February 20, 2007

Shooting Pain

A few weeks ago, news agencies reported the debut of a non-lethal heat-beaming weapon. Presumably, this Active Denial System (as it is called) is designed to disperse rioters or others causing problems without the occasional nasty problem of a rubber bullet to an eye. It can also be effective at long distances.

As I've been slacking on my news intake lately, I discovered this through my roommates. There seems to have been a unanimous "that's cool!" reaction to the technology that can inflict a severe burning sensation to anyone unfortunate enough to be in front of the ray. The pacifist in me even rejoices at the possible implementation of a "much-needed alternative to just going from 'shouting' to 'shooting.'"

However, something about the heat ray unsettled me, and I have been unable to discern the reason until today when I read an article on Slate. In addition to containing more information about the device, the story concludes with the following paragraphs that aptly summarize my unease:

But the ability to inflict pain without injury doesn't just make injury less necessary. It makes pain more essential to military operations—and easier to inflict. To achieve the desired "repel effect," I have to make you suffer. Knowing that your agony will be brief and leave no physical damage makes the weapon easier to fire. [ . . . ]

That's the metaphysical gap nonlethal energy weapons exploit. The rain of pain falls mainly in the brain. [ . . . ] Four months ago, Congress passed and President Bush signed legislation to prosecute torture, defined as intentional infliction of "serious physical or mental pain or suffering." But that rule applies only in captivity. On the street, pain administration won't be a crime. It'll be a policy.

Two weeks from now, military leaders will convene in London to discuss the pain beam and the next generation of directed-energy weapons, including microwaves and lasers. Law enforcement agencies are interested. Raytheon is already advertising the technology for commercial applications. We're even developing a "personnel halting and stimulation response" system—yes, a PHaSR—to stun targets instead of killing them. But don't worry, nobody will get hurt. Sort of.
(emphasis mine)

While I believe non-lethal force is undoubtedly better than the alternative, I find the infliction of pain as a "policy" to be rather disturbing and ripe for potential abuse.

Posted by Randy at February 20, 2007 05:42 PM | TrackBack