The Senator Would Zap Iraqis (or WTO Protesters) with Futuristic Pain Beams

Senator John Kerry’s vision of “winning the peace” in Iraq and elsewhere involves the use of futuristic microwave beam weapons designed to inflict agonizing pain on unruly civilians, a recent campaign document reveals.

The document, a fact sheet released in support of Kerry’s June 3 speech on military issues, endorses the development and use of “new, non-lethal technologies” including “directed energy weapons that can produce lethal and non-lethal effects.”

Described by Time Magazine as a “cross between a microwave oven and a Star Trek phaser,” a directed energy weapon fires an invisible beam of energy that flash-heats human targets from a distance. The beams do not burn flesh, but they create an unbearably painful burning sensation by instantaneously heating moisture under the skin.

A working directed energy weapon, Raytheon Corp.’s Active Denial System, will be delivered to the military for testing this fall. Raytheon volunteers who experienced the weapon’s effect have described it as unbearably painful, saying they felt as though their bodies were on fire.

Although the weapon may have battlefield uses, it appears to be designed primarily for incapacitating civilian rioters or protesters. Air Force documents cited by the Sacramento Bee praise the beam weapon’s “capability in military operations other than war,” including peacekeeping, humanitarian operations and crowd control.

Significantly, Sen. Kerry envisions use of these weapons in “stability operations” aimed at “winning the peace.” Army Field Manuals define stability operations as “applications of military power intended to influence the political environment, facilitate diplomacy, and interrupt specific illegal activities” in foreign countries.

In plain language, stability operations are quasi-military endeavors aimed at installing or supporting regimes favorable to US interests, typically in so-called “failed states.” With the passage of a UN resolution endorsing Iraq’s new handpicked government, the 160,000 foreign troops in Iraq are now said to be conducting stability operations.

US military officials have implied that directed energy weapons would be welcome in Iraq. Interviewed by the Bee, Marine Capt. Dan McSweeney, a spokesman for the Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate, justified the weapons by pointing to “instances in Iraq where crowd situations have unfortunately ended in violence and death.”

All this raises the disturbing possibility that Senator Kerry envisions using the high-tech weapons as a means of dispersing public protests in Iraq and other countries subject to US occupations or “peacekeeping missions.”

In his June 3 speech, Kerry claimed directed energy weapons could “incapacitate the enemy, without risking the lives of innocent bystanders.” But research cited by Bradford University’s Non-Lethal Weapons Project indicates that the microwaves might cause cataracts and cancer; used at close range the weapon could “cook a person’s eyeballs.” Needless to say, the microwave beam is incapable of distinguishing between enemies and innocent bystanders.

Kerry has not discussed using microwave weapons against domestic dissenters, but a sales presentation available on Raytheon’s web site specifically touts the Active Denial System as one of its Homeland Security products designed to “protect our citizens, property, infrastructure and cyberspace.”

Because directed energy weapons inflict intense pain without leaving marks or other physical evidence, human rights activists are also concerned about their potential use as a torture devices, particularly in the wake of the Abu Ghraib prison scandals. Kerry, like President Bush, has said he opposes torture.

Note: As of this writing, the Kerry campaign fact sheet is available online at; the Raytheon presentation can be found at .

JACOB LEVICH is a writer and editor living in New York City. He can be reached at:



Jacob Levich is a university administrator and independent researcher who tweets as @cordeliers.