Use non-lethal heat ray

The Pentagon's reluctance to use a non-lethal ray gun to disperse angry crowds in Iraq is hard to fathom.

Many such protests have occurred where U.S. troops felt compelled to fire their weapons, leaving scores of Iraqis dead or seriously wounded. If the Active Denial System, as the ray is called, had been available, soldiers might have broken up the riots without having to shoot anyone.

Developed over the past decade, the system works by focusing an invisible millimeter-wave of electromagnetic energy on a crowd. A two-second burst can heat skin to 130-degrees, making the person feel as if his skin is on fire. While the wave is harmless, those struck by it, needless to say, move out of the way quickly.

According to an Associated Press investigation, military leaders have repeatedly and urgently requested the device as a substitute for lethal force. But they have been denied.

One concern is that the weapon might be seen as a torture device. And it is easy to envision how the beam could be misused as a torture device.

Nonetheless, that would be preferable to shooting people. If the army has a weapon that can effectively break up a riot without harming people, why not use it?

Any so-called non-lethal weapon can have its drawbacks or can prove deadly in certain situations. Tasers, for example, have caused a number of deaths, although they also have been effective in subduing hundreds of suspects without causing permanent harm.

Pentagon brass allegedly are afraid that the heat ray will result in bad PR for the military. Again, however, it beats shooting people.

Military has a heat ray that will disperse rioters harmlessly but refuses to use it.