It barely made news last week when Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne called for the testing of nonlethal weaponry on US citizens in crowd-control situations. According to 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."
"War on terror" blowback hits Main Street.
But it's naïve to think that once developed, US military weapons will only be used against foreign populations. The Bush administration's "you're with us or against us" mentality leaves little room for domestic dissent, and as the line blurs between military and national security technologies, folks back home will find themselves increasingly targeted.
One example of a crowd-control device possibly coming to your hometown is Raytheon's Active Denial System heat-beam, which a US Air Force fact sheet describes as a "focused speed-of-light millimeter wave energy beam to induce an intolerable heating sensation. How long before a weapon like that is illicitly used for interrogations, let alone for torture?
There's also the crowd-control Taser, an updated version of the "stun gun" already authorized for US government use against civilians. The Taser delivers a short-term electrical charge of 50,000 volts and though marketed as a non-lethal weapon, has been linked to a number of deaths. While the Taser's dart-firing technology is of little use for crowd control or on vehicles, a new laser version of the gun will reportedly be able to deliver a similar 50,000-volt shock across a crowd.
In other words, protest rallies could soon become much more dangerous for those with medical conditions (such as heart problems) potentially exacerbated by electric shocks.
If testing painful heat-beam and electric-shock weapons on hometown crowds seems a little farfetched, keep in mind that it wouldn't be the first time the government has used US citizens as guinea pigs for weapons experiments. In 2003, for example, the Pentagon admitted to having tested biological/chemical agents on 5,842 service members in secret trials conducted over a ten-year period (1962-73).
In operations called Project 112 and Project SHAD, the Defense Department assessed its WMD capabilities on service members aboard Navy ships, and in all sorts of other despicable ways - including spraying a Hawaiian rainforest and parts of Oahu. All in all, tests were conducted in six states (Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Utah) as well as in Canada, Britain and Panama.
Many military personnel were not even informed when the toxic agents were being tested on them, and only decades later, as crucial documents slowly become declassified, have the veterans' health complaints been acknowledged.
"Could never happen today," you might think, "too many legal protections for citizens in place." Think again.
There's a tricky clause in Chapter 32/Title 50 of the United States Code (the aggregation of US general and permanent laws). Specifically, Section 1520a lists the following cases in which the Secretary of Defense can conduct a chemical or biological agent test or experiment on humans if informed consent has been obtained:
Any peaceful purpose that is related to a medical, therapeutic,
pharmaceutical, agricultural, industrial, or research activity.
Any purpose that is directly related to protection against toxic chemicals
or biological weapons and agents.
(3) Any law enforcement purpose, including any purpose related to riot control.
The definition is a little too open-ended for comfort; apparently there are a lot of circumstances under which the Secretary of Defense can test chemical or biological agents on human beings, but at least informed consent has to be obtained in advance.
Or does it. Get a load of Section 1515, another part of Chapter 32, this one entitled "Suspension; Presidential authorization":
After November 19, 1969, the operation of this chapter, or any portion thereof, may be suspended by the President during the period of any war declared by Congress and during the period of any national emergency declared by Congress or by the President.
You got it. If the President or Congress decides we're at war then the Secretary of Defense doesn't need anybody's consent to test chemical or biological agents on human beings. Gives one pause during these days of a perpetual "war on terror."
It's not a stretch to wonder what kind of clandestine WMD tests the Defense Department could be conducting in the US right now, on military or civilian populations, without consent, let alone on populations abroad.
It all boils down to this: If US citizens allow our government to pull out of international arms control agreements and invest billions in weaponry, and if we allow ourselves to live in a mindset of perpetual war, then we lose the right to be surprised when that war and those weapons are inevitably turned against us.
1. To read a veteran's blog on "men and women used as guinea pigs in America's military experiments" visit: http://testvets.blogsource.com.
2. Is a university or military facility in your area involved in biological weapons research? One resource to help you locate biodefense projects is Project Sunshine's "Map of High Containment and Other Facilities of the US Biodefense Program," under "Biodefense" at www.sunshine-project.org.
3. If Tasers are part of your local police force's arsenal you might want to ask some questions: What training do officers receive regarding how to use Tasers? In what situations is use authorized? Is it standard operating procedure to involve a medical responder to check on those who have received the Taser's strong electric jolt? Similar questions will need to be asked about the crowd-control version of the Taser, as soon as it is released.
Heather Wokusch is a freelance writer and author of the two-volume series The Progressives' Handbook: Get the Facts and Make a Difference Now. This article is partially excerpted from Volume I. For more Action Ideas or to learn more about The Progressives' Handbook series, visit www.progressiveshandbook.com. Heather can also be reached via www.heatherwokusch.com.
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