The U.S. military has given hundreds of its troops electricity-spewing taser guns, rubber bullets, and other so-called "non-lethal" weapons to help keep order in Iraq. One of the reasons why, according to a report prepared for the Army: Saddam's thugs used such tactics, too."The previous regime used batons to beat the populace, and electrical torture devices on dissidents. Thus judicious use and control of the riot baton and introduction of the TASER has intimidated the former members of the regime, and saved soldiers and civilians lives," reads a personal report, circulating through the Defense Department, from recently retired Lt. Col. Wesley "Bo" Barbour, now a contract employee for the Army's Training and Doctrine Command.Earlier this year, Barbour lead an Army team that trained 110 soldiers in the use of tasers and other weapons designed to hurt, not to kill. The idea is to give G.I.'s a way to quell resistance, control crowds and subdue prisoners of war without causing unwanted Iraqi civilian casualties."These are tools to enable commanders to break the cycle of violence," Barbour said. "Instead of shooting them dead and promoting further violence, you modify their behavior."The taser's value as a particularly ferocious behavior-modification tool became clear at a prisoner-of-war camp holding "high-value detainees currently depicted in the 'deck of cards'" -- the list of the 55 most wanted leaders of Saddam Hussein's government.Members of the 800th Military Police Brigade had to use lethal force several times to quell prisoner uprisings, the report says. But such rebellions reportedly came to an end after a military police officer demonstrated the taser's power--more than 50,000 volts of electricity, enough to cause muscles to fail after a shock of a few seconds."Holy shit! That was the expression" when the prisoners saw the taser demonstration, said Sergeant Major Charles Slider, with the Military Police School based out of Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri. He was part of Barbour's team in Iraq. "They moved away, they got it in line. It was a significant event for them."Amnesty International has called on the U.S. and its allies to stop using tasers "until there has been a full and independent investigation into the medical and other effects of these weapons and it has been proved that such weapons can be used in accordance with the international human-rights standards."James Lewis, a defense analyst with Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, calls such a demand misguided."These technologies always seem to generate concerns about mistreated prisoners and abused human rights," he said. "But if the choice is between an M-16 [rifle] and a taser, which would we have them use?"In As Samawah, along the Euphrates River, non-lethal weapons of a different sort were employed. Iraqis trying to get into "a walled facility containing food and water" there were blasted with wood baton rounds by the 551st Military Police Company. The non-lethal ammunition "knocked the infiltrators off the wall," the report notes. The show of force was "deemed to be effective at blocking any further incursions."Members of the 977th Military Police Company fired 12 gauge rubber pellet rounds at Iraqi civilians in the town of Ad Diwaniyah, to keep them away from Marines conducting house-to-house searches.Before I fired them, I thought non-lethals were [bad]," one staff sergeant told Barbour. "I am now convinced we need them on every patrol.But this view is far from universal in the American military community. Out of the Defense Department's gargantuan $401 billion budget for next year, only a relatively small sum, $44 million, is devoted to its Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate."As long as they're killing us, there's a feeling that there's nothing we can do with non-lethal," said Charles "Sid" Heal, an internationally-known non-lethal weapons expert, who recently retired after 34 years in the Marine Corps Reserve. He served with the 3rd Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company during Operation Iraqi Freedom. "The concern is that if we're not willing to kill, we're diluting that lethal message. We're telling our adversaries to go ahead and resist."In early April, when Baghdad fell, Army military police units attached to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (1 MEF) began carrying a non-lethal arsenal during search, security, and crowd-control missions. But by June, these troops were told to "withdraw" the non-lethal munitions." Instead, they were issued "shoot to kill orders to ensure the population got the message about attacks against US forces," according to Barbour's report.But if non-lethal tactics arent accepted by American forces in Iraq, they may never find a role in the U.S. military. For years, tasers, rubber bullets, and the like have been used in police departments around the world. Now that American forces are performing police-like duties in Iraq, "this is the big test for non-lethals," said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org."Non-lethal weapons are basically designed for stability and support operations. Well, Iraq is the mother of all stability and support operations. It's going to be revealing how they work," he said.One weapon that did not work well, according to Barbour's round-up, was the M-84 flash-bang grenade designed to stun large groups of people with bright light and loud noise. In May, a crowd became rowdy at a "food and fuel distribution point" in the city ok Al Kut. Members of the 194th Military Police Company threw M-84's. But the grenades "demonstrated little effect upon the crowd." The Iraqis "quickly regrouped," and were cowed only after taking multiple rubber pellet rounds.All told, 36 Army platoons of about 30 soldiers each have received non-lethal "capabilities sets" from the Army. The standard-issue sets contain flash-bang grenades, rubber bullets, and wood baton rounds, as well as the "modular crowd control munition" a non-lethal cousin of the claymore mine that fires 600 rubber balls, instead of steel spheres.96 more "capabilities sets" are now in the Pentagon's labyrinthine ordering process. At least 36 of those are scheduled to arrive in Iraq in the next 90 to 120 days, Barbour said. That's enough to give about another thousand U.S. soldiers in Iraq non-lethal gear.The sets do not include the taser stun guns. However, the Defense Department has recently set up a $1 million fund for agencies that want to purchase the electrical weapons.Amnesty International's Alistair Hodgett calls that bad news."There's never been a comprehensive, independent study of how it affects people," Amnesty International's Hodgett says. "And until we've done that, we shouldn't be putting this technology into people's hands."But tasers have been tested over and over again by police departments around the world, stun gun proponents retort. They maintain that the weapons have never caused a fatality, after years of closely-monitored use.The taser has been accused of contributing to deaths, however. Earlier this month, for example, a Florida man died after being subdued by local police with the dart-shooting stun gun. It may take weeks to determine whether or not the taser shots were responsible, according to the Miami Herald."There's never been a comprehensive, independent study of how it affects people," Amnesty International's Hodgett said. "And until we've done that, we shouldn't be putting this technology into people's hands."Barbour disagrees, of course. By giving G.I.'s a less deadly option to check prisoners of war and rabble-rousers, the taser will actually reduce civilian casualties, he maintains. And it allows U.S. troops to be more aggressive.With the taser, he said, "You can shoot first and ask questions later, because you can reverse the effect."THERE'S MORE: The Chicago Tribune is running a slimmed-down version of this story today. You can read that article here.
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