Sunday, December 2, 2007

Tasers as Torture

This is from this Florida newspaper. Taser International has been getting away with this use of a torture weapon legitimately because it is quite useful to police in over 40 countries, because it has a great lobby group, and even manages to send researchers who work for it to convenient conferences that "inform" people about the prevalence of excited delirium. Just now a conference is busy trying to define this excuse for using tasers not just once but multiple times. See this article in the Globe and Mail. It is ironic that Taser Int. can rightly state that in claiming that taser use on human beings can be a form of torture:
"It shows how out of touch the U.N. committee is with modern policing," Taser International Inc. chairman Tom Smith told a French news agency.
Yet. It is undeniable that it can be and indeed is used as a form of torture in many countries. Of course one could equally claim that habeas corpus is some sort of basic principle that ought never be denied and that basic fairness requires that a person be able to see and question evidence against her or him
is out of touch with the modern legal reality in the war against terrorism. So acceptable has Taser International made the taser that it is available for sale to individuals in many countries:

Taser International has taken the classic marketing of fear, wrapped it up in the joyful colours of Christmas, and made Santa its salesman.

For the latest push of its civilian- and female-aimed Taser product, the compact C2 – about the size of a TV remote and available in pink – the catch line is: "What does Santa bring you when you have been good but the world is getting bad?"

A scornful Santa is apparently reading the world's "naughty" list. For $300 to $350 (U.S.), you could have a C2 of your own.

Should images of Christmas, traditionally linked with peace and goodwill, be used to sell something encircled by violence and fear?

Taser makes no apologies. "On the contrary," says spokesperson Steve Tuttle. "When there's over 1.4 million violent attacks in America, you're doing the responsible thing for a loved one if you can provide them with protection."

Taser has sold more than 161,000 devices to civilians since 1994. (None in Canada. They're not legal for civilians and won't be shipped here.)

Brash marketing is Taser's forte. Yesterday it sponsored a poker tournament in Las Vegas called "Beauty and the Bet" in which the winners got to party with the Playboy Playmates. It was a benefit for the families of fallen police officers.

Andrew Chung

You will hear a loud chorus of cops croaking about over-reaction and how few if any deaths are actually the result of tasers. They will be aided and abetted by a select group of doctors, researchers, and experts who are invited to speak at conferences such as the one mentioned in the Globe article. Critics are not invited.

Tasers as torture

U.N. stun-gun caution not 'out of touch'

Maybe it was the death-by-Taser of 21-year-old Christian Allen in Jacksonville on Nov. 18, or that of 20-year-old Jesse Saenz in New Mexico and 20-year-old Jarrell Gray in Maryland the same day, or that of 35-year-old Conrad Purvis Lowman, two days later, again in Jacksonville, or that of Robert Dziekanski, the Polish immigrant who spoke no English, killed by Canadian police at Vancouver International Airport on Oct. 13.

Or maybe it was the accumulation of some 250 Taser-related deaths in the United States during the past six years, or 18 Taser-related deaths in Canada since 2003. It's not as if the United Nations Committee on Torture needed additional evidence to declare, as it did Nov. 23, that using Tasers on human beings can be a form of torture. Their use, the committee said, contravenes the U.N.'s Convention Against Torture for the severity of the pain -- and death -- they inflict.

"It shows how out of touch the U.N. committee is with modern policing," Taser International Inc. chairman Tom Smith told a French news agency.

No. It suggests that the use of Tasers is getting out of hand. If anyone is losing touch, it's police who too easily buy into Taser's sales pitch of the weapon as a nonlethal improvement in policing, when a strong argument, supported by mounting evidence, can be made that Tasers are ratcheting up violence by sanitizing brutality under the often-repeated and inaccurate claim that they're a nonlethal weapon.

The weapon is supposed to be used exclusively in dangerous situations -- when an individual is an imminent danger to himself or to others. Think of it as a preferable substitute to firearms: When someone is being violently threatening, better to dart him with a briefly disabling electric shock than shoot him with a gun. When stun-gun advocates tout the weapon's benefits, they do so as that kind of nonlethal alternative to firearms. The presumption, reasonable in this context, is that Tasers would be used only when firearms would have been unholstered previously. In the scheme of everyday policing, those are rare occasions either way.

But that's not how Tasers are most often used. Instead, as at least one major American police department's analysis of its uses of Tasers has shown (in Houston), and numerous, almost daily examples of the weapon's use keep showing, Tasers are used primarily as an instrument of routine control and retaliation: A driver in Utah didn't want to sign his speeding ticket, so a trooper Tased him; a woman got loud and disruptive after using a stolen credit card at an electronics store, so she was Tased; a student got loud and long-winded during a town-hall meeting at the University of Florida, so he was Tased. In every case, none of the individuals' actions would have warranted pulling out a gun. But all got the Taser.

It isn't illegal to refuse to sign a ticket, to be rude to an officer or even to be agitated when confronted with law enforcement. To police quick on the Taser trigger, that sort of behavior is an affront. Yet a 50,000-volt retaliatory zap for control's sake isn't an affront to human rights -- let alone to the presumption of innocence until guilt is proven. Apparently not to Taser's chiefs and their police customers, who are disturbingly comfortable with confusing policing with punishment.

The U.N., fortunately, begs to differ.

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