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Monday, November 21, 2011

Scientific American: About Pepper Spray

From the Blog of Scientific American:

By Deborah Blum | November 21, 2011

One hundred years ago, an American pharmacist named Wilbur Scoville developed a scale to measure the intensity of a pepper’s burn. The scale – as you can see on the widely used chart to the left – puts sweet bell peppers at the zero mark and the blistering habanero at up to 350,000 Scoville Units.

I checked the Scoville Scale for something else yesterday. I was looking for a way to measure the intensity of pepper spray, the kind that police have been using on Occupy protestors including this week’s shocking incident involving peacefully protesting students at the University of California-Davis.

As the chart makes clear, commercial grade pepper spray leaves even the most painful of natural peppers (the Himalayan ghost pepper) far behind. It’s listed at between 2 million and 5.3 million Scoville units. The lower number refers to the kind of pepper spray that you and I might be able to purchase for self-protective uses. And the higher number? It’s the kind of spray that police use, the super-high dose given in the orange-colored spray used at UC-Davis.

The reason pepper-spray ends up on the Scoville chart is that – you probably guessed this - it’s literally derived from pepper chemistry, the compounds that make habaneros so much more formidable than the comparatively wimpy bells. Those compounds are called capsaicins and – in fact – pepper spray is more formally called Oleoresin Capsicum or OC Spray.

Photo courtesy: California Aggie

But we’ve taken to calling it pepper spray, I think, because that makes it sound so much more benign than it really is, like something just a grade or so above what we might mix up in a home kitchen. The description hints maybe at that eye-stinging effect that the cook occasionally experiences when making something like a jalapeno-based salsa, a little burn, nothing too serious.

Until you look it up on the Scoville scale and remember, as toxicologists love to point out, that the dose makes the poison. That we’re not talking about cookery but a potent blast of chemistry. So that if OC spray is the U.S. police response of choice – and certainly, it’s been used with dismaying enthusiasm during the Occupy protests nationwide, as documented in this excellent Atlantic roundup - it may be time to demand a more serious look at the risks involved.

read the rest here.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Unmasking the Illusion - Drones on Trial

The Hancock 38 dramatically put drone warfare on trial in Dewitt Town Court, (near Syracuse, NY ) on November 1-6, 2011. While the verdict will not be rendered until December 1, 2011 it is clear that each of the Hancock 38 was lead by conscience, refusing to be complicit with the immoral and illegal assassinations and killings committed by the USAF and other US government agencies. Please join us in court on Dec. 1, 2011 to support the Hancock 38.

We are asking everyone to send this video to elected officials and military personnel. It is about the trial of the Hancock 38. Click on the arrow inside the Youtube to get it started:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Pakistani civilian victims vent anger over US drones

From: BBC News
Nov 2, 2011
By Orla Guerin BBC News, Islamabad

When tribal elders from the remote Pakistani region of North Waziristan travelled to Islamabad last week to protest against CIA drone strikes, a teenager called Tariq Khan was among them.

A BBC team caught him on camera, sitting near the front of a tribal assembly, or jirga, listening carefully.

Four days later he was dead - killed by one of the drones he was protesting against.

His family told us two missiles hit the 16-year-old on Monday near Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan. His 12-year-old cousin Wahid was killed alongside him.

The boys were on their way to see a relative, according to Tariq's uncle, Noor Kalam, who we reached by phone.

He denied that Tariq had any link to militant groups. "We condemn this very strongly," he said. "He was just a normal boy who loved football."

The CIA's drone campaign is a covert war, conducted in remote terrain, where the facts are often in dispute.

The tribal belt is off limits to foreign journalists. Militants often seal off the locations where drone strikes take place. The truth can be buried with the dead.

After the missile strike on Monday, Pakistani officials said four suspected militants had been killed.

If the strike actually killed two young boys - as appears to be the case - it's unlikely anyone will ever be held to account.

There are no confirmed death tolls but several independent organisations estimate that drones have killed more than 2,000 people since 2004. Most are suspected to be militants.

Many senior commanders from the Taliban and al-Qaeda are among the dead. But campaigners claim there have been hundreds of civilian victims, whose stories are seldom told.
Photo: A drone aircraft of the kind used by the US military The use of drone missiles has soared

A shy teenage boy called Saadullah is one of them. He survived a drone strike that killed three of his relatives, but he lost both legs, one eye and his hope for the future.

"I wanted to be a doctor," he told me, "but I can't walk to school anymore. When I see others going, I wish I could join them."

