Tasers–a widely used electronic stun weapon–are the subject of a highly critical new report by Amnesty International. The human rights organization is calling on governments to limit their deployment to life-threatening situations or to suspend their use.
Tasers were legalized use in Michigan in December of 2002. A bill authorizing their use alongside other “less than lethal” weapons such pepper spray was one of outgoing Republican John Engler’s last acts. Since that time, they have been adopted by a number of police departments in Michigan, including the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD). The GRPD adopted Tasers in 2004 and has since gradually expanded the number of officers that carry them.
Across the United States, 334 people died between 2001 and August of 2008 after being shot with Tasers. The report finds that 90% of those who died after being shot with a Taser were either unarmed or did not pose a threat. Many were also subjected to repeated or prolonged shocks with the weapon that exceeded the five-second “standard” cycle recommended by the manufacturer.
For Amnesty International, this typifies the problems associated with the weapon. They are more lethal than many are led to believe and their ease of use–along with lesser restrictions governing their use–make them prone to abuse.
Tasers contributed to or caused the deaths of 50 of the 334 people who died after being shot with Tasers. The report also finds that “Taser shocks may exacerbate cardio-respiratory problems in individuals whose health is already compromised by drug abuse, exertion, heart disease, psychosis or positional restraint.” Moreover, “Some of those who died had no underlying disease or drugs in their system, but collapsed after being subjected to repeated or prolonged shocks and/or shocks to the chest, heightening concern that these factors may increase a risk of death or injury, even in relatively healthy individuals.”
The report titled “USA: Less than Lethal?” is available online.
In November, companies in West Michigan received $5,361,713 in contracts from the government for work done for the United States military. The contracts were documented as part of Media Mouse’s ongoing effort tracking local work done for the military.
The following companies received contracts:
Local companies in Grand Rapids received $755,695 in military contracts in May according to ongoing research through Media Mouse’s military contractors in West Michigan database. Two contracts were awarded to:
- L-3 Communications Avionics received a $671,895 contract for non-aircraft engine and electrical components for the US Army Aviation & Missile Command.
- Smiths Industries Aerospace received a $83,800 contract for the repair and/or modification of interference blanker for the Navy.
Coffman Electrical Equipment of Grand Rapids also received a $45,700 contract for an electrical generator for the Department of Homeland Security – United States Coast Guard.
Also worth noting is that on Friday, Wolverine World Wide, who has received more than $347 million in military contracts since the start of the “War on Terror,” announced that it is instituting “a temporary two-week layoff” of 100 employees. Wolverine is citing “sluggish orders for military” boots as the reason for the layoff. The announcement comes a month and a half after the company announced record high profits and sales based on sales of its Merrell and Hush Puppies brands.
Last month, at least $414,076 were awarded to West Michigan companies by the military. The three contracts were documented as part of Media Mouse’s ongoing work monitoring local military contractors. The contracts:
- L-3 Communications received a $239,647 contract from the Air Force for components used in the C-130 airplane.
- Smiths Industries Aerospace received a $144,429 contract from the Navy for the repair and/or modification of memory units.
- Dover Resources received a $30,000 contract from the Navy for a rotary pump.
Additionally, it is worth noting that the Grand Rapids Press ran two lengthy stories on the private mercenary company Blackwater USA, which was founded by Erik Prince. The stories covered Prince’s upbringing and some aspects of Blackwater’s work in Iraq. However, rather than provide a detailed examination of Blackwater’s role in Iraq or the question of whether or not private security contractors are needed, the articles gloss over these issues and offer limited a limited analysis of Blackwater. Most of the comments are favorable towards Blackwater, and while Jeremy Scahill’s recent book Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army is mentioned in the article, none of the criticisms present in the book are raised. Similarly, the article on Prince’s upbringing fails to examine the role that his family’s connections have played in the rise of Blackwater.
As part of Media Mouse’s ongoing work documenting military contracts awarded to local companies in West Michigan doing work for the military, we have added three contracts to our database:
- On February 27, 2007, Borisch Manufacturing was awarded a $267,420 contract by the Army for electrical components under the description of “Military Armored Vehicle, Tank, and Tank Component Manufacturing.”
- On March 1, 2007, Borisch Manufacturing was awarded a $43,999 contract for small arms manufacturing by Tactical Command Rock Island.
- On March 13, 2007, Smiths Industries Aerospace was awarded a $21,468 contract by the Air Force for a flight data recorder.
Both Borisch Manufacturing and Smiths Industries Aerospace are frequent recipients of military contracts. Smiths Industries Aerospace is the second largest recipient of military contracts in West Michigan, having received more than $278 million for military work since the “war on terror” began. The company is part of the Smiths Group, an international company that ranked 26th overall among the world’s top 100 military contractors in 2006. Earlier this year it was announced that another major military contractor, General Electric, is attempting to purchase Smiths. Similarly, Borisch Manufacturing is a frequent recipient of military contracts. While Borisch ranks fifth with in West Michigan and has received more than $16.7 million from the military, it has a unique position in that the company is particularly proud of their work for the military. Officials with Borisch have been occasionally quoted in the media expressing support for both the war and praising their manufacturing of weapons components.
As part of Media Mouse’s ongoing work tracking military contracts awarded to corporations in West Michigan, $6.2 million in contracts were awarded in January. Of the three companies awarded contracts, two–Wolverine World Wide and Eaton Aerospace–are among the top five contractors doing work for the military in West Michigan. The contracts include:
In addition to adding these contracts, we have also made a number of significant improvements to the database that we believe will enhance its usefulness. We have added a large number of older contracts that were missed in previous data collection efforts due to disparities between different sources consulted and the way in which the Department of Defense reports contracts. With these additional contracts added to the database, we now offer a more complete overview of the companies doing work for the military in West Michigan. As always, due to difficulties in obtaining data, the numbers in the database should be considered minimums, as there is always the possibility that additional contracts have been awarded but not reported to our sources. Nevertheless, we have added running totals to each company’s profile, making it easy to identify the primary recipients of contracts at a glance. As has been the case with the numbers since we first started tracking contracts in 2005, local aerospace corporations have performed the most work for the military and received the majority of the money that has come into the area.
The weapons components manufactured locally and the weapons systems purchased at the national level must be seen as part of a structure that prioritizes and supports a system of militarism over human needs. Those who are employed received their W-2 statements at the end of last month; it is worth remembering that much of the money that the government receives from income taxes–a full 49%–is used for the military. Similarly, President George W. Bush’s recent budget proposal seeks more than $700 billion for military spending while at the same time proposes cuts of eighty billion dollars in Medicare and Medicaid programs over the next five years, making it clear where the government’s priorities lie.
In the past month, military contractors in Grand Rapids received $894,501 in military contracts from the government according to research by Media Mouse as part of our ongoing work tracking contracts awarded to local corporations. The three contracts were awarded to three different local companies for a variety of work:
- Smiths Aerospace received a $613,950 contract to produce “Guided Missile Control Systems” for the United States Army Aviation & Missile Command.
- Eaton Aerospace received a $212,548 to produce an actuator for the Navy.
- Dover Resources received a $68,005 rotary pump for the Navy.
In addition to being a local link to the ongoing “war on terror” and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, the companies producing components used in the weapons systems necessary to maintain these occupations are reaping the benefits of the United States’ post-September 11 wars and as such are engaged in “war profiteering.” While military contractors in Grand Rapids have not drawn the attention that Halliburton or Lockheed Martin have received, corporations in Grand Rapids have made substantial amounts of money from the “war on terror.” In addition to receiving 234 contracts since September 11, two Grand Rapids corporations–L-3 Communications and Smiths Aerospace–ranking among the top 100 military contractors by revenue in 2006. L-3 Communications did 90% of its work for the military and made over $8.5 billion on military contracts and ranked 8th, while Smiths Group made more than $1.3 billion on military contracts that accounted for 25% of their sales.
Moreover, military contractors such as L-3 Communications engage in extensive lobbying of Congress, with aerospace, electronics, and other industries contributing millions to lobbying campaigns designed to secure contracts for new weapons systems.
In addition to being used by the United States military, weapons systems produced in the United States are supplied by the United States to governments around the world. $21 billion in arms sales agreements were signed in the past year with foreign governments, an increase of $11 billion over the previous year. The United States supplied $8.1 billion in weapons to developing countries, both as part of a strategy for the “war on terror” as well as maintaining the smooth functioning of the military-industrial complex in an era when the Pentagon has lessened spending on some major weapons programs. These two goals have resulted in the United States transferring weapons to 18 of the 25 countries involved in ongoing wars in the past year, while also providing weapons to a variety of “undemocratic” countries (defined by the State Department) such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Uzbekistan.
