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The Merchants of Pain

Jim Lobe

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USA companies are exporting millions of dollars worth of equipment known to be used for torture, including selling devices to 12 countries where the USA State Department says that the use of torture is “persistent”, according to a new report by Amnesty International.
The USA is the world?s leading exporter of ?security equipment?, followed by the UK, France and Russia, and many others, in what is a fast growing market.
In doing so, the administration of USA President George W Bush, which approves the sales, is violating the spirit of its own export policy, adds the report that was released on Tuesday. In 2002, USA exports of electro-shock weapons and restraints that can be used for torture amounted to USA$14.7 million and $4.4 million respectively, adds the 85-page report titled “The Pain Merchants”.

“Although torture is endemic in Saudi Arabia, Smith & Wesson had no qualms about exporting approximately 10,000 leg-irons to Riyadh. And, apparently sharing this lack of concern, the Bush administration approved the sale,” said William Schulz, executive director of AIUSA, Amnesty’s USA branch.

“For decades, human rights groups and the USA State Department have documented Saudi Arabia’s cruel use of leg-irons and shackles to inflict torture and force confessions,” Schulz added. “With this shameful shipment, we can expect the torture of religious minorities and peaceful protestors to continue for years to come.”

However, the USA is not the only exporter by any means of such equipment, which is “less than lethal” but can inflict severe pain amounting to torture when used improperly, said Amnesty. Worldwide, some 856 companies in 47 countries either make or market such devices.

“Just because security equipment may be described as ‘less than lethal’ does not mean it cannot be abused, nor that it cannot injure or kill,” said Brian Wood, Amnesty’s expert on crime control devices. “We are extremely concerned that in many countries devices are being authorized for use on the population without sufficient investigation of their effects on human rights.”

In recent years, the USA government has taken steps to reduce the likelihood that devices made there will be sent to countries where they will be used to torture or otherwise inflict harm. Most importantly, the USA has adopted an export policy that requires licenses in order to sell or ship electro-shock equipment to all countries except Canada.

Similarly, the European Commission (EC) has drafted regulations that would ban member states from exporting equipment whose primary practical purpose is torture, such as leg irons and stun belts, and would impose tight restrictions on the export of equipment, which might have a legitimate policing purpose, but that can be used for torture, such as electro-shock stun weapons and tear gas.

However, the EC’s policy has yet to be adopted, and USA license requirements are not being seriously enforced, according to AIUSA. It noted that in 2001, the government approved three sales of electro-shock devices to Turkey, despite the State Department’s findings that such weapons were widely used for torture there.

In one case in 2002, a 17-year-old schoolgirl who was detained for distributing leaflets calling for the legalization of Kurdish education was stripped, threatened with rape and tortured with electric shocks to her feet, legs and stomach, said Amnesty. “The USA needs to completely close the loopholes that have allowed the re-supply of this technology to countries that torture,” Maureen Greenwood, AIUSA’s advocacy director in Europe, said in the report.

She noted that Representatives Tom Lantos and Henry Hyde are currently working on legislation that places restrictions on crime control exports to foreign governments known to use torture. Lantos and Hyde are proposing to ban outright the export of all electro-shock devices to those countries. “This is a horrifying spectacle,” said Lantos, a California Democrat and Holocaust survivor. “These are singularly unsavoury governments that do not share our human rights concerns,” he told USA News & World Report.

Amnesty said that it was also concerned about other “crime control” weapons, such as sedative chemical incapacitating agents, like the one that killed more than 120 hostages when Russian security forces ended a siege in a Moscow theatre last year. Amnesty noted that new technologies, many of which are being developed as part of the USA “war on terror”, might also be used to inflict torture and should be very carefully reviewed for their possible abuse.

Such devices include radio-frequency weapons that might induce artificial fever, “stench chemicals” and UV lasers that can ionize the air to deliver an electric charge. Amnesty stressed that most of these weapons are not intended to inflict torture but can be used to do so.

The president of a USA manufacturer of electro-shock riot shields told Amnesty, “It’s possible to use anything for torture,” adding, “But it’s a little easier to use our devices.”

A three-year-old study by the London-based group found that torture has been reported in all but about 35 countries worldwide, and that there are more than 70 countries in which torture has been reported to be widespread or persistent.

In more than 80 countries, including the USA, deaths have been reported as a result of torture. In the USA case, for example, a man died after being “lasered” a dozen times - each time with a 50,000 volt shock - by deputy sheriffs in Florida.

Last year, the USA Department of Commerce approved licenses for the export of discharge-type weapons - including electro-shock stun guns, shock batons and similar devices - to 45 countries, among them a large number where the State Department has reported the use of torture against detainees. Those countries include Bangladesh, Brazil, Ecuador, Ghana, Honduras, India, Jordan, Lebanon, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Thailand and Venezuela.

Despite this, more than 60 USA manufacturers sought licenses to export such equipment during 2002. AIUSA said it feared that some manufacturers actually ignore the licensing requirement and ship such equipment directly to the buyer. Indeed, a recent investigative report in USA News & World Report found that several small companies freely advertise on various Internet sites how to circumvent export rules for stun guns by, for example, shipping parts separately.


Published Thursday, December 4th, 2003 - 01:57pm GMT

Article courtesy of Asia Times

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