Like Tariq, Saadullah travelled to Islamabad for last week's jirga. Seated alongside him was Haji Zardullah, a white-bearded man who said he lost four nephews in a separate attack.

"None of these were harmful people," he said. "Two were still in school and one was in college."

Asghar Khan, a tribal elder in a cream turban, said three of his relatives paid with their lives for visiting a sick neighbour.

"My brother, my nephew and another relative were killed by a drone in 2008," he said. "They were sitting with this sick man when the attack took place. There were no Taliban."
Legal challenges

Viewed from a drone, any adult male in the tribal areas can look like a target, according to Mirza Shahzad Akbar, a Pakistani lawyer who is taking on the CIA.

"A Taliban or non-Taliban would be dressed in the same way," he said. "Everyone has a beard, a turban and an AK-47 because every person carries a weapon in that area, so anyone could be target."
Clive Stafford Smith, director of the British legal charity Reprieve, holding the fragment of a missile Campaigners like Clive Stafford Smith say drones are resulting in "murder"

Mr Akbar is suing the CIA for compensation in the Islamabad High Court, and plans to file a Supreme Court action.

He claims the US is getting away with murder in North Waziristan. It's a view shared by the British legal charity Reprieve, whose director, Clive Stafford Smith, has been meeting drone victims in Pakistan.

"What's going on here, unfortunately, is murder," he said.

"There's a war going on in Afghanistan, but none here in Pakistan, so what the CIA is doing here is illegal."

The CIA would doubtless say otherwise, if it were prepared to discuss the drone programme, but US officials are usually silent on the issue.

In a rare public comment two years ago, the then director of the CIA, Leon Panetta, defended the use of drones.

"We have targeted those who are enemies of the United States," he said. " When we use it, it is very precise and it limits collateral damage."

But the damage is not limited enough, say opponents like Mr Stafford Smith, who is gathering evidence about civilian deaths. From a shopping bag he produced a jagged chunk of metal - a missile fragment - believed to have killed a child in Waziristan in August of last year.

"I have a three-year-old son myself, and the idea that this thing killed someone very much like my little Wilf really tugs at your heart strings," he said.

Mr Stafford Smith says drones are changing the nature of modern warfare.

"If you are trying to surrender and you put your hands up to a drone, what happens?" he asks.

"They just fire the missile, so there are all sorts of Geneva Conventions issues which are not being discussed."

Campaigners also warn that drone strikes are counter-productive, generating more radicalism and more hatred of the West. They say the drone strikes are a Taliban recruiting tool.

At Tariq Khan's funeral, many mourners spoke out against the US, according to his uncle Noor Kalam.

But Washington is unlikely to heed the anger here. Under President Barack Obama, the use of drone missiles has soared - there's an attack on average every four days.

Increasingly, these remote-controlled killers are Washington's weapon of choice.

US Drone Warfare: Ethiopia Edition

By Asawin Suebsaeng
In: Mother Jones
Fri Oct. 28, 2011
It's official: another half-acre, multi-million-dollar US drone base has been confirmed, this one on Ethiopian soil. The Washington Post reports:

The Air Force has been secretly flying armed Reaper drones on counterterrorism missions from a remote civilian airport in southern Ethi­o­pia as part of a rapidly expanding U.S.-led proxy war against an al-Qaeda affiliate in East Africa [al-Shabab in neighboring Somalia], U.S. military officials said...The Air Force confirmed Thursday that drone operations are underway at the Arba Minch airport. Master Sgt. James Fisher, a spokesman for the 17th Air Force, which oversees operations in Africa, said that an unspecified number of Air Force personnel ­are working at the Ethio­pian airfield "to provide operation and technical support for our security assistance programs."

The Arba Minch airport expansion is still in progress but the Air Force deployed the Reapers there earlier this year, Fisher said. He said the drone flights "will continue as long as the government of Ethi­o­pia welcomes our cooperation on these varied security programs."

Though the Post story emphasizes elements like the drones' "Hellfire missiles and satellite-guided bombs," BBC News reports that, although the aircraft can be fitted with such firepower, American officials speaking to the BBC on Friday "stressed that the remotely-piloted drones were being used only for surveillance, and not for air strikes" and that the Reaper drones were flying unarmed "because their use is considered sensitive by Ethiopia's government." (According to Tesfaye Yilma, the head of public diplomacy for the Ethiopian embassy in DC, it's their explicit policy not to "entertain foreign military bases in Ethi­o­pia.")

Read the rest here...

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