This article in the New York Times,* on the worthless bomb-detective divining rods currently being used by Iraqi forces to deter terrorists, might provide the basis for an extremely interesting lawsuit under the alien tort statute. Assuming you could get personal jurisdiction, and ignoring the fact that practically speaking there are much better alternatives out there, could an alien suffering some kind of legal injury bring suit in the U.S. against the manufacturer of the device?
The bomb-sniffing rod at issue in the NYT article is the “ADE651® device,” produced by ATSC, Ltd., a UK company. The device is essentially a divining rod or ouija board; it has no external power source, no apparent means of explosives detection, and is only operable by those who have been “carefully trained” in its use. Oh, and Iraq has apparently spent $85 million on them.
The Lebanon distributor of the ADE651, Prosec, provides this handy picture of the device, along with the accompanying description:
“The range of detection is around 50 meters with obstacles and up to 600 meters in outdoor areas, the unit can also detect explosives submerged in water or buried underground. Detection from a hovering helicopter is also possible.”
The Prosec spokesperson then added, “It can also receive free cable, make perfectly popped popcorn every time, and roast a 9 lb. turkey in under an hour.”
The principle behind ADE651’s ability to detect explosives has been variously described as “electrochemical (Thermo-Redox) detection,” “nuclear quadrupole resonance,” “electrostatic ion attraction,” or, as Jim McCormick, the owner of ATSC, explained it, “The principal is Electrostatics. It is more akin to Coulomb’s Law than Gauss’.”
Now, where would the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) claim lie in all of this? Clearly in a purely US-domestic matter this would be grounds for a pretty heavy fraud action, but the ATS is not an open ended jurisdictional grant. It provides only that “The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.”
So in the hypothetical of a case brought by an Iraqi against ATSC, Ltd., the “by an alien” requirement is clearly met, as is the “for a tort only” requirement, as fraud can be the basis of a tort claim. However, given current ATS jurisprudence, fraud is not the kind of tort that is “committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.”
So rather than the ADE651, a better test case would be provided by the GT-200, which is by produced by Global Technical, a UK corporation. (Global Technical, by the way, alleges on its website to be a “United Nations Registered Supplier.” Anyone out there know what the hell this means? I’m assuming it’s fraudulently made up by Global Technical, in which case the UN needs to do something about it now.) The GT-200 is a dowsing rod device much like the ADE651. It needs no external power source and runs off of the “electro-static electricity” created by the human holding it.
The FAQ of the product contains the following gems:
Q: Can GT200 detect all types of narcotics and explosives?
Q: Is there anything that can stop or block the GT200 from detecting substances?
A: To date, we have not found anything that will totally block or stop the substance signal being detected.
Q: What is the maximum distance that the GT200 can detect?
A: The detection distance for general search is up to 700 meters. It can detect substances in water (fresh or salt) up to a depth of 850 meter. In the case of buried substance it can detect up to 60 meter deep. For aerial reconnaissance, the distance extends to 4 kilometers.
While fraud is clearly at work with the GT-200, there’s something else important about it as well: the deaths of three policeman in Thailand have been attributed to the ‘malfunction’ of a GT-200:
As for an explosive-detection device, called the GT-200, that malfunctioned in detecting bombs and preventing an attack, the police chief said he would discuss with technicians, but needed more information before commenting.
A fourth death caused by the device occurred last month, also in Thailand:
Recently, the GT200 showed false negative results on 6 October 2009 at a bombing near Merlin Hotel, Sungai-Kolok district, Narathiwat province which caused one death and several injuries, as well as on 19 October 2009 during a bombing at the Pimonchai market, Muang district, Yala. During these two incidents, officials were called beforehand to check a car and motorcycle under suspicion. The device was not able to detect any dangerous substances. The bombs exploded a few minutes after the examinations.
Unlike the hypothetical case alleging mere commercial fraud, if the GT-200 can be attributed to human deaths, whether in the course of war or in police actions, the jurisdictional basis for a claim under the alien tort statute just got a whole lot stronger.
Update: Jim McCormick, chief director of the company that makes the ADE651, has finally been arrested.
*This is completely unrelated to anything above, but while writing this post I was amused to find that the author of the NYT piece apparently did some of his own research on web message boards, as you can see from his post here, asking one of the forum contributors (“DubiousDick”) to contact him. Isn’t contacting random internet commenters for a story something blogs do, rather than major national newspapers?