of tasers for law enforcement, but regreetably, they are becoming a "go to" device in the wrong situations. Big guy with a knife, club, stick, etc. go ahead and Taze him if he's a threat. Child, fleeing suspect, suspect in custody? Good heavens what abuse. If the situation wouldn't be appropriate to strike a suspect with a baton, it isn't appropriate for a taser. Police who use them in the wrong situations are making it harder for good cops to use them in situations where tasers are warranted.

Oh, last point on ADS, in response to how an unsuspecting crowd would react to being hit with the beam...we don't know and won't use it until we can at least model it on a computer. I suspect that it would be best to target the outside of a crowd to peel them away safely, rather than beaming it directly at the center of a crowd and starting some sort of panicked stampede.

We develop these types of devices for alternatives to using weapons that would certainly kill when used around potentially non-hostile groups. They are not designed not to hurt; they hurt like heck. They are designed so that after the hurt goes away, there is no death or permanent injury.

Laura said...

Thanks for your comments nghtflame7. I've corrected the misidentification of the millimeter beam as a laser and appreciate your many points.

One difficulty that demands our collective intelligence is this: the potential for misuse. The pencil analogy doesn't really answer that question, only minimizes it. Just as tasers are being abused, we have to expect and address the abuse potential for many of the technologies now being planned and/or tested.

Thanks for stopping by. Hope you visit again!