U.S. exporting tools of torture

The Bush administration and big business interests are colluding in the sale of “tools of torture,” according to an Amnesty International report titled “The Pain Merchants” released on Dec. 2.

The report focuses on the export of so called “less than lethal” security equipment, items that would be painfully familiar to protesters the world over. These items include tasers (as well as “stun guns” or “stun batons”), plastic baton rounds (and “rubber bullets”), tear gas (and other chemical agents used for crowd control) and restraints such as leg-irons and shackles.

These “less than lethal” weapons are designed to be used on people, to make them submit through pain and discomfort. This makes them perfect, ready-made torture aids, Amnesty’s report says. The report carries many harrowing accounts of deaths, serious injuries and torture allegations related to such “non-lethal” weaponry.

A Lebanese prisoner describes how he was tortured with a stun baton. “They use the electroshock sometimes in our eyes. What you feel is terrible, you feel like it’s hell, you feel lightning in your eyes and your hands, all your body is shaking, you feel that you want to die,” he said. This graphic description of the systematic use of items such as electroshock devices for torture is only one of a great many contained within the report.

In 2002, the Department of Commerce approved 127 licenses to export discharge-type weaponry (everything from cattle prods to projectile devices) worth $14.8 million. It denied a mere three export licenses worth a paltry $124,000. A license to export shock batons was denied to Nigeria, but countries such as Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Ghana and Bangladesh were all allowed licenses, ignoring documented evidence of torture there.

Despite numerous reports of torture involving Saudi Arabian authorities by the State Department, the Department of Commerce was still willing to grant U.S. companies a license to export restraint items such as thumbcuffs, shackles and leg-irons to that country in 2002.

In the Amnesty report, the U.S. government is not only criticized for allowing the export of potential torture equipment in the report, its usage within the United States itself comes in for harsh criticism. For example, the “stun belt” sounds like a device straight out of science fiction. It is a belt that can deliver a 50,000 volt shock by remote control, and it is used in 30 state prisons and federal courts right here in the USA. The United Nations Committee Against Torture urged the U.S. government to discontinue usage and export of the belt in 2000, but its recommendations have been ignored.

Amnesty’s report contains an agenda for action. The organization calls for an immediate ban on the use and trade of all equipment that has as its only purpose “inflicting torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment.” This includes stun belts, sharp or serrated handcuffs and spiked batons. Amnesty also advocates strict controls of the trade in items that can be used for law enforcement purposes but “which because of their design could easily cause unwarranted injury or be abused for the purpose of torture.”

One can only hope that these suggestions are heeded, and that this cruel and immoral source of profit for companies around the world can be ended.

To find out more about the report go to Amnesty’s website at http://www.amnesty.org. The author can be reached at pww@pww.org