Source: THE PROGRESSIVE, Title: “Shock Value: U.S. Stun Devices Pose Human-Rights Risk,” Date: September 1997, Author: Anne-Marie Cusac; Mainstream media coverage: Chicago Tribune, March 4, 1997, page 5, zone N; and Washington Times, March 4, 1997, page 16A
SSU Censored Researchers: Carolyn Williams and Susan Allen
SSU Faculty Evaluator: Dan Haytin, Ph.D.
In its March 1997 report entitled “Recent Cases of the Use of Electroshock Weapons for Torture or Ill Treatment,” Amnesty International lists 100 companies worldwide that produce and sell instruments of torture. Forty-two of these firms are in the United States. This places the U.S. as the leader in the manufacture of stun guns, stun belts, cattle probe-like devices, and other equipment which can cause devastating pain in the hands of torturers. According to the report, the following are some of the American companies currently engaged in the production and sale of such weapons: Arianne International of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida; B-west Imports Inc. of Tucson, Arizona; and Taserton of Corona, California. Arianne International makes the “Myotron,” a compact version of the stun gun. B-West joined with Paralyzer Protection, a South African company, to produce shock batons that deliver a charge of between 80,000 and 120,000 volts. Taserton was the first company to manufacture the taser, a product which shoots two wires attached to darts with metal hooks. When these hooks catch a victim’s skin or clothing, the device delivers a debilitating shock. Los Angeles police officers used the device against Rodney King in 1991.
These weapons are currently in use in the U.S. and are being exported to countries all over the world. The U.S. government is a large purchaser of stun devices specially stun guns, electroshock batons, and electric shields. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Amnesty both claim the devices are unsafe and may encourage sadistic acts by police officers and prison guards both here and abroad. “Stun belts offer enormous possibilities for abuse and the infliction of gratuitous pain,” says Jenni Gainsbourough of the ACLU’s National Prison Project. She adds that because use of the stun belt leaves little physical evidence, this increases the likelihood of sadistic, but hard-to-prove, misuse of these weapons. In June 1996, Amnesty International asked the Bureau of Prisons to suspend the use of electroshock belt, citing the possibility of physical danger to inmates and the potential for misuse.
In 1991, Terence Allen, a specialist in forensic pathology who served as deputy medical examiner for both Los Angeles and San Francisco’s coroner’s offices, linked the taser to fatalities. With electrical current, Allen says, the chance of death increases with each use. Allen warns, “I think what you are going to see is more deaths from stun weapons.”
Manufacturers of electroshock weapons continue to denounce allegations that use of their devices is dangerous and may constitute a gross violation of human rights. Instead, they are making more advanced innovations. A new stun weapon may soon be added to police arsenals: the electroshock razor wire, specially designed for surrounding demonstrators who get out of hand.
UPDATE BY AUTHOR ANNE-MARIE CUSAC: “Many citizens do not realize that the abuse of prisoners is epidemic in the United States. Since I wrote the piece, evidence that guards in the Maricopa County, Arizona, jail system mistreated inmates with stun guns (including one incident where a guard shocked a sleeping inmate) has led to a new jail policy restricting the use of ‘non-lethal’ weapons such as stun guns. There has also been some disturbing news; the stun belt recently appeared in South Africa. This is the first documented export of the device.
“Meanwhile, the manufacturers have been busy. One company recently announced a device it calls ‘The Sticky Shocker,’ which fires an electrified high-pressure saline solution. The ‘Net Gun,’ another new product, uses a grenade launcher to shoot a sticky web that can deliver a 60,000-volt shock.
“The mainstream media have had no response to ‘Shock Value,’ and have given scant coverage to the issue as a whole. A copy of Amnesty International’s report on stun devices may be obtained by phoning 212/807-8400. The American Civil Liberties Union Prison Rights Project (Tel: 202/234-4830) also has information on the devices.”