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Tilting at Windmills

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September 30, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

TRUTH SERUM....Indian police are continuing to investigate the Mumbai bombings from last July. Here is a report from September 20:

Two of the suspects arrested for the serial blasts have admitted to links with the terrorist groups, Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister R.R. Patil said here today.

The breakthrough came after investigators subjected two brothers, Faisal and Muzammil Sheikh, to narco-analysis or truth-serum tests.

Here is an AP dispatch from today:

[Mumbai police Commissioner A.N. Roy] said the Pakistanis slipped into India, some going over their shared border, while others went through neighboring Nepal and Bangladesh. There they were met by Indians who brought them to Mumbai and housed them in rented apartments, he said.

....However, Roy said that many of the suspects had been trained to resist interrogation and only the use of truth serum helped tie loose ends together.

Truth serum? Indeed. Apparently it's common in India to interrogate suspects after injecting them with a solution of sodium pentathol. In fact, it turns out that just recently a videotape was aired on Indian TV showing the pharmaceutical interrogation of one Abdul Karim Telgi, a con man at the center of a sensational and long-running story about a fake stamp paper scam whatever that is. You can read the story here, and you will be unsurprised to learn that authorities seem to have unilaterally decided that some of Telgi's confession was reliable and some of it wasn't. Good stuff, that truth serum.

But there's more: a day after the truth serum interrogation, Telgi was strapped up to....something....and made to take a "brain-mapping test." According to this story, "the brain-mapping test establishes Telgi's link to a number of top political and police official in Karnataka and Maharashtra."

I don't really have anywhere to go with this. But apparently that's how they do things in India. Now you know.

Kevin Drum 2:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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Coming to a theatre near you!!

Posted by: bigcat on September 30, 2006 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

"How they do things in India" is a Republican's wet dream, actually. For example, if you're not comfortably middle class or above and you're arrested for an ordinary crime, a sound beating is a routine part of the procedure. In fact, with its grotesque income inequality and utterly corrupt and self-serving ruling class, India in general is a Republican paradise. Look to India for the glorious future that awaits us if Republican rule continues.

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on September 30, 2006 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

Well, now I see why "conservatives" are so happy about all this stuff - they are completely immune to the "brain mapping test", being brainless and all.

Posted by: craigie on September 30, 2006 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

Well, at least they are curteous about it. First they ask them if they prefer the vial of sodium pentathol or the vial of cobra venom.

Posted by: stupid git on September 30, 2006 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

Craigie, stop. That is three times I have read something you posted and had to wipe coffee off my screen.

Posted by: Global Citizen on September 30, 2006 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

And I just got here ten minutes ago!

Posted by: Global Citizen on September 30, 2006 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

I guess this must be some of the "aggressive interrogation" that our president wants.

What this stuff boils down to is that the authorities don't really care one way or the other what, if any, information the "suspect" gives up. What the person being interrogated says is completely immaterial. The whole point is to punish the person for simply being under suspicion.

Ed Meese would love such a justice system.

Posted by: Derelict on September 30, 2006 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

People in India are still dying in terror attacks, most recently over 200 in July. Maybe they don't think they have the moral luxuries that a country that hasn't had an attack in five years has.

Posted by: marty on September 30, 2006 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

More seriously, research science has documented that an fMRI is actually much more accurate and reliable as a lie-detector mechanism than a polygraph.

Assuming that (yes, a big assumption) here in the U.S., the same self-incrimination rights were used as with a polygraph, why shouldn't we use this?

Being an ardent civil libertarian doesn't mean being a Luddite.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on September 30, 2006 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

Truth serum may well be in use at Guantanamo. At least its use has been considered. See here and here.

Posted by: JS on September 30, 2006 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truth_serum

information obtained by publicly-disclosed truth drugs has been shown to be highly unreliable

I don't claim that Wikipedia, useful as it is, is the most authoritative source of such information. Does anyone know have any more info?

P.S. Gotta agree with SocraticGadfly.

Posted by: alex on September 30, 2006 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

"When George was young he used to like to pull the wings off of flies. How much you want to bet you can find some liberal who will defend flies?"

Posted by: Barbara Bush on September 30, 2006 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

They tried to map Bush's brain, but it turns out that it is featureless. Gives new meaning to the term tabula rasa. Eternal sunshine of the clueless mind.

Posted by: Michael7843853 G-O in 08! on September 30, 2006 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

many of the suspects had been trained to resist interrogation. . .

Suggests a more concerted program behind this than the 'hey, kids, let's set off a bomb!' characters in England.

Posted by: cld on September 30, 2006 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

I think truth serum and fMRI should be used, and when found out, we should say we prevented terrorist attacks.

Posted by: Thomas2 on September 30, 2006 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

I think truth serum and fMRI should be used to discourage sock puppets who post on blogs.

Posted by: fyreflye on September 30, 2006 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

I always preferred the old standby of dunking them in the pond. If they sink and drown, they're innocent. If they float, they're a witch!

Posted by: Wingnut on September 30, 2006 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK

You peeple bettr stop pickin on me or i'm gonna git mad and declere you all as emenies of the state. Youll all be swimmin in yer own piss pretty soon ha ha aha hahaa...

Posted by: George W. Bush on September 30, 2006 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

You don't really have anywhere to go with this, do you. I've been reading your blog for three years now at ever decreasing intervals and I've come to the same conclusion.
A lack of moral courage and experience really boxes you in.

Posted by: Mooser on September 30, 2006 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

That wasn't me that was some troll!

Look, I'm the DECIDER, and I gets to decide what alterational methods we use, NOT YOU! Not some stupid blogger and his terrorist loving friends from the Hot Tub Coast. Down in Texas we got ways of making people talk. I always pre-ferred the Old Testament way - make the woman drink poison and if she don't die, then she wasn't foolin' around with no other man.

Posted by: George W. Bush on September 30, 2006 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

Some Indians who live high in the Himalayas don't have brain cells. Rather, they have binary brains, complete with gig ratings. These brains can be "dumped out" to diskettes.

Posted by: Hedley Lamarr on September 30, 2006 at 4:26 PM | PERMALINK

"Truth serum" (known in psychiatry as "pentothal interview" has been discredited as a form of finding out the truth for decades. It made it into lots of cop shows in the 1950's but even then was suspect. It puts someone into a dreamlike state which supposedly lets down their guard, but they can say ANYTHING, not necessarily the truth. It has a limited usefulness in therapy but nothing else.

I'm in the profession, by the way.

Posted by: captcrisis on September 30, 2006 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

The fact that information obtained via coercion (or truth serum) is not reliable does not mean that it has no value. It doesn't have to be always correct to be useful. Why? Because it can be checked. If a prisoner is tortured and says that there is a weapons cache at a certain location, that location can be checked. If no weapons are found, the rorture continues. (Ditto if they are found, I assume). If one out of ten things a prisoner says under torture turns out to be correct and useful, it's worth it to the torturer.

This is not said in support of torture. Rather, as an explanation why torture continues to be widespread around the world. It wouldn't be if it didn't work -- at least some of the time.

Posted by: JS on September 30, 2006 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK

I don't really have anywhere to go with this. But apparently that's how they do things in India. Now you know.

And now, it is legal to do such things in the US, courtesy of The Decider and the Rubber Stamps...

History will not be kind...

Posted by: justmy2 on September 30, 2006 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK

"Truth serum" ... has been discredited as a form of finding out the truth for decades.

No way! I just saw an advertisement from Pfizer for Truthlax that says it restores memory, improves your Scrabble score, and lets you see through walls. It was a beautiful film of attractive people in an outdoor setting, so it must be true. There was a big list of side effects, but I can't remember none of them, and they don't matter anyway, because that stuff happens to other people, maybe - certainly not to me.

Would Big Pharma lie?

Posted by: craigie on September 30, 2006 at 5:26 PM | PERMALINK

Truth serum?

What nonsense. If it really worked Bush would have been cranking it out by the oceans.

Truth serum is good for spy movies only.

A pity.

Bush could use a good dose of it. Now that would be fun to watch.

Posted by: James on September 30, 2006 at 5:53 PM | PERMALINK

"The future emperor, a young George Walker Bush, practiced the rudiments of torture on Texas frogs. Threatening to blow them up with firecrackers unless they would 'croak' on demand."

Encyclopedia Galactica (351st edition)

Posted by: koreyel on September 30, 2006 at 6:27 PM | PERMALINK

This is nothing. In the sixties, there was an epidemic of the so-called encounters in northern India wherein the alleged terrorists were killed point blank by the police while they were supposedly escaping from their prison cells. Everyone gave a wink and a nod, and swift justice was appreciated by all.

Posted by: gregor on September 30, 2006 at 7:22 PM | PERMALINK

I had a sodium penathol injection once for a broken arm, boy did I feel great - no fear, no pain. I could see it being a good "truth serum,' god knows what would happen if they happened to mix it with some opium....

Posted by: kim on September 30, 2006 at 8:23 PM | PERMALINK

Truth serum works even better when you use a large needle and inject it directly into the prisoner's balls.

Posted by: Apu Nahasapeemapetilon on September 30, 2006 at 9:35 PM | PERMALINK

Hey. That's bloody racist Nahasepee.....

Posted by: gregor on September 30, 2006 at 10:02 PM | PERMALINK

Would Bush fess up to paying for Robin Lowman's abortion in 1972 if he was given a walloping dose of sodium pentothal?

Posted by: A Cynic's Cynic on September 30, 2006 at 10:09 PM | PERMALINK

Cynic's Cynic:
Or would Shrub tell us why he was doing community service at downtown Houston's George Foreman youth center that same summer?

Alex: And, I agree with you on pentothal. That's why I only reffed the fMRL, and within U.S. legal restrictions.

That would include the right to refuse to undergo an fMRL, or to answer individual questions.

