Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only ask one time of year, but when we do, we mean it. Without your support we can’t continue to bring you the very best material, day-in and day-out. CounterPunch is one of the last common spaces on the Internet. Help make sure it stays that way.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Christopher Dorner and the “Burner”

by PETER LEE

The tactics employed against Christopher Dorner by the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department are attracting an awkward amount of interest since an audiotape surfaced with law enforcement officials referring to a munition as a “burner”.

As in (all quotes from the Feb. 15, 2013 LA Times report titled “As Dorner fired, tactics got toughter”):

“We’re going to go forward with the plan, with the burner,” the unidentified officer said, according to a recording of police radio transmissions reviewed by The Times.

***

“Seven burners deployed,” another officer responded several seconds later, according to the transmission which has circulated widely among law enforcement officials. “And we have a fire.”

I was interested in this issue because of an incident in Burma where Burmese police cleared an encampment of protesters trying to block expansion of a China-invested copper mine project.

The tear gas munitions fired into the protesters’ tents apparently caused severe burns to some of the protesters for reasons that are apparently not completely understood.

So I corresponded with an expert on police tactics and learned that there is indeed a munition commonly called “incendiary CS (CS standing for the inventors of the tear gas compound, Ben Corson and Roger Stoughton) gas” or, in day-to-day argot, “the burner”.

The tear gas chemical, 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile, is actually a solid at room temperature, not a gas, and it doesn’t disperse quickly and thoroughly, as a gas would.  To be effective, the CS chemical has to be melted, dissolved in a solvent, or micropulverized and then mechanically dispersed.

In the burner scenario, the CS contains an explosive charge which generates intense heat in order to aerosolize the solution and evaporate the solvent, so that the CS instantaneously precipitates in a cloud of solid particles, saturates the target area, and rapidly incapacitates the subject/victim.

Intense heat is a fundamental feature of the incendiary CS gas shell.

If the shell used in the Dorner case was the similar to the munition employed in the disastrous siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco or the MOVE headquarters in Philadelphia, an accurate description of the “burner” would be “thermal grenade with some tear gas added”.

With incendiary CS, fires are considered to be well-nigh inevitable if anything combustible is around.  So, the “burner” is only used as a last resort by law enforcement.

Of course, there is considerable skepticism that the circumstances of the Dorner siege—he was alone, barricaded in a cabin, and surrounded by law enforcement officers—demanded that the SBSD fire seven “burners” be fired into the  cabin instead of waiting him out.

I don’t think the arguments put forth by defenders of the operation could withstand the scrutiny of a middle school forensics team.

Here they are, courtesy of the LA Times:

“What difference does it make if one of the officers puts a … round in his head, drives the armored vehicle over his body when they are knocking the building down, or he dies in a conflagration?” said David Klinger, a use-of-force expert at the University of Missouri at St. Louis and a former LAPD officer. “If he is trying to surrender you can’t do any of those things … But if he is actively trying to murder people, there’s no doubt that deadly force is appropriate and it doesn’t matter what method is used to deliver it.”

Geoffery Alpert, a professor at the University of South Carolina who also specializes in police tactics, agreed.

“I don’t understand what the big deal is,” Alpert said. “This man had already shot two officers and was suspected of murdering other people. He wasn’t responding in a rational manner. The actions you take have to remove the threat and if it requires extreme measures, then so be it.”

I might point out that the arguments advanced by these two distinguished scholars both reference rules of war, not policing.  I guess we can chalk this up to the further militarization of US security culture post-9/11.

In wartime, any force that is not actively engaged in surrender is fair game.  This was the justification for the “turkey shoot” on the “highway of death” —the attack on Saddam Hussein’s forces as they were withdrawing from the front lines after Saddam Hussein had accepted the UN resolution and a ceasefire had been declared, and the concurrent “Battle of Rumaili”, a five-hour air and artillery bombardment carried out by General McCaffrey’s forces against helpless units of the Iraqi Republican Guard boxed in on the Rumaila Causeway on their way back to Baghdad.

It is different for accused criminals in the United States.  Some kind of trial/sentencing/due process thing is supposed to intervene before someone can be killed for not surrendering.

Mr. Alpert, while upholding the proud tradition of South Carolina higher education, is further off base.  Despite determined efforts by the United States to stretch the boundaries, under international law a pre-emptive strike is only permitted in the case of an imminent threat, not the past or potential threat represented by a guy barricaded alone in a cabin surrounded by dozens of law enforcement officers with guns.

As to the issue of who was “responding in a rational manner” that day…

The thought processes of the San Bernadino County Sheriff’s Department—which had lost one of their own to Dorner—are probably reflected in an alleged transcription from the radio chatter that the LA Times demurely declined to reproduce, but was reported by the no-holds barred NY Post:

“Burn this motherf–ker!” one officer shouted …Amid sounds of gunfire, voices can be heard shouting, “Burn it down!” and “Shoot the gas!”

Peter Lee edits China Matters. He can be reached at: chinamatters (at) prlee. org.

Peter Lee edits China Matters and writes about Asia for CounterPunch.  

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
David Swanson
Turn the Pentagon into a Hospital
Ralph Nader
Are You Ready for Democracy?
Chris Martenson
Hell to Pay
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Debate Night: Undecided is Everything, Advantage Trump
Frank X Murphy
Power & Struggle: the Detroit Literacy Case
Chris Knight
The Tom and Noam Show: a Review of Tom Wolfe’s “The Kingdom of Speech”
Weekend Edition
September 23, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Meaning of the Trump Surge
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: More Pricks Than Kicks
Mike Whitney
Oh, Say Can You See the Carnage? Why Stand for a Country That Can Gun You Down in Cold Blood?
Chris Welzenbach
The Diminution of Chris Hayes
Vincent Emanuele
The Riots Will Continue
Rob Urie
A Scam Too Far
Pepe Escobar
Les Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes, Obfuscation and Propaganda in Syria
Timothy Braatz
The Quarterback and the Propaganda
Sheldon Richman
Obama Rewards Israel’s Bad Behavior
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail