By Richard Lardner THE ASSOCIATED PRESS WASHINGTON – Saddam Hussein had been gone just a few weeks, and U.S. forces in Fallujah, west of Baghdad, were already being called unwelcome invaders. One of the first big anti-American protests of the war escalated into shootouts that left 18 Iraqis dead and 78 wounded. It would be a familiar scene in Iraq’s next few years: Crowds gather, insurgents mingle with civilians. Troops open fire, and innocent people die. All the while, according to internal military correspondence obtained by The Associated Press, U.S. commanders were telling Washington that many civilian casualties could be avoided by using a new non-lethal weapon developed over the past decade. Military leaders repeatedly and urgently requested – and were denied – the device, which uses energy beams instead of bullets and lets soldiers break up unruly crowds without firing a shot. It’s a ray gun that neither kills nor maims, but the Pentagon has refused to deploy it out of concern that the weapon itself might be seen as a torture device. The Active Denial System is a directed-energy device, but not a laser or a microwave. It uses a large, dish-shaped antenna and a long, V-shaped arm to send an invisible beam of waves to a target as far away as 500 yards. With the unit on the back of a vehicle, U.S. troops can operate a safe distance from rocks, Molotov cocktails and small-arms fire. The beam penetrates the skin slightly, just enough to cause intense pain. The beam goes through clothing and windows, but can be blocked by thicker materials. Perched on a Humvee or a flatbed truck, the Active Denial System gives people hit by the invisible beam the sense that their skin is on fire. The system was developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory in New Mexico. During more than 12 years of testing, only two injuries requiring medical attention have been reported; both were second-degree burns, according to the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate Web site. On April 30, 2003, two days after the first Fallujah incident, Gene McCall, then the top scientist at Air Force Space Command in Colorado, typed out a two-sentence e-mail to Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “I am convinced that the tragedy at Fallujah would not have occurred if an Active Denial System had been there,” McCall told Myers, according to the e-mail obtained by AP. The system should become “an immediate priority,” McCall said. Myers referred McCall’s message to his staff, according to the e-mail chain. McCall, who retired from government in November 2003, remains convinced the system would have saved lives in Iraq. “How this has been handled is kind of a national scandal,” McCall said by telephone from his home in Florida. A few months after McCall’s message, in August 2003, Richard Natonski, a Marine Corps brigadier general who had just returned from Iraq, filed an “urgent” request with officials in Washington for the energy-beam device. The device would minimize what Natonski called the “CNN Effect” – the instantaneous relay of images depicting U.S. troops as aggressors. A year later, Natonski, by then promoted to major general, again asked for the system, saying a compact and mobile version was “urgently needed,” particularly in urban settings. Natonski, now a three-star general, is the Marine Corps’ deputy commandant for plans, policies and operations. He did not respond to an interview request. Senior officers in Iraq have continued to make the case. Private organizations are concerned because documentation that supports the testing and legal reviews is classified. There’s no way to independently verify the Pentagon’s assertions, said Stephen Goose of Human Rights Watch in Washington. Prototype units have been assembled by the military. And recognizing the potential market, defense contractor Raytheon has invested its own money to build a version that the company calls Silent Guardian. Although Col. Kirk Hymes, head of the Defense Department’s Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate, said the Raytheon product “is not ready yet,” company representatives say it is. The program is based at the company’s Missile Systems division in Tucson, Ariz. Daily Breeze reporter Muhammed El-Hasan contributed to this report. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!