As part of our ongoing research into local military contractors, Media Mouse has found two contracts—totaling $14,401,695—awarded to local companies during the month of August. The two contracts went to Wolverine Worldwide and Woodward FST with Wolverine Worldwide receiving a nearly $7.8 million dollar contract for shoes that will be used by the Air Force, Army, and Navy, while Woodward FST received a nearly $6.7 million dollar contract for components used in the P100-FW engine that powers the Air Force’s F-15 and F-16 fighter jets. Both companies have previously received lucrative contracts from the military, with Wolverine Worldwide receiving a $20 million contract in July and Woodward FST receiving a nearly $20.5 million dollar contract back in September of 2005 for other components used in the engines that power the F-15 and F-16 fighter jets. Both jets have been used extensively in the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. While outside of the area that Media Mouse tracks, work is to be performed by General Dynamics Land Systems in Muskegon as part of two contracts (1, 2) awarded to the company for work on the M1A1 tank.
Last month the Grand Rapids Press ran an article praising Smiths Aerospace for its military work, but as has been the case in local coverage of military contracts, there was no substantive look at how the weapons system would be used or how it fits into the larger context of the military-industrial complex. On August 11 Media Mouse wrote:
The article—like most of the local corporate media’s coverage of military contracts—is problematic in that it fails to investigate several core issues pertaining to “the military-industrial complex and minimizes the fact the that the contract is for a military aircraft that will ultimately be used in the United States’ military campaigns around the world. The term “military industrial complex—first used by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1961—is generally defined as a coalition consisting of the military and corporations who profit by manufacturing weapons and selling them to the government. This originated in the Cold war with the United States government’s belief that due to the perceived threat of the Soviet Union that there was need for the development of a permanent arms industry. This system has continued over the past forty years, with the military routinely upgrading its technology to having increasingly more effective weapons, although the question of need is rarely addressed. Moreover, some companies have engaged in “war profiteering” in that they make significant sums of money in order to supply the military during each new war. The military-industrial complex is further supported by an extensive network of think-tanks and lobbyists who constitute an effective system of organized advocacy of what has been termed the “military-industrial-think tank complex” that advocates aggressive military policy in order to justify the purchase of weapons systems.
The relationship between war and profits for military contractors was examined earlier this month when a study published by the Institute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy found that the CEOs of the top 34 military contractors have doubled their salaries since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the ensuing “war on terror.” The report identified one local corporation with a local presence—L-3 Communications—as one of the top 34 military contractors. The report described L-3 as “satellite, avionics, missile defense, and marine communication” that has actively engaged in the manufacture of materials needed for the “war on terror.” This is true locally where the company has provided a variety of components for military air craft used by the Navy, Air Force, and Army.
A new study by the Arms Trade Research Center, an affiliate of the World Policy Institute, documents the US origins of much of the weaponry currently being used by Israel in their assault on Lebanon. While there has been considerable attention in the media focused on the potential Syrian and Iranian origin of weaponry being used by Hezbollah, there has been no similar discussion of the origins of Israeli weaponry. Since taking office in 2001, the Bush administration has provided Israel with $10.5 billion in Foreign Military Financing – the Pentagon’s biggest military aid program – and $6.3 billion in United States arms deliveries. The most prominent of these deals is the sale of 102 Lockheed Martin F-16s to Israel, despite the likelihood that weapons of US origin have been used in attacks that constitute human rights abuses. Among these attacks include reports from the State Department mentioning missile strikes on a refugee camp that killed six people and wounded 19; the shooting and killing of four Palestinian children; the demolition of Palestinian homes using tank shells, heavy machine guns, and rockets (deemed an excessive use of force); the use of rocket fire in targeted killing of leaders of Hamas; the killing of 47 civilian bystanders in an operation aimed at suspected terrorists in the occupied territories; and the use of tank shells, machine-gun rounds and rockets fired from aircraft against Palestinian towns and cities.
The New York Times reported Sunday that the United States is “rushing” a delivery of satellite and laser-guided bombs to Israel.