Friday, March 4, 2005

How To Spot Evil

According to this article from the New Scientist, researchers in Florida are busy trying to "optimize" a weapon that supposedly produces severe pain without doing any physical damage to the victim's body. They say they are developing this weapon to use against "rioters". More on that later, maybe, but first let's have a look at a few key paragraphs from that article:
The US military is funding development of a weapon that delivers a bout of excruciating pain from up to 2 kilometres away. Intended for use against rioters, it is meant to leave victims unharmed. But pain researchers are furious that work aimed at controlling pain has been used to develop a weapon. And they fear that the technology will be used for torture.
I would love to tell you that their fears concerning torture are unfounded, but there's a limit to the amount of sarcasm a patriot can write -- even a lowly and nearly frozen patriot like myself.

Apparently this new weapon is based on research in the field of pain management. How ironic. It must be so gratifying for the researchers in that field, most of whom would be concerned with making things better for dental patients, burn victims and the seriously ill.
"I am deeply concerned about the ethical aspects of this research," says Andrew Rice, a consultant in pain medicine at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London, UK. "Even if the use of temporary severe pain can be justified as a restraining measure, which I do not believe it can, the long-term physical and psychological effects are unknown."
And what do we mean by "optimize"? Sadly, it's just about what you'd expect. They are trying to figure out how to produce the maximum amount of pain.
The contract, heavily censored before release, asks researchers to look for "optimal pulse parameters to evoke peak nociceptor activation" - in other words, cause the maximum pain possible. Studies on cells grown in the lab will identify how much pain can be inflicted on someone before causing injury or death.
How "quaint".

You can call me paranoid, but I am concerned that this weapon will be used not only for torture, and not only against rioters. Peaceful protesters have been shot in this country before now; soon there will be a danger that they could simply be exposed to excruciating pain. And even though the weapon seems designed to avoid damaging tissue, who knows what harm it might do? Clearly I am not the only one who has entertained this question.
Amanda Williams, a clinical psychologist at University College London, fears that victims risk long-term harm. "Persistent pain can result from a range of supposedly non-destructive stimuli which nevertheless change the functioning of the nervous system," she says. She is concerned that studies of cultured cells will fall short of demonstrating a safe level for a plasma burst. "They cannot tell us about the pain and psychological consequences of such a painful experience."
Of course they can't. Cultured cells in a lab are not going to tell us anything about the long-term damage humans may suffer if they are exposed to such a weapon. And even if they somehow managed to do experiments with this thing on humans, it still wouldn't tell us very much. As one of my friends always reminds me, "Every organism is different. Every one reacts in a different way. Just because an experiment on a hundred subjects shows no lasting harm, that doesn't mean the hundred-and-first time won't kill somebody." I won't mention the name of the friend who likes to tell me this, but I will say that I don't dare argue with him. Not only because he's at least as smart as I am, but also because he happens to have a PhD in biology.

I suppose I should explain a bit more about the title of this piece. It seems to me that if you wanted to develop a new tool for crowd control and you weren't evil, you would look for a way to disable people temporarily, while causing as little pain as possible. But if you're evil then you probably enjoy inflicting pain, and in that case, the more the merrier, I suppose. As I mentioned in this post, there could be much more here than meets the eye.
If Wayne Madsen has it right, the torture is all part of something much bigger; impossibly sick and horribly sickening. His most recent article asks Did White House S&M ring order special videos from Abu Ghraib?. And his main point appears in this short paragraph:
The presence of cameras in prison facilities had many Washington insiders wondering if the gay S&M prostitution ring centered in the White House had access to pornographic videos from torture centers such as Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.
By their fruits shall ye know them.