September 27th, 2006 12:33 EST
DoD Officials Urge Use of Non-lethal Weapons in Terror War
DoD officials today urged a change in policy that would allow U.S. servicemembers to use tear gas and other non-lethal weapons in the global war on terror.
Joseph A. Benkert, principal deputy assistant defense secretary for international security policy, and Air Force Brig. Gen. Otis G. Mannon, deputy director for special operations on the Joint Staff, spoke to the Senate Armed Service Committee’s subcommittee on readiness and management.
At issue is an Executive Order issued in 1975 that forbids American servicemembers’ “first use of riot control agents in war, except in defensive military modes to save lives.” The policy further states that all use of riot control agents in war “is prohibited unless such use has presidential approval in advance.”
An amendment in the fiscal 2006 National Defense Authorization Act -- the Ensign Amendment after subcommittee chairman Nevada Sen. John Ensign -- takes non-lethal weapons for riot control out of this prohibition.
Benkert said officials want “to assure that our men and women in uniform have the full range of options available to them to carry out their missions.”
Benkert stressed that the riot control agents he was talking about are not listed in a Chemical Weapons Convention schedule. He is referring to such non-lethal weapons as tear gas and pepper spray. He also said his testimony did not address other non-chemical, non-lethal weapons such as foams, water canons, beanbags or rubber bullets.
“It may be difficult for many Americans to understand why their armed forces can use riot control agents only in defined circumstances when they see their local law enforcement agents using them effectively every day,” Benkert said. “The United States military must operate within the parameters of the Chemical Weapons Convention and Executive Order 11850, which constrain the ability of our armed forces to use riot control agents in offensive operations in wartime and obviously do not apply to our colleagues in law enforcement.”
Benkert and Mannon stressed that even when allowed to carry these weapons, DoD personnel go through exhaustive and comprehensive training on their use. He said they also receive training in the law of war and applicable Geneva Conventions implications. “The Department of Defense has issued regulations, doctrine and training materials providing guidance as to when riot control agents may be used,” he said.
Before U.S. military personnel may use riot control agents, they must have proper authorization. The president must approve any use in war in a defensive military mode to save lives.
“Under various circumstances, in light of the changing environment in which armed conflicts are taking place, in such a dynamic environment the peacekeeping, law enforcement and traditional battlefield roles of deployed units may be present at different times within the same theater of operations,” Benkert said. “The use of riot control agents will be evaluated based on the particular unit or mission involved and the particular facts and circumstances of the mission at the requested time.”
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service