CBS Early Show Touts UN Labeling of Tasers as 'Torture'

Monday’s CBS Early Show picked up a liberal cause as co-host Hannah Storm fretted over the epidemic of taser related deaths in North America, citing how "at least six people died after being zapped by police last week, prompting a U.N. committee to consider tasers as a form of torture." CBS brought aboard a spokesman from Amnesty International which wants a moratorium on taser use and Storm endorsed the group's agenda as she pointed out how "the NAACP is weighing in and agreeing with you, saying this needs to be looked at" and she pined: "What would it take to ban tasers?"

At the beginning of the segment reporter Joie Chen described how a video of a recent taser incident in Canada, "led Taser International to slam 'sensationalistic media reports.'" Of course, Chen quickly went on to continue her own "sensationalistic" reporting on the issue. She concluded by blaming trigger-happy police officers for the recent deaths as she raised "the questions about whether taser carrying officers have become too quick on the draw."

Storm followed Chen’s alarmist report with an interview with Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, Larry Cox:

STORM: The U.N. weighing in on this and calling it a possible weapon of torture, what does that mean? What's the significance?

COX: Well it means that it's a very serious thing, because the U.N. does not lightly use the word torture. These are people --

STORM: Yeah, how high is the bar for them?

COX: Well, these are people that have seen torture around the world, they've seen the worst kinds of torture. So they don't use the term lightly.

Yes, clearly the taser has become just as bad as the kinds of torture practices in the world’s worst totalitarian states. After all, according to a report by CBS Capitol Hill Correspondent Chip Reid on the November 2 "Early Show," the U.S. already uses water boarding, a Spanish Inquisition torture tactic.

In another brief effort to present the other side, Storm asked Cox, "So how do you answer the claims by Taser International that people aren't dying specifically from the electric shock of the tasers?" Cox responded by dismissing such claims: "The important thing is, they are dying after they are tasered. That cannot be denied, no matter how you spin the language."

That seemed to be all it took to convince Storm:

Six people in the last week in the U.S. and Canada...And in the Maryland case, the NAACP is weighing in and agreeing with you, saying this needs to be looked at. What would it take to ban tasers?

Of course that would be right after we ban guns.

Here is the full transcript of the November 26 segment:

HANNAH STORM: The United Nations has stepped into the growing controversy over tasers. As we said, at least six people died after being zapped by police last week, prompting a U.N. committee to consider tasers as a form of torture. CBS News Correspondent Joie Chen has more.

JOIE CHEN: They're sold as devices designed to protect life, but tasers are now under fire after a stunning spike in deaths. In just one week, Frederick, Maryland, a deputy zaps 20-year-old Jerrell Gray during a fight. He dies on the spot. The same day in New Mexico, a suspect resisting arrest is tasered and dies after being taken to jail. In Jacksonville, Florida, two men in unrelated cases are zapped. Both die. In Nova Scotia, Canada, another tasered suspect dies. And then in British Columbia, a man zapped for strange behavior dies after being taken to the hospital. A Canadian case caught on a tourist camera, though, has provoked the biggest outcry. The Polish man in the Vancouver airport holding area spoke no English. Held for ten hours, he's clearly agitated, and then -- he's shocked twice and dies about a minute later. Over 1,000 protestors call the camera man a hero, but the video led Taser International to slam sensationalistic media reports. The company insists no deaths have ever been conclusively linked to what it calls the low-energy electrical discharge of the taser. But the 50,000-volt slap knocked 38-year-old Ohio suspect Heidi Gill out. On the Early Show, she showed Hannah what her clothes looked like after repeated hits, and she described intense pain.

HEIDI GILL: It was the sickest thing I've ever felt. It was horrendous.

JOIE CHEN: That's echoed by the driver in this patrol car video, zapped after he refuses to sign a speeding ticket.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: Turn around put your hands behind your back now.

UNIDENTIFIED DRIVER: What is wrong with you?

