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Rioters in Portland, Seattle, and other cities attacking federal agents and police with blinding lasers could be guilty of war crimes under terms of an addendum to a 1980 United Nations agreement prohibiting the use of certain “conventional weapons.”
Last month, Richard Cline, deputy director of operations for the Federal Protective Service, told reporters that at least three agents protecting the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse in Portland may have suffered permanent vision loss as a result of rioters pointing lasers at their eyes for sustained periods of time.
“When officers responded to put out these fires, glass bottles were thrown and lasers – which can cause permanent blindness – were shined in their eyes,” Cline said. “We have three officers who currently have eye injuries and they may not recover sight in those eyes from those laser attacks.”
He went on to note that the FPS and, likely, other federal agencies that have deployed personnel to protect government property and monuments amid ongoing unrest and violence, are procuring anti-laser googles for officers to wear to protect their vision moving forward.
But the act of shining lasers into the eyes of opponents specifically to blind them was addressed — and banned — by the United Nations during the Clinton administration.
In 1995, countries including the United States adopted a provision that specifically banned the use of increasingly powerful handheld laser devices to blind opponents.
The provision, the “Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons (Protocol IV),” states:
Article 1: It is prohibited to employ laser weapons specifically designed, as their sole combat function or as one of their combat functions, to cause permanent blindness to unenhanced vision, that is to the naked eye or to the eye with corrective eyesight devices.
Article 2: In the employment of laser systems, the High Contracting Parties shall take all feasible precautions to avoid the incidence of permanent blindness to unenhanced vision. Such precautions shall include training of their armed forces and other practical measures.
Article 3: Blinding as an incidental or collateral effect of the legitimate military employment of laser systems, including laser systems used against optical equipment, is not covered by the prohibition of this Protocol.
Article 4: For the purpose of this Protocol ‘permanent blindness’ means irreversible and uncorrectable loss of vision which is seriously disabling with no prospect of recovery. Serious disability is equivalent to visual acuity of less than 20/200 Snellen measured using both eyes.
In response to the employment of lasers by rioters, Customs and Border Protection officials have authorized their agents assigned to defend federal property to engage in less-than-lethal force including pepper balls and bean-bag rounds.
In a memo, CBP officials said that the use of lasers aimed at eyes or camera lenses are “remarkably dangerous because of their concentrated energy.”
“Officers/agents are authorized by law to use objectively reasonable force to effect the arrest and protect against harm to the officer/agent or others,” Charles A. Bishop, head of the agency’s law enforcement compliance directorate, wrote.
“Officers/agents should consider all reasonable tools, tactics and equipment to cease an assault with a handheld laser in accordance with CBP Use of Force Policy and U.S. constitutional standards,” he added.
The U.S. Senate ratified Protocol IV in 1997.
The UN’s ban is particularly noteworthy, given that most Democrats have either discounted reports of increased violence against federal agents or criticized them and the Trump administration for defending themselves and government property.
Last week, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) told independent journalist Austen Fletcher, host of the “FleccasTalks” series, that nightly violence in Portland was “a myth” being spread around Washington, D.C.
Previously, Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) blasted the Trump administration for defending government property while calling federal agents “stormtroopers,” a reference to paramilitary enforcers utilized in Hitler’s pre-World War II Germany.
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