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UN Says Tasers Are a Form of Torture 816

Posted by kdawson
from the just-don't-bro dept.
The use of Tasers "causes acute pain, constituting a form of torture," the UN's Committee Against Torture said. "In certain cases, they can even cause death, as has been shown by reliable studies and recent real-life events." Three men — all in their early 20s — died from after tasering in the United States this week, days after a Polish man died at Vancouver airport after being tasered by Canadian police. There have been 17 deaths in Canada following the use of Tasers since they were approved for use, and 275 deaths in the US. "According to Amnesty International, coroners have listed the Taser jolt as a contributing factor in more than 30 of those deaths."
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UN Says Tasers Are a Form of Torture

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  • by DarrenBaker (322210) <darren@@@flim...net> on Saturday November 24, 2007 @10:23PM (#21467199) Homepage
    There is some truth to this sentiment, which is why police officers in most districts are required to be both tasered and pepper-sprayed during training - so that they realise just how effective a tool they are.

    What is interesting is just how much the media is showing their bias by giving such one-sided statistics. How many people have been tasered in total? I wonder if the application-of-non-lethal-force to deaths ratio is better for rubber bullets, bean bags, billy clubs, or tasers. Not to mention the (unmeasurable) statistic of how many lives were saved because they were tasered, and not shot to death.

    It's an imperfect solution, but it's much, much better than the alternatives.
  • Re:Alternative (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Saturday November 24, 2007 @10:23PM (#21467211)

    Don't break the law and you won't risk your life to a taser.

    Bullshit. Because tasers are supposed to be nonlethal they are often abused and used on people who have broken no laws at all. See the recent case of the man who went into a diabetic coma and was subsequently tasered while lying helpless. See the case of the 87 year old woman who was tasered at her rest home for yelling at a police officer from her wheelchair. Neither broke the law, but both were put in danger.

    I fail to see how something that is painful and has a non-zero chance of death is automatically torture and should be outlawed. By that measure we should outlaw the average daily commute.

    Have you ever been tasered? I volunteered to try it. It really hurts, a lot more than a punch to the face even. Have you ever seen the TV show Cops, where they'll hit a guy multiple times while they're laying on the floor. Tasers make muscles contract, and you fall down. That's great, since then they can subdue and cuff a violent offender. Hitting someone more than once, however, is simply torturing someone into compliance. That is torture, unlike a daily commute. Don't believe me, go to a store that sells them and ask for a test shot, a regular 500K stun gun is pretty similar, if tasers are not available to civilians in your state.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 24, 2007 @10:24PM (#21467215)
    http://news.guelphmercury.com/News/article/263994 [guelphmercury.com]

    According to the Canadian Press (news agency), Taser sues anyone who claims their device causes death. It must be admitted that they have done a masterful job of managing public opinion; or at least cops' opinions. Now all the cops believe that all crazy people have superhuman strength and all need to be treated with nearly lethal force because they might be able to kill several armed cops with their bare hands. (slimy stupid cowards)

    After the guy in BC died, the first stories were all about excited delerium. Then we started to hear from real (not company owned) mental health professionals calling BS. One guy who runs a loony bin clearly said that they almost never had to rely on force to control the nut cases therein. Confronting these people with force is the worst way to handle them. They can almost always be calmed. Here's an example: http://careerfocus.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/333/7563/64?etoc [bmj.com]
  • by hedwards (940851) on Saturday November 24, 2007 @10:26PM (#21467231)

    Yet it has been proven over and over throughout history that whenever you give someone a nonlethal weapon, they're more likely to use them than a lethal weapon, even though its supposed to be a replacement for the lethal weapon.

    And not surprisingly, this has happened with tasers, too; police are using them in absurd circumstances, even in some cases when the subject did nothing beyond verbal defiance, and worse, in cases where someone was "acting suspicious", such as in a recent case where an Egyptian man was tasered on a bus without any provocation--yet these were supposed to be used as replacements for guns, not as general-purpose weapons to put down anyone who looks suspicious!
    I think this is largely FUD. Of course if you give an officer a non-lethal means of dealing with a potential threat the number of uses is going to be much higher than with only lethal force. It would be incredibly troubling if that weren't the case.

    I won't bother denying that it doesn't get abused, but I do think that it is important to recognize that somebody that is tazered is far less likely to come to permanent harm than one that has been shot.

    Abuse would likely also happen if officers just had firearms as well. I don't personally think that that would be a better situation. At least with tazers, mace and pepper spray the likelihood of having somebody to apologize to is far higher than with a firearm.

    The other bit is that officers don't have all the relevant information in most cases, and have to contend with the very real possibility of being killed on the job. It's really easy for individuals of low character like Jackson and Sharpton for example to bash police departments after having heard just the victims side of the story. It is quite another to actually have to deal with both sides of the story and try to reconcile them in a way that suits the public interest rather than inflaming tensions between different groups of people. Justice takes time, and those two in particular seem to care very little about the damage they do to police-black community relations.
  • by QuantumG (50515) <qg@biodome.org> on Saturday November 24, 2007 @10:27PM (#21467233) Homepage Journal
    For a start, don't call me kid. If you did a tiny (itsy bitsy) bit of research you would see how old I am.

    I've actually been beaten by police in a "peaceful protest". Our sit down was broken up by police and someone I didn't know hit one of them. That was all they needed to beat down all of us. I tell you, the only thing I was thinking was that if I could get one of the batons off them I could have an even shot at taking a few of them out.

    They don't call it "fight or flight" for nothing. Some people run, some people fight.

    In retrospect the whole thing (included the reasons why we were protesting) seems kind of stupid.
  • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Saturday November 24, 2007 @10:29PM (#21467257)
    The school's internal investigation determined that appropriate force had been used.

    Translated now: The school determined that the use of torture on a student was appropriate.

    We'll see how that plays out.
  • Causes acute pain? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by rindeee (530084) on Saturday November 24, 2007 @10:36PM (#21467319)
    So does O.C. spray (speaking from experience). Torture? Sure, both COULD be say if someone were to strap me down and use either in an attempt to obtain information or to procure a false confession from me, etc. If, on the other hand I am tasered or sprayed because I am threatening someone and as such the action is an alternative to being my shot, then please...tase away. "Ouch, that hurts" alone does not constitute torture.
  • Re:Claymore Mine (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Enderandrew (866215) <enderandrew@noSPam.gmail.com> on Saturday November 24, 2007 @10:41PM (#21467361) Homepage Journal
    Hrm. Your two definitions overlap.

    You say an item is a weapon if it can severely injure a person. Yet, it wouldn't be a weapon, but rather torture if it had non-lethal intent.

    A claymore can injure a person, but it has non-lethal intent. The purpose of a claymore is to take out people's legs, so they can't fight in battle. Furthermore, even more troops must now carry out the wounded troops, even further removing troops from battle. Many praise how many lives the claymore saves, by causing rather nasty, often permanent wounds. That isn't torture, but something that causes pain as a means to avoid shooting someone is?

    Again, tasers are an alternative to shooting someone, and beating them with a baton. People die from gun shot wounds as well, not to mention from beatings. I think tasers are obviously too strong if people are dying from them with any real frequency, and surely there are other non-lethal ways to take someone down. But I certainly wouldn't call a taser torture.

    At the root of this debate, is whether or not is wrong to cause a person pain, when you are trying to take them down. I'm sure the bleeding-heart crowd would rather that we not cause any pain what-so-ever, when a meth-addict charges a cop with a knife. In a very calm tone (as to not torture them with stress) we should politely ask them to put down the knife, and if they stab the cop, well, what can you do?
  • Re:Fortunately... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by m2943 (1140797) on Saturday November 24, 2007 @10:49PM (#21467431)
    Since when does the U.N. need reason when bashing the U.S.?

    Since when to right wing nuts need a reason to bash the UN?
  • Why tasers are bad (Score:4, Interesting)

    by realdodgeman (1113225) on Saturday November 24, 2007 @10:56PM (#21467487) Homepage
    Tasers are supposed to be a replacement for guns. Instead is has become a replacement for "Stop!". I have seen videos of people been tased several times for not being able to show a drivers license. The US has become a weapon-loving country. Both the public and the police love guns. Here in Norway police don't even carry guns unless there is a case where the suspect has a gun or other equally dangerous weapon. We can keep it like this because most people don't have access to guns, and if they do it is mostly shotguns or rifles for hunting. We also have the lowest crime rate in the world here. Now don't come complaining about how we are a smaller country, because it doesn't matter (you could enforce it at a state level in the US). The biggest problem in the US now is that people are so used to having weapons, and of course that it is in the constitution (though people seem to have given up that anyway). Back on topic: Tasers would be okay if they are only used in dangerous situations (where people can get killed or seriously injured). But since they are not, it should be regulated if not banned.
  • Re:Fortunately... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Schraegstrichpunkt (931443) on Saturday November 24, 2007 @11:12PM (#21467611) Homepage
    Exactly. I think in some jurisdictions, officers are required to file use-of-force reports whenever they use their taser (much like they have to when they point their gun at someone---regardless of whether it's fired). I suspect there's less abuse of tasers in such jurisdictions.
  • Re:275? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Eddi3 (1046882) on Sunday November 25, 2007 @12:17AM (#21468035) Homepage Journal
    I hate to reply to myself; However, I thought I'd also point out that, given the US' population is almost 10 times that of Canada [1], one would expect the US to have at least 10 times as many deaths from any specific cause, statistically. The article is trying to make the US sound so bad with 275 (unconfirmed) deaths, when even this number is still around the same percent of the general populace as Canada's 17 (confirmed) deaths.*

    * Also, keep in mind: There are only 30 confirmed reports of it in the US. 30 / 10 (to make population proportional) = 3, and 17 / 3 = 5.667, making it 5.667 times more likely that you'll die from being tasered in Canada then in the US.

    1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_North_American_countries_by_population [wikipedia.org]
  • Re:Fortunately... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by number11 (129686) on Sunday November 25, 2007 @12:25AM (#21468097)
    Okay, so tell me what isn't a form of torture.

    Any form of questioning that a Congressional committee is allowed to use when questioning an administration lackey.

    Personally, I'm real interested in hearing what Alberto Gonzales has to say when they follow up with waterboarding on the "I don't remember" answers.
  • Re:So remember... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by b4upoo (166390) on Sunday November 25, 2007 @12:27AM (#21468121)
    Police actions depend upon pain compliance when handling subjects who are dangerous or resistant to arrest. The question is whether more
      harm would be done if the cops had no tazers. In addition to the injuries and deaths to subjects who are tazed the next consideration is how many
      cops would sustain injury if tazers were not used.
                  There is another type of tazer which the public rarely hears about. It is a belt that is securely attached to people being led around the
      jails and court houses. When an inmate or suspect starts to act out a simple remote control button stops them cold by activating the tazer in the
      belt.
                  So far my general opinion is that tazers save suspects and cops from injury. Yet there will always be a few suspects whose systems are full
      of drugs or who have strange medical issues which cause death when they are tazed. Yet a night stick would surely cause more injury and more deaths.
                  Keep in mind that failure to obey a cop is a very good reason for physical action. In the U.S. we have far too many people who feel that rather
      than making their point before a judge that they should argue with cops and impede them in their duties. Frankly the cops probably should use those tazers a lot more often than they do.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 25, 2007 @12:31AM (#21468143)
    It's a lack of training. Any cop that can't wrestle a belligerent unermed suspect to the groud without a taser is a pussy.

    Learn some jujutsu-- It's only been around for the last hundered years.
  • by JPriest (547211) on Sunday November 25, 2007 @12:41AM (#21468221) Homepage
    Wrestling down a suspect may be easy, but wrestling a suspect and not letting them grab the gun/tazer etc. from your belt might not be as easy.
  • Re:So remember... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Torvaun (1040898) on Sunday November 25, 2007 @01:16AM (#21468451)
    Yeah, but it looks a lot worse when you club a 6 year old kid [infowars.com] into submission.
  • Re:So remember... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by anagama (611277) <obamaisaneocon@nothingchanged.org> on Sunday November 25, 2007 @01:51AM (#21468651) Homepage
    Why is failure to obey a cop a good reason to get tasered? Cops are NOT the arbiters of the law. Cops are wrong a lot. Hell, even the president of the united states and his FBI goons or whoever are felons (illegal wiretaps are a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and nobody but the president and Gonzales interprets congress' authorization to fight the idiots' (plural possessive on purpose: Bush and all who voted to allow it) war in Iraq as overturning the original FISA requirements).

    So, aside from the gun and the attitude, I don't really see much reason to listen to cops. Following the law, that's something different, but it would be awfully nice to live in a country where the cops, congress, and the executive branch respected the law. And if they don't have to, why should anyone?
  • by Seumas (6865) on Sunday November 25, 2007 @01:57AM (#21468689)
    The connotation of tasers with the phrase "non-lethal" needs to be done away with, as well. Calling tasers non-lethal is like calling being hit to the skull with an aluminum baseball bat "non-lethal". Sure, you *might* not die from it -- but there is also a significant chance that you *might*.

    Unfortunately the problem is also larger than the utility in use. The problem is that the police can not be trusted and they are all too ready to abuse their power. I remember seeing a documentary on the news (60 Minutes or something like that) about five years ago where they were showing horrible abuses of pepper spray by police.

    In the videotaped incident shown, some students were protesting something by locking their arms together and sitting in a circle. Non-violent. Peaceful. They weren't even blocking traffic. Or a sidewalk. Or a doorway. They might have been singing, but I don't recall that for sure. At any rate, they were absolutely not a threat.

    So what did the police do? They sprayed pepper spray directly into a foam coffee cup and then took swaps to sop up huge quantities of the pepper spray from the cup. They then forced the eyelids of the protestors open and rubbed the pepper spray DIRECTLY ON THEIR EYES. All experts agreed that such an action is absolutely torture and the pain would be far exceeding any possible pain from just spraying it at someone (where you will have some contact with the eyes, but most of it will be dissipated by the air and distance between you and the target, instead of concentrated in one spot on their eyeball).
  • Re:So remember... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by chrispycreeme (550607) on Sunday November 25, 2007 @02:40AM (#21468905)
    Cops get tased in very controlled circumstances (spotters, padded floor with ems on hand) and only for extremely short durations and only once. They then feel like they can tase people who are standing on concrete, in poor health, for as long as they want, and as many times as they want. Just once I'd like to do some real world testing on cops like they do on citizens routinely. If they got pissed at how much I was enjoying it, well I'd just give em another jolt to calm them down. This would continue until they saw my the logic of my superior reasoning.
  • Re:Fortunately... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by QuantumFTL (197300) <justin...wick@@@gmail...com> on Sunday November 25, 2007 @04:09AM (#21469343)
    I have a good friend who happens to be a police officer and we've had many talks about this. I think he would agree with most of your analysis (indeed, that many police officers do use tasers when they are not the 100% optimal solution). However, one important thing that you left out is that people can easily get injured if they are taken down by conventional means. Indeed, if there is a physical confrontation, the police, the target, and (likely) innocent bystanders are all in very real danger of taking damage, either intentionally inflicted or accidental, which can lead to severe injury, permanent disability, or even death. Yes tasers are dangerous weapons, but so are batons and fists and handcuffs! Heck, many of the options you described, while perfectly legitimate in some situations, give the suspect/target the initiative, which, depending on their mental state, can be very dangerous for those nearby.

    The statistical analysis that needs to be done here is what the cost/benefits of tasering in various situations, in comparison to the other (mostly preferable) techniques you describe. I have seen now so many articles on Slashdot, Digg, Reddit, etc about specific cases where tasering caused a significant problem, but that is only one side of the story.

    My drunk cousin told off a police officer, who was stupid enough (and angry enough) to try and tackle him. This was bad because not only was the police officer not big enough to do this successfully, but my cousin used to engage in organized fighting (local "UFC" type matches), and has fairly impressive combat reflexes. That's someone you don't jump from behind while they're intoxicated, late at night, with no warning, unless you wanna go home in a body bag. Luckily for the other officers nearby, they had someone of a reasonable size, and they tasered him five times and handcuffed him, and he was no longer a danger. Sure the real problem here was the idiot policeman tried to tackle the wrong person, but *given* that they had a strong, trained fighter who was now engaged in potentially deadly combat, tasering was pretty much their best option, and you better believe my cousin would rather be tasered than beaten (though they did do that at some point).

    I guess my point is that I'm really tired of all these one-sided discussions. There's absolutely no reason to think that tasers should *only* be used instead of a real weapon - by that logic you should only punch someone in the face if you're willing to kill them. Tasers should be used when they are the best tool for the job.
  • Re:Wimping Out (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ms1234 (211056) on Sunday November 25, 2007 @04:51AM (#21469523)
    I've seen three huge security guards pepperspraying a small drunk person (they actually missed and sprayed an innocent bystander instead). From what I saw, they didn't really try to catch the guy but went instead directly for the spray.
  • Re:Or (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Sunday November 25, 2007 @05:18AM (#21469649)
    Well here's the ting: The cases of cops using tasers for minor things are the exception, not the rule. They are all you hear about because that is all that is news. You won't very well see a news story that goes "A suspect got violent with police today when they tried to arrest him, police tased him and he was arrested without further incident." However it is news (and should be) when a bad cop shocks someone with no good reason.

    What it comes down to is that saying no to being arrested isn't a legitimate answer, and in any society that wishes to have a rule of law, it can't be. The You can't hold people accountable to the law if you can't force them to submit to it, the first step being arrest. Certianly you first tell them they are under arrest and attempt to peacefully restrain them. However if they start fighting the police have to fight back. It can be a physical confrontation, trying to put the suspect in submission holds, hitting them with batons, fists, whatever, using chemical spray, using a taser, etc. Point is that is isn't an option to just say "Ok well they are fighting so let them go." Also it isn't as though just getting in a scuffle is safe. The suspect and be hurt, and so can the officer, especially if the suspect is larger and high on drugs (a number of drugs provide a near immunity to pain as well as a great deal of adrenaline).

    Just because someone isn't holding a deadly weapon doesn't mean they aren't a danger. In fact, in your axe scenario, the cop will have their gun out. It's past a taser at that point.

    A good number of cases where people are mad about taser usage, they really aren't thinking. The most recent example is the "Don't taze me bro," guy. That was an appropriate case to use a taser, or other means to help restrain the suspect. He had been told to leave, they attempted to escort him out, he then started attempting to run to the stage, they grabbed him and he started fighting. This is safe to no one. What happens if he manages to grab one of their guns? What happens if they decide to try and wrestle him down and end up choking him? Hence the use of a taser.

    A person is still a threat until they've been cuffed. Once their hands are under control, there's little of real danger they can do (and their legs can be cuffed if they start kicking). Trying to drag someone along who's flailing and struggling is asking for trouble. As such, they had good cause to tase the guy and get him subdued.

    A more apt analogy with the family would be if I told my sister to go to bed, she repeatedly refused, so I tried to escort her to her room, she fought back and started trying to hit me. Mom probably wouldn't have a problem if she got socked in that case.

    Even then there's no direct analogue since as I said: In a society with rule of law, the ability to hold people accountable to that law must exist. That must include arrest powers, and those powers need to be something you aren't able to refuse. If you don't have this, you cannot have a real rule of law since those who are willing and able to resist arrest will just operate outside the law. Force should never be the first option, but it must be an allowable one.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 25, 2007 @07:49AM (#21470181)
    "When someone is pinned down under 6 police officers but is still trying to wiggle around, it does not warrant the use of a tazer."

    Then this is precisely what they should be doing in the first place. Patrol in groups and you won't ever have to go 1 on 1 with anyone. One fool with a knife is no match for six cops. If the criminals have greater numbers, call for backup -- the answer can always be superior numbers, up to the point when the bad guys start shooting and you call in the SWAT team to shoot back. Actual murderers are by far the exception rather than the rule and passing out lethal weapons like candy "just in case" rather than treating the special circumstances as such generate, as demonstrated, a series of fatal accidents waiting to happen.
  • Re:So remember... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by yakumo.unr (833476) on Sunday November 25, 2007 @10:28AM (#21470891) Homepage
    There are nonlethals on trial at the moment that have similar results to the sick sticks using a special light strobe if I remember correctly.

    The joke is of course the increase in perps wearing sunglasses..
  • Re:So remember... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by atamido (1020905) on Sunday November 25, 2007 @11:59PM (#21475305)

    In at least one of the cases it WAS used as a torture device - how else can you explain 30 shocks over a 5 minute period?

    You would be surprised how persistent some people can be. While it can be painful to be tasered, and you aren't able to move while it's happening, the shock doesn't last for long. Once the shock is over (usually just a second or two) the person is able to move again just fine. If a person is sufficiently persistent (and hopped up on whatever drugs) they can go for quite a bit of time. If a person is violent enough, and an officer is alone enough, 30 shocks over 5 minutes from an officer (or two) trying to keep someone on the ground until more backup arrives is not outside of possibility.

    Personally, I think the biggest step towards preventing abuse was the prevalence of audio/video recording systems in patrol cars. Officers are more cautious about doing the wrong thing while being recorded, and people have difficulty wrongfully claiming abuse in a fully recorded situation. Everybody wins. It's certainly not 100%. Really dirty cops just moved further into the shadows, but it does mean the mediocre ones are less likely to fall into the wrong things.

  • by Abcd1234 (188840) on Monday November 26, 2007 @11:14AM (#21479149) Homepage
    I've been shot by my own Taser (in training), and while I would call it very unpleasant, I would not call it painful.

    So were you hit when you weren't expecting it? Was it prolonged contact? Did you receive multiple shocks?

    Because if none of those things is true, then you have very little perspective when it comes to the majority of taser abuse cases.

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