JOIE CHEN: His case adds to the questions about whether taser carrying officers have become too quick on the draw. Joie Chen, CBS News, Washington.

STORM: Larry Cox is the Executive Director for Amnesty International USA, which has called for a moratorium on tasers as long as three years ago. Good morning, and thanks for being with us.

LARRY COX: Thank you.

STORM: The U.N. weighing in on this and calling it a possible weapon of torture, what does that mean? What's the significance?

COX: Well it means that it's a very serious thing, because the U.N. does not lightly use the word torture. These are people --

STORM: Yeah, how high is the bar for them?

COX: Well, these are people that have seen torture around the world, they've seen the worst kinds of torture. So they don't use the term lightly. I think it's because so many people are dying and because we know from our own experience that electroshock often is used as a form of torture deliberately. You're shooting 50,000 volts of electricity into people. It's extremely painful. You have people who are often in custody, and when they are in custody and it's being used repeatedly on them, it's hard to describe it as anything else but torture.

STORM: So how do you answer the claims by Taser International that people aren't dying specifically from the electric shock of the tasers? A lot of people do die from the struggle that ensues after they've been tasered -- before and after.

COX: Nobody really knows exactly why these people are dying, we only know that people are dying after they are tasered. When we started doing our study -- our first study, 70 people had died in the United States. Now it's nearly 300 people who have died in the United States. They're tasered, and then they die. We are calling for a study to find out exactly why. It may be because they have a heart condition. It may be because they're on drugs. It may be because of some other factor that we don't know about. The important thing is, they are dying after they are tasered. That cannot be denied, no matter how you spin the language.

STORM: Six people in the last week in the U.S. and Canada.

COX: Exactly.

STORM: And in the Maryland case, the NAACP is weighing in and agreeing with you, saying this needs to be looked at. What would it take to ban tasers?

COX: Well, I'm afraid it may take more of these kind of cases. The important thing to remember is that these are people who are not carrying a deadly weapon. These are not often people who are carrying any weapon at all. These are people who are resisting arrest perhaps, or walking away or running away. Sometimes it's people who are in handcuffs, people that are already subdued, and yet, they are being tasered and then they are dying.

STORM: So you're saying authorities have gone wrong by using this routinely, instead of using this as a method of last resort?

COX: I think it's been billed as something safe and easy, so it's natural that the police who are in very difficult situations and are worried for their own lives, may tend to use it too easily, and that's what's happening, it's being used as a first resort, rather than a last resort, in cases where no one would dream of using deadly force, no one would dream of using a gun.

STORM: Let me tell you what some police authorities are saying, because they're saying that look, if we don't use this, we're going to have to use a baton, we're going to have to use pepper spray in cases of extreme violence. We may have to use deadly force. In effect, they're saying maybe these tasers are saving lives. What's your response to that?

COX: Well, most of the cases we've looked at, there's been no weapon involved at all. Let alone a deadly weapon. So these are not situations where necessarily the police officer is at threat. That's the first thing. And the second thing is, we also want there to be a safe way to subdue people. I think that's very good, but we have to study this and find out that this is really safe. The penalty for resisting arrest should not be death.

STORM: Alright. What's happening in Canada? Because I know you called for an investigation there as well.

COX: Well as you know, there was this terrible incident in the airport in Canada, where, again, somebody who was not carrying a weapon, somebody who was probably not posing a threat --

STORM: Which really sparked this whole outcry is that video --

COX: Exactly and what sparked it is that it was videoed.

STORM: Right.

COX: These are the cases we know about. So, there are many cases where we don't see it on video. And that has called for an outcry, and the Canadian government has said that it will now finally do a study. We think they ought to ban the use of the weapon until that study is completed, you shouldn't be shocking people.

STORM: And we'll continue to follow this story, right. Larry Cox, thank you so much, we appreciate it.

COX: Thank you.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC