Saturday, December 15, 2007

Twas Brillig...

Killing civilians always gets bad press – The Americans still mention the British Boston Massacre of March 1770, with its five dead, as a deep wound on the national psyche. Israeli soldiers often seem to manage to hit a child. 1972's Bloody Sunday, when the British army fired on civil rights protesters in Ireland, left 13 unarmed people, 6 of them kids, dead.

This type of unwelcome publicity means that the armed forces of the world are on the lookout for something that will force subjects to obey their masters, but won't produce any photo opportunities for human rights activists. They thought they'd scored a massive hit recently when someone at Raytheon [1] developed a sort of microwave-oven-at-a-distance effect that heats up the skin, causing, it says here, pain. But not the killing thing, or the blood, or the kids draped over their weeping dad's arms with their heads lolling too far back to be merely sleeping. Just "intolerable" pain, after which the targeted person will run away from the beam - because, of course, people are always free to run in any direction they choose in riot situations.

It's called the Active Denial System, because "Heat Ray" is something bad from War of the Worlds, and we wouldn't want that image
burnedappearing in our minds. It's described as

a non lethal, counter-personnel directed energy non-lethal weapon which can be used against human targets at distances beyond the effective range of small arms. ADS projects a focused millimeter wave energy beam which induces intolerable heating sensation on an adversary's skin and cause that individual to be repelled without injury.

Brillig, the time when you begin
broiling things for dinner. From
Alice in Wonderland.

The army wants it for Iraq; the public is said to be "squeamish" about it. Articles mention its possible misuse as torture. I think the public is probably squeamish about it because they don't want it turned on them. I know I am; I can imagine a day when the LAPD decides to "actively deny" a public square to the public by non-lethally broiling its own citizenry. In fact, I can imagine them doing it tomorrow if they got hold of a Heat Ray tonight.

It turns out that the "squeamish" public might have the right idea. "Non-lethality" sounds too good to be true, and it is too good to be true. The death ray, sorry, ADS, has to be calibrated for the distance to its target and also, presumably, for the amount of water vapor in the way that might dissipate the energy. I can imagine that in an armored vehicle, with limited visibility, small arms fire outside and the possibility that someone is rigging up a bomb under the truck right now, an operator might make a hasty decision about which buttons to press, and end up grilling somebody.

It turns out it's worse than that. According to a report in The Guardian, the operator can boil someone during a relatively stress-free testing exercise. In a report called "US military in denial over pain ray - Concern over the safety of a crowd control system in tests sparks fears about its use in operational situations" The Guardian says:

Earlier that day it had been used successfully at 75% power level and three-second duration. According to the report: "ADS Operator P4 set power to 100% for four-second duration, so as to be effective at the longer range." A problem prevented the test from taking place - the system's magnet requires supercooling and can be temperamental in hot weather. …
Unfortunately, the crew forgot to change the settings. …
The description of the injuries has been censored from the report: all we can see is that they are covered by 11 numbered points. An Air Force statement says: "the injury was classified as a second degree burn," a type characterised by blistering. Local newspapers reported that the airman suffered burns on both legs and spent two days in the Joseph M Still Burn Centre in Augusta, Georgia. The official report puts the injury cost at $17,748.

Generally speaking, I'm against the death penalty because I think, all ethical considerations aside, voluntarily giving your government the right to kill you is a bad move. I'm also against my government spending money on Death Rays to keep me out of public places.

[1] If the name of your company sounds like an Evil Overlord from Flash Gordon, you're already doomed, really.

No comments:


Blog Widget by LinkWithin
I sometimes mention a product on this blog, and I give a URL to Amazon or similar sites. Just to reassure you, I don't get paid to advertise anything here and I don't get any money from your clicks. Everything I say here is because I feel like saying it.