Torture predates the development of the corporation. But corporations are
entangled in the modern-day commerce in devices of torture.
new report, Amnesty International shines a spotlight on the makers of law
enforcement equipment and how their devices are used by torturers around the
world (including in the United States).
Amnesty has compiled a list of more than 80 U.S. manufacturers and suppliers of
electro-shock weapons and restraints. Amnesty does not allege that any one or
another of these companies is involved in the international trade in equipment
used in torture. But Amnesty’s report, "Stopping the Torture Trade," does
provide numerous examples of U.S. products being used by torturers overseas, as
well as in the United States.
thought it’d be interesting to call up these companies and ask: Do you sell to
known human rights abusers? Do you screen the persons or agencies to whom you
sell domestically, to make sure they are not selling or exporting them to human
started calling through the list. What immediately became apparent is the extent
to which the industry is populated by small equipment makers and even smaller
suppliers and distributors. As answering machines picked up call after call to
the companies’ main numbers, it became obvious how tiny most of these operations
of the equipment makers and sellers we reached were familiar with the Amnesty
report, and some weren’t. Not surprisingly, of the ones we reached, and who
agreed to speak with us, none tried to justify the use of their equipment for
Several of the companies said they only sell to domestic law enforcement
agencies. That’s not totally comforting to those aware of the brutal practices
of far too many police in the United States, but it is hard to fault the
companies for selling legitimate law enforcement equipment (such as handcuffs)
to domestic police forces.
of the domestic-only companies to which we spoke employ measures to block resale
and export, though the companies selling to law enforcement agencies argued that
those agencies were unlikely to sell their equipment abroad.
talked to one of the handful of major corporate players in the law enforcement
equipment business, Peerless Handcuffs. Their spokesperson refused to give us
Peerless does export a variety of restraints, including leg cuffs.
chapter of Amnesty’s report on restraints used in torture begins with a gruesome
anecdote from southern Lebanon. The Khiam detention center, closed in May 2000,
"had been run by the South Lebanon Army, Israel’s proxy militia in the former
occupied south Lebanon, with the involvement of the Israeli army, but the
handcuffs used to suspend detainees from an electricity pylon where they were
doused with water and given electric shocks were clearly marked "The Peerless
Handcuff Co. Springfield, Mass. Made in USA,’" Amnesty reports.
letter to Amnesty, Peerless expressed disgust that its products were used in the
Khiam prison, stating, "In no way does Peerless Handcuff Company condone or
support the use of our products for torture or for any other human rights abuse.
É We have not sold any restraints to the Israeli government or Israeli companies
in almost 10 years."
asked our anonymous representative at Peerless, Do you take steps to control the
sale of equipment to torturers? "We restrict our sales as best we can to what we
know are legitimate law enforcement authorities," he replied.
it is often the case that it is "legitimate" law enforcement authorities who are
the torturers, we asked if Peerless has refused orders.
answer is yes. The company refuses to sell to, among other countries, China,
North Korea, Iran and Iraq, and has turned down sales requests from these and
other nations. But it is not as if Peerless is reading Amnesty International
reports before establishing its sales screens.
have no interest in promoting" sales to torturers, the Peerless spokesperson
said. But, he added, "I donÕt think manufacturers can be held responsible" for
misuse by law enforcement agencies.
don’t agree. Anyone selling equipment prone to abuse by torturers has a special
obligation to make sure it doesn’t wind up in the hands of people with a record
of human rights abuses.
However, what is clear from our brief survey of some of the equipment makers and
suppliers is that a corporate liability system will not adequately address the
problem. The companies are too small and diffuse to be controlled exclusively
through such mechanisms. One that closes today can reopen tomorrow under another
name. Governmental regulation is essential.
Amnesty International is urging the United States and other governments to ban
the use, manufacture, promotion and trade of police and security equipment whose
use is inherently cruel, inhuman or degrading. The group includes leg irons,
electro-shock stun belts and inherently painful devices such as serrated
thumbcuffs in this category. Amnesty is calling for a suspension on the use and
trade in devices, such as electro-shock equipment, whose medical effects are not
fully known. Amnesty is also calling for a suspension of trade in equipment that
has shown a substantial risk of abuse or unwarranted injury, including equipment
such as legcuffs, thumbcuffs, restraint chairs and pepper gas weapons.
crucially important that the United States act immediately in these areas, says
Amnesty International USA spokesperson Alistair Hodgett. The United States has
led the way in the development of new technologies used in torture, such as
electro-shock devices. After export, they have quickly been replicated and
spread around the world.
There’s no significant lobby for law enforcement equipment exports — U.S.
exports total only about $32 million a year. There’s no conceivable excuse for a
failure to stop the torture trade.
Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime
Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based
Multinational Monitor. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt
for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage