Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Torture Trade

It's common knowledge that torture takes place throughout the world. What may not be as well known is that there's a thriving international market in torture instruments. Moreover, the production and merchandising of these devices is perfectly legal in many countries, including the US. For years now, Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have called on governments to shut down or at least regulate the torture trade. By and large, though, it still flourishes.

Some examples:

Legcuffs, shackles, and handcuffs, all legally sold in and exported by the US. One of the major buyers is Saudi Arabia.

Leg irons. One of the world's major manufacturers is the Spanish Larranaga y Elorza, which exports leg irons to the US and elsewhere under a code which refers to them as "padlocks." By the way, the photo of leg irons is an actual ad used by Florida-based Kejo, Ltd.

Thumbcuffs, often with serrated edges. Offered for sale in China, France, Germany, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, the UK, and the US.

Restraint chairs. These chairs secure prisoners at four points: ankles, wrists, shoulders, and chest. The restraints can be progressively tightened. They're used to subdue "unruly" prisoners, but also to interrogate them. In the US, at least one death of a prisoner (Scott Norberg, Madison Jail, Maricopa County, Arizona, 1996) is attributed to them. The UN Committee Against Torture has expressed concern about their use. The chairs are manufactured by Oregon-based AEDEC International, whose CEO told Amnesty International "We're kind of ticklish about selling them to third world countries that don't have human rights because then there is a possibility that they might be abused." But he declined to specify any clients other than the United Arab Emirates (which has a long history of prisoner torture).

High voltage electro-shock stun batons. These are quickly becoming torture instruments of choice. Electric baton and stun gun technology was initially developed in the US, but has now spread across the world. Stun belts, which can deliver an eight-second shock of 50,000 volts, have recently been added to the arsenal. Their jolt pales in comparison to state-of-the-art stun guns, which can hammer out up to 200,000 volts. Stun belts have run across some legal hurtles in the US, but the sale of stun guns are virtually unrestricted in the US, China, Israel, South Africa, and Taiwan. They're sold under misleading codes or labels in European Union nations that have otherwise outlawed them such as the UK and Sweden. The US remains the largest supplier of electro-shock technology to the world. At least 86 US companies manufacture and market these torture devices, selling them legally to Russia, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, the United Arab Emirates, and Croatia.
Good work if you can get it. And, given slack or nonexistent laws on the manufacture and sale of torture instruments, you can get it if you try.