LRADs in Pittsburgh

Looking at Gizmodo yesterday, I saw that the LRAD (Long Range Acoustical Device) was deployed on the protesters of the G-20 summit.  Most of the news reports say that it’s the first time the device has been deployed against US civilians (it’s been used against the Somali pirates and elsewhere).  I could have sworn they were actually used in New York during the 2004 RNC, but I could be mistaken.  No matter, it’s been used, and it’s making headlines.

The LRAD–like tasers, various chemicals, and directed energy weapons–are supposedly nonlethal.  But–like tasers, various chemicals, and directed energy weapons–nonlethal weapons can often end up killing civilians.  (See this Alternet article on tasers, and this NY Times article on the Russian use of fentayl), though I suppose that the LRAD–which can incite nausea, disrupted vision, and hearing damage–is the least lethal of these so-called nonlethal weapons.

The military acknowledges that nonlethal doesn’t actually mean nonlethal.  In a 2003 MTTP for the tactical employment of nonlethal weapons, the Joint Nonlethal Weapons Directorate notes:

The term “nonlethal” does not mean zero mortality or nonpermanent damage; these are goals and not guarantees of these weapons. NLW can add flexibility to combat operations and enhance force protection by providing an environment in which friendly troops can engage threatening targets with reduced risk of noncombatant casualties and collateral damage.

According to a report cited in an article by the Federation of American Scientists, a non-lethal chemical weapon is one that incapacitates 98% of the target population while causing fewer than 0.5% fatalities.  Klotz, Lynn et al., Beware the Siren’s Song: Why Non-Lethal Incapacitating Chemical Agents are Lethal, March 2003 at 6, citing Kenny, J. M., The human effects of non-lethal weapons. Human Effects Advisory Panel presentation to to the  committee for an Assessment of of Non-Lethal Weapons Science and Technology, April 30, 2001. Viewgraphs. ONR-NLW.239. National Academy of Sciences.

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