Pentagon deploys laser at Iraqi checkpoints

May 18, 2006
May 18, 2005, Washington, DC--According to a press release from Reuters, the U.S. military has given troops in Iraq a laser device to temporarily blind vehicle drivers who ignore warnings at checkpoints, the Pentagon said on Thursday. Army Lt. Col. Barry Venable, a Pentagon spokesman, defended its use as legal and said the devices were intended to prevent civilians from being shot.

May 18, 2005, Washington, DC--According to a press release from Reuters, the U.S. military has given troops in Iraq a laser device to temporarily blind vehicle drivers who ignore warnings at checkpoints, the Pentagon said on Thursday. Army Lt. Col. Barry Venable, a Pentagon spokesman, defended its use as legal and said the devices were intended to prevent civilians from being shot.

The U.S. military is fitting some M-4 rifles used by U.S. forces in Iraq with a tube-shaped device that is about 10 1/2 inches (27 cm) long that shines a laser beam. Venable stressed that the devices do not cause permanent blindness. "They don't blind people. It's like shining a big light in your eyes," Venable said. "I think the term is optical incapacitation -- dazzlers as opposed to something that will blind you." Venable said he did not know how long the "optical incapacitation" effect lasted. "We haven't developed, acquired or fielded any blinding laser weapons that are designed to cause permanent blindness," Venable added.

Venable said he did not know how widespread the usage of the devices was in Iraq. The Los Angeles Times first reported the use of the devices. In the LA Times story by Jaimes Rainey, Times Staff Writer, use of the laser devices also raises concerns: a protocol to the Geneva Convention bans the use of lasers that cause blindness, and human rights groups have protested previous U.S. attempts to employ such weapons. The Pentagon has canceled several programs for the stronger "blinding" lasers, in adherence to the Geneva protocol, according to Human Rights Watch. But the group has said that even less powerful "dazzling" lasers, similar to the one to be deployed in Iraq, can cause permanent damage. The military, however, has apparently decided the risks can be minimized through proper training and are worth taking to help U.S. troops ward off suicide attacks and to reduce accidental shootings of Iraqi civilians.

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