The UN’s response

Not surprisingly, the United Nations is on top of the taser issue, although whether there’ll be any practical implications of this is dubious. Still, the decision is interesting:

“The use of these weapons 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,” the committee of 10 experts said.

Through all the debate, no one has mentioned the word torture, as far as I have heard. According to the international definition (Wikipedia’s international!!!), torture is described as:

any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.

Whether tasering constitutes torture is  not as black-and-white as something such as, say, waterboarding. To label tasering as such, two things need to be considered: Severity and purpose. The severity isn’t too hard, although the relatively short pain period suffered by the victim ( I think? Perhaps it’s more drawn-out than I thought) could cause a debate over just how severe it is. Harder to determine is the purpose. Obviously the use is not to obtain a confession, but could it be construed as punishing or intimidating? Since the victim is rendered immobile, I would say intimidation isn’t so much a factor. Threat of tasering would be intimidation, but since the end result does not depend on the person mentally acceding to the demands of the policeman, it’d be hard to make a case. But certainly punishment could be a perceived purpose, whether preemptive or reactive, depending on the offender’s composure.

That being said, it’s not surprising the issue of torture hasn’t come into play here until now. I know I never would have taken the time to consider that possible interpretation until it was suggested by the United Nations. And surely that “what if?” isn’t going to be sufficient to stop taser usage, since it’s not really contributing to a solution. If every form of physical pain used to hinder — punish? — potential criminals (pepper spray, for example?) were to be declared “torture”, there’d be a mob threatening to tear down the Parliament every other week. As 49er pointed out, no officer should be expected to “single-handedly out-wrestle a berserk desperado” (and phrased so nicely, too)! That means that sometimes, causing physical pain is going to be the lesser of two evils. But the article does have another interesting point, which I think is far more relevant.

Apparently,  there have been three taser-induced deaths in Canada alone over the last five weeks!

That’s a whole new ball-game. Forget torture; In this instance, I would reassert that tasers should be considered lethal!!! Sure, it depends on  specific circumstances, but (once again, as 49er brought up) those circumstances are not well researched and documented, and, I would add, neither would it be particularly useful if they were. I suspect many of them would depend on a person’s heart and inner conditioning, rather than any overt physical characteristics, and so the situation would be either impossible or incredibly difficult for the police to judge. In high-pressure situations, there simply isn’t time to make such a call with any degree of accuracy. The question is really one of “to tase or not to tase.”

And, since shooting the person would clearly be frowned upon, I think it’s pretty clear that the answer is not to tase.

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