Sunday, November 25, 2007

Even a broken clock is right twice every day. Tasers are Torture.

taser tortureI am no fan of the United Nations, but their recent comments about tasers are on the mark. Agence France-Press reports that the UN's Committee Against Torture has declared stun guns a form of torture. "The use of these weapons causes acute pain, constituting a form of torture. In certain cases, they can even cause death, as has been shown by reliable studies and recent real-life events,'' the committee of 10 experts said in recommendations to Portugal, which has bought the newest taser for use by police. Portugal "should consider giving up the use of the taser,'' as its use can have a grave physical and mental impact on those targeted, which violates the UN's Convention against Torture.

It's clear that taser use has been extended from enforcement to torture. Videos of taser deployment repeatedly show officers continuing to discharge the weapon after the victim is under control. Police and military worldwide, along with the manufacturer, believe this sort of sadism is just fine. They aggressively sell the notion that taser electroshock is not a last resort but a first option on a continuum of force, appropriate for use against any citizen in any situation even after the victim is under complete physical control. Sorry, no: if it's wrong at Abu Ghraib, it's wrong in Alabama.

It's long been my impression that Canada is in some ways more civilized than the US- certainly Canadians believe so- but the rise in taser deaths has followed unwarranted taser deployment northward. The Ottawa Citizen ran a fact-packed article this Saturday. On Sunday, Nov. 18, in a sad echo of Ohio's Heidi Gill episode, police in Ottawa tasered Marlena Sarazin after she had been torn from her vehicle, handcuffed, and pinned face-down on the pavement under an officer's knee. This followed the recent post-tasering death, caught on video, of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver airport last month. RCMP was seen kneeling on his neck in that video.

Earlier this week, Paul Kennedy, assigned to review the RCMP's use of Tasers in the wake of Mr. Dziekanski's death, said police use the devices "inappropriately at too early a level of intervention." Amnesty International said last June that Tasers "are used too readily by law-enforcement officers, too low down the use-of-force scale, and not as a weapon of last resort." Amnesty wants police forces to suspend use of the devices pending a "thorough, impartial and independent" investigation into their medical and other effects. Long term effects need further study; days after Ms. Sarazin was attacked, her hands were still tingling, though she's been told those effects will gradually subside.

Canadian cops are coming to have more in common with American cops than with Canadian citizens. Kingston Police Chief Bill Closs says tasers are here to stay. He thinks politicians and police governing bodies have misled the public by selling them as an alternative to lethal force and created a false expectation that police will use them only when they might otherwise have to shoot someone. In fact, he says, the rules permit their use whenever police are dealing with someone who is actively resisting, engaging in "assaultive behaviour" or posing a threat to the safety of the officer or the public. Because the officers themselves have written The Rules, and the threat determination will be made by an officer on the scene without witnesses or oversight, this means they'll use it whenever they want to, public opinion be damned. Unless citizen response reins in this relentless escalation, they'll rewrite rules to suit their needs. In five years we'll see LRADS (acoustic) and ADS (microwave) crowd control weapons deployed as freely as tasers are today. They're already in use here in the USA.