US Exporting 'Tools of Torture'
by Jim Lobe
administration of US President George W. Bush is violating the spirit
of its own export policy by approving the sale of tools to countries
known to use them to torture detainees, according to a
new report released here Tuesday by Amnesty International.
2002, US exports of electroshock weapons and restraints that can
be used for torture amounted to some $14.7 million and $4.4 million,
respectively, according to the report, titled "The
with the sales of such equipment, Washington is also reported to
have handed over suspects in the "war on terror" to the
same countries, the 85-page report said.
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 Amnesty's
US branch, AIUSA.
decades, human-rights groups and the US State Department have documented
Saudi Arabia's cruel use of leg-irons and shackles to inflict torture
and force confessions. With this shameful shipment, we can expect
the torture of religious minorities and peaceful protesters to continue
for years to come."
United States is not the only exporter of such police- and security-related
equipment that, while not lethal, can inflict severe pain and amount
to torture when used improperly, according to Amnesty. Worldwide,
some 856 companies in 47 countries either manufacture or market
Asian companies particularly those in Taiwan, China, and
South Korea dominate the electroshock market.
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."
recent years, the US government has taken steps most importantly
the adoption of an export policy that requires licenses to sell
or ship electroshock equipment to all countries except Canada
to reduce the likelihood that devices manufactured here will be
sent to countries where they are used to torture or otherwise inflict
the European Commission (EC) has drafted regulations that would
ban the export from member states of equipment whose primary practical
purpose is torture such as leg irons and stun belts
and impose tight restrictions on the export of equipment that may
have a legitimate policing purpose but which could be used for torture,
such as electroshock stun weapons and tear gas.
the EC's policy has yet to be adopted, while US license requirements
are not being seriously enforced, according to AIUSA, which noted
that in 2001 the government approved three sales of electroshock
devices to Turkey, despite the State Department's finding that such
weapons were widely used for torture there.
one 2002 case, 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, according to Amnesty.
US needs to completely close the loopholes that have allowed the
resupply of this technology to countries that torture," said
Maureen Greenwood, AIUSA's advocacy director in Europe. She noted
that Reps. Tom Lantos and Henry Hyde are currently working on legislation
that places restrictions on crime-control exports to foreign governments
known to use torture.
said 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 theater last year.
also noted that new technologies, many of which are being developed
as part of the US "war on terror," may also be used to
inflict torture and should be very carefully reviewed for their
include radio-frequency weapons that may induce an artificial fever;
"stench chemicals"; taser mines that could deliver a 50,000-volt
shock to anyone within a certain radius; and UV lasers that can
ionize the air to also deliver an electric charge.
stressed that most of these weapons are not intended to inflict
torture but can be used to do so. "It's possible to use anything
for torture," the president of a US manufacturer of electroshock
riot shields told Amnesty. "But it's a little easier to use
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.
more than 80 countries, including the United States, deaths have
been reported as a result of torture. In the US case, for example,
a man died after being "tasered" a dozen times, each time
with a 50,000 volt shock, by deputy sheriffs in Florida.
US Department of Commerce last year approved licenses for exports
of discharge-type weapons, including electroshock 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, including Bangladesh, Brazil, Ecuador, Ghana,
Honduras, India, Jordan, Lebanon, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines,
Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Thailand, and Venezuela.
than 60 US manufacturers sought licenses to export such equipment
said it feared that some manufacturers actually ignored the licensing
requirement and shipped such equipment directly to the buyer. Indeed,
a recent investigative report in US News & World Report
found that several small companies freely advertise at various Internet
Web sites how to circumvent exports rules for stun guns by, for
example, shipping parts separately.
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2003 One World