That said, because of the relative insightfulness of an fMRI (which I'm sure will play out in the future) I'd allow prosecutors to introduce the failure to test, or to answer particular questions, during trial. At the same time, defense attorneys could cross-examine machine/test administrators in an attempt to show bias in emotional tone of questions, etc.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on October 1, 2006 at 12:23 AM | PERMALINK


Stamp Paper is an relic of the British times. Basically when two people or parties enter into some kind of agreement or parternships and they need to get some kind of legal sanctity, that particular documents is written on a Govt issued stationary (Stamp Paper) and is executed in front of a Govt representative(Registrar, Notary). Value of stamp paper equals the Govt's fees which is dependent on the type of agreement. Basically Govt acruees revnue through sale of stamp paper and Mr. Telgi was indulging in printing fake stamp papers. Its similar to counterfeiting currency. This particular scam was worth somewhere to the tune of about two billion dollars.

I did watch the Truth Serum induced confession on the TV when some channel obtained the leaked tapes. It did not make for a pretty viewing. As for its efficacy I am very doubtful. It was ironic that when this came out, it was revealed that Telgi had implicated top politicians of the land and instantly the politcos started to question the effectiveness & reliability of the test. Now the same people are telling the world that the confessions in the bomb case have been obtained through the same route.

Posted by: Kool on October 1, 2006 at 12:38 AM | PERMALINK

On behalf of the people of the USA, I extend our sympathy and condolences to the people of India who have suffered and died because of Islamofascist terrorists from Pakistan.

In order to protect the people of India from possible future Pakistan-based terrorism, I will bomb Iran. Also, I will give Pervez a noogie.

Posted by: George W. Bush on October 1, 2006 at 1:48 AM | PERMALINK

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Posted by: mmf铃声 on October 1, 2006 at 4:22 AM | PERMALINK


Sukhetu Mehta has a long chapter about the stamp-paper scandal, Indian police techniques, etc. in his excellent book about Bombay, "Maximum City".

Truth serum ain't the half of it. The Indian police are known to just flat-out assassinate people on a regular basis, often by beating them to death in prison or by staging elaborate "shoot-outs" which are in fact turkey shoots. This is all spoken about openly. Frankly, if I was a suspect in Mumbai, I'd be relieved if they brought out the truth serum. Better than many of the alternatives.

Posted by: kokblok on October 1, 2006 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

In the post above, I should have written the "Mumbai Police" instead of the "Indian Police". I'm sure some of these techniques are used elsewhere in India, but Mumbai is notorious even within India for the extremity of police brutality.

Posted by: kokblok on October 1, 2006 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

And after the truth serum and "brain mapping test", they made the subject drink some tea and read the leaves when he was done...

Posted by: battlepanda on October 1, 2006 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

One of the reasons why the Bombay police are so brutal is because the criminal justice system - the courts, the DAs, etc. - is so broken that they feel torture is their only weapon. India also was stuck behind a wall of Fabian socialism for so long that it didn't learn more effective techniques across the board. The Bombay police also have to waste a lot of time dealing with the fall-out of the Rental Act or whatever it was called. Torture is a sympton of how broken crime-fighting is in Bombay.

Also, torture may work once in a while, but so does government ownership of the means of production. The Chinese First Five-Year Plan worked rather well and the most productive and efficient steel industry in the world is run by the Korean government. If we followed the type of logic that says once in a while torture works, so we should do it, we should use these two cherry-picked economic data points and nationalize all industry here. Of course this would be a disaster. Even a blind chicken will once in a while peck at a seed. That doesn't mean we can know ahead of time if an inefficient technique - torture - will work once in a while instead of following the general trend of being self-defeating. I'm just waiting for Republicans to now say that unless we nationalize industry now, we will miss out on all the economic benefits the Chinese experienced with the FFYP.

Posted by: Reality Man on October 1, 2006 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

You are a great editor with exceptional concepts about life, technologi, music and all...

good work !

Posted by: Gilbert on October 2, 2006 at 12:05 AM | PERMALINK

If you have ever been stupidly high on a tryptamine you know it wouldn't take a particularly skilled interrogater to manipulate someone in that state to revealing more than they wanted to. It's just that everyone has this huge stick up their butts about drugs.

Drugs are just mind hacks. Exploit them like any hacker would!

Posted by: bago on October 2, 2006 at 3:13 AM | PERMALINK

Alex, I actually wrote that line on the Wikipedia years ago. If you want something slightly better researched, try this 60 minutes report, which says the same thing. It seems they give you a combination of sedatives and stimulants, so that you're simultaneously stoned and hyped-up and will talk freely and not stop to think about the consequences of your actions.

However, the report also states that as well as indiscreet remarks, you get a whole lot of drivel. Pretty much like interrogating a drunk person, actually.

Convicting somebody on the basis of uncorroborated things said in a drunken stupor would be a travesty of justice.

Posted by: Robert Merkel on October 2, 2006 at 3:59 AM | PERMALINK

Clearly, America is falling behind in the "brain-mapping" race. The Indians will beat us (back) to the Moon! (Well, let's give the Moon to the other Indians, so at least they have some more land to call their own.)

Posted by: Neil' on October 2, 2006 at 10:07 AM | PERMALINK



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