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.