Media Scolds Military for Not Using Non-Existent ‘Ray Gun’ in Iraq


By: Warner Todd Huston

This one makes you want to say, “Captain Kirk to the Starship AP. Beam us up, there’s no intelligent life in the AP News Room.” On August 29th, the AP published a story scolding the U.S. Military for refusing to use a non-lethal “ray gun” to control crowds in Iraq and they quote a few military sources who claim they issued an “urgent request” for the system. It takes over half the story before the reader is finally told that this system is still experimental and that this “ray gun” has never been put into production, so “urgent requests” or no, the Pentagon couldn’t ship the weapon even if it wanted to because it doesn’t really even exist in a field ready state. And, even as the AP admits this, the fact that this weapon doesn’t really exist is never developed well enough in the story for a casual reader to easily grasp this fact. The net effect of the story causes a reader to imagine we have a warehouse filled with these life saving, non-lethal weapons and that the Pentagon refuses to release them to desperate commanders in Iraq. But the truth is that we do not even have any such stash of these experimental crowd control devices anywhere.

Worse than misleading the public into assuming that the Military has non-lethal weapons at its disposal that it refuses to use, AP presents its story as if the Military is simply prefers to just randomly kill people. And, in keeping with the AP’s anti-American stylebook, Iraqi insurgents are treated as mere loiterers that the US military indiscriminately sprays with bullets, bullets that also kill untold numbers of civilians.

Catch their opening sentences:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Saddam Hussein had been gone just a few weeks, and U.S. forces in Fallujah, west of Baghdad, were already being called unwelcome invaders. One of the first big anti-American protests of the war escalated into shootouts that left 18 Iraqis dead and 78 wounded.

It would be a familiar scene in Iraq’s next few years: Crowds gather, insurgents mingle with civilians. Troops open fire, and innocents die.

All the while, according to internal military correspondence obtained by The Associated Press, U.S. commanders were telling Washington that many civilian casualties could be avoided by using a new non-lethal weapon developed over the past decade.

So the US military is just as bad as Saddam Hussein, Iraqis have always considered us “unwanted invaders,” and the U.S. military goes around shooting into crowds so that “innocents die.”

And, notice how that second sentence progressed: “Crowds gather, insurgents mingle with civilians. Troops open fire…” So, U.S. troops automatically fire into crowds throughout Iraq just because they think an insurgent might “mingle” there? Does the AP have a military communication to prove their rhetoric that orders have been given to our soldiers that they should fire into just any group of people without provocation? Oh, wait… did the AP forget to mention that the insurgents opened fire first? Shucks, that must have been just an accidental oversight on AP’s part, right?

Next the AP disingenuously leads readers into imagining that “military leaders” throughout Iraq are requesting and being denied this weapon.

Military leaders repeatedly and urgently requested – and were denied – the device, which uses energy beams instead of bullets and lets soldiers break up unruly crowds without firing a shot.

For proof of these “military leaders” who “repeatedly and urgently” requested the devices AP mentions one Air Force scientist and a few Marine generals who asked after the system (they also cite an officer that endorsed one Marine general’s request). This handful of officers mentioned, along with one scientist who is not a field commander, does not make for enough “military leaders” to justify the tenor of this story. AP writes as if dozens of officers have pleaded for these devices and have been summarily denied them by an uncaring Pentagon. The AP doesn’t even make the case that most officers are even aware of the existence of these types of weapons.

After finger waging at the Pentagon for half the story, the AP slips in this fact.

Still, officials say the technology is too expensive, although they won’t say what it costs to build. They cite engineering challenges as another obstacle, although one U.S. defense contractor says it has a model ready for production.

Wait a minute! A defense contractor “says it has a model ready for production?” With that one sentence we come to find out that these non-lethal crowd control devices are not even in production and that only a few experimental and extremely expensive prototypes are currently in existence. In other words, these things do not exist in field ready form, none have been produced and finally tested, none have had field trials. Yet, here is the AP acting as if these weapons have been denied repeated requests for deployment as if they are just sitting in a warehouse gathering dust.

But, how, exactly, does one deploy a system that does not really exist?

It’s also amusing that the AP’s chief argument that we should be making these devices is based on the word of a military contractor who will financially benefit from their production. Apparently, pecuniary gain is all the AP needs for assurances that this system is effective and ready to easily deploy. One thing is sure, if this were the AP’s chief justification, it would rank as the first time they took as gospel the word of an evil military contractor that would make money off of war!

