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Thursday, October 19, 2006

A non-lethal blast from the not-so-distant past

Thanks, Matt, for sending me this little gem from last month:
Nonlethal weapons touted for use on citizens
Air Force secretary says they should be used for domestic crowd control

'Nonlethal weapons such as high-power microwave devices should be used on American citizens in crowd-control situations before they are used on the battlefield, the Air Force secretary said Tuesday.

Domestic use would make it easier to avoid questions in the international community over any possible safety concerns, said Secretary Michael Wynne.

“If we’re not willing to use it here against our fellow citizens, then we should not be willing to use it in a wartime situation,” said Wynne. “(Because) if I hit somebody with a nonlethal weapon and they claim that it injured them in a way that was not intended, I think that I would be vilified in the world press.”'
Non-lethal weapons are the ultimate weapon of the democratic society: no one generally gets seriously hurt, fewer shocking images appear on television and, in the case of political actions, the authorities afterwards can chastise all the targets for their failure to participate in the system as it exists (which elites control, of course). Win-win as far as the rich and powerful are concerned.

Nevertheless, the Secretary's bold statement didn't stop his underlings from two weeks later making the other side of the argument, demanding that the military should be allowed to use 'non-lethal' weapons in the elite's 'war on terrorism' abroad:
DoD officials today urged a change in policy that would allow U.S. servicemembers to use tear gas and other non-lethal weapons in the global war on terror.

Joseph A. Benkert, principal deputy assistant defense secretary for international security policy, and Air Force Brig. Gen. Otis G. Mannon, deputy director for special operations on the Joint Staff, spoke to the Senate Armed Service Committee’s subcommittee on readiness and management.

At issue is an Executive Order issued in 1975 that forbids American servicemembers’ “first use of riot control agents in war, except in defensive military modes to save lives.” The policy further states that all use of riot control agents in war “is prohibited unless such use has presidential approval in advance.”

An amendment in the fiscal 2006 National Defense Authorization Act -- the Ensign Amendment after subcommittee chairman Nevada Sen. John Ensign -- takes non-lethal weapons for riot control out of this prohibition.

Benkert said officials want “to assure that our men and women in uniform have the full range of options available to them to carry out their missions.”

Benkert stressed that the riot control agents he was talking about are not listed in a Chemical Weapons Convention schedule. He is referring to such non-lethal weapons as tear gas and pepper spray. He also said his testimony did not address other non-chemical, non-lethal weapons such as foams, water canons, beanbags or rubber bullets.

“It may be difficult for many Americans to understand why their armed forces can use riot control agents only in defined circumstances when they see their local law enforcement agents using them effectively every day,” Benkert said. “The United States military must operate within the parameters of the Chemical Weapons Convention and Executive Order 11850, which constrain the ability of our armed forces to use riot control agents in offensive operations in wartime and obviously do not apply to our colleagues in law enforcement.”

Benkert and Mannon stressed that even when allowed to carry these weapons, DoD personnel go through exhaustive and comprehensive training on their use. He said they also receive training in the law of war and applicable Geneva Conventions implications. “The Department of Defense has issued regulations, doctrine and training materials providing guidance as to when riot control agents may be used,” he said.

Before U.S. military personnel may use riot control agents, they must have proper authorization. The president must approve any use in war in a defensive military mode to save lives.

“Under various circumstances, in light of the changing environment in which armed conflicts are taking place, in such a dynamic environment the peacekeeping, law enforcement and traditional battlefield roles of deployed units may be present at different times within the same theater of operations,” Benkert said. “The use of riot control agents will be evaluated based on the particular unit or mission involved and the particular facts and circumstances of the mission at the requested time.”
We know that there is a lot of cross-training between US forces abroad, Iraqi and other foreign and domestic police forces. Meanwhile, the US has spent a lot of time training in both US and foreign cities for crowd control operations, often masked as anti-terrorism drills.

Not to defend democratic capitalism and it's terrified (white) middle class backbone, but with the elimination of the middle class proceding apace - the system's traditional pragmatic bulwark - we probably would do well to ask ourselves just what kind of system they intend to replace it with... and just what role the system has in mind for illegal dissent in the future. Likely little to none.

Although it seems counter-intuitive, radicals must fight the introduction and application of 'non-lethal weapons' as part of the struggle to preserve openings for social change, which we know depend on the possibility of illegal political action.

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