AP quotes Mike Booen, Raytheon’s vice president for “directed energy programs,” who assures us all that they have a version of this crowd control device called the “Silent Guardian” ready for production. So AP is obviously trying to make the reader think that the Pentagon has but to give the word and cut a check and these wonderful gadgets can flood into Iraq to “save lives.”

Mike Booen, Raytheon’s vice president for directed energy programs, said the company has produced one system that’s immediately available.

“We have the capacity to build additional systems as needed,” he said.

Well, that sure sounds like we could get dozens of them at a minute’s notice, doesn’t it. Well, not quite:

Raytheon has not sold any Silent Guardians to U.S. or foreign customers, and Booen would not discuss the product’s price.

In other words, Raytheon has not made any, has not fully field tested any, and they have not sold any to anyone outside of the military, either — not even civilian agencies. And, his reluctance to discuss price is telling, too. Imagine how expensive they must be?

Next the AP wonders “how many civilian deaths could have been avoided” if only we had this innovative Star Trek ray gun at our disposal?

There’s no way to calculate how many civilian deaths could have been avoided had the energy beam been available in Iraq. The bulk of the civilian casualties are due to sectarian warfare.

According to AP statistics, more than 27,400 Iraqi civilians have been killed and more than 31,000 wounded in war-related violence just since the new government took office in April 2005.

It’s always fun to “prove” a point with a negative, isn’t it? If there is “no way to calculate” the life saving, AP, how do you base your argument on the “fact” of lives saved? Does the AP think that this ray gun would convince al Qaeda and other insurgents to just give it all up and stop the violence?

Now, I can sign on to AP’s underlying point. Perhaps non-lethal systems should be pushed harder? Perhaps we should get more serious than we have been thus far about these futuristic devices? But, for AP to present this story like they already exist and can be deployed by simply filling out a requisition slip is completely misleading.

For these crowd control devices to be deployed, we have to settle on a final design, actually manufacture them, then put them into field trials before we can unleash them as standard equipment for our military forces. This is a long time process that belies the AP’s seeming claim that such devices have been “denied” officers in the field.

And then there is the legal question, one to which the AP gives short shrift in their telling of this tale of woe. AP gives this important point a few lines but their focus does not reveal how important this aspect of non-lethal weapons truly is.

The main reason the tool has been missing in action is public perception. With memories of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal still fresh, the Pentagon is reluctant to give troops a space-age device that could be misconstrued as a torture machine.

“We want to just make sure that all the conditions are right, so when it is able to be deployed the system performs as predicted – that there isn’t any negative fallout,” said Col. Kirk Hymes, head of the Defense Department’s Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate.

Reviews by military lawyers concluded it is a lawful weapon under current rules governing the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a Nov. 15 document prepared by Marine Corps officials in western Iraq.

Private organizations remain concerned, however, because documentation that supports the testing and legal reviews is classified. There’s no way to independently verify the Pentagon’s claims, said Stephen Goose of Human Rights Watch in Washington.

What the AP doesn’t say is that the whole status of non-lethal weapons is up in the air the world over. They have not been tested by constant use, they have not been litigated over nor have laws been adjusted for their use. So, any use of them is sailing into uncharted waters, for sure. And, in this day of constant and abusive litigation, it is no wonder that the U.S. government is reluctant to speed ahead with new devices.

Now, imagine if we had been using such a weapon and someone was killed by this “non-lethal” device? Imagine how the AP would be wailing over this death. How many calls for the heads of Pentagon officials for such “negligence” would we hear then? How many leftist NGO’s would be lining up to sue the U.S. government and its contractors?

In the final analysis, the AP presents these weapons as if they are ready to use when they have not even been put into production and does not inform the reader of all the real obstacles, mechanical, financial, and legal, in the way of a deployment of these sorts of new weapons. This story just leaves readers once again damning a negligent U.S. military establishment that seems to be senselessly keeping a valuable resource away from the ranks of our military commanders who are powerlessly pleading for their use.

We all know why the AP presents this story in such a manner, though, don’t we? It’s because it casts the U.S. government, the military and the Bush Administration as the bad guys, of course. And, in the end, isn’t that what most AP stories try to do?

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