India uses 'truth serum' as media bay for blood
They had already been dubbed “diabolical maniacs” by the Indian media and written off as too hot to handle by many lawyers, even before they were charged.
So hardly anyone objected when wealthy businessman Moninder Singh Pandher and his servant Surender Koli were injected with a controversial “truth serum” this week by police investigating the gruesome murder of at least 17 children and women.
Within hours, juicy transcripts of their drug-induced “confessions” were leaked to the media, with Koli recounting how children were lured to their house to be raped and killed, their mutilated remains dumped in the surrounding drains.
Confessions in police custody are usually inadmissible as evidence in court, let alone those obtained under the influence of narcotics.
But who was prepared to stick up for “psychopath” Pandher or “cannibal” Koli, who apparently confessed to eating his victims’ flesh?
Not lawyers from the Bar Association in Noida, a satellite city of the Indian capital New Delhi where the bodies were found, who said that none of their members would represent the pair.
Colin Gonsalves of the Human Rights Law Network says the pair have already been denied a fair trial, and the principle that someone is innocent until proven guilty has been trampled on.
“If this happened in America or Europe the trial would be absolutely vitiated [made invalid],” he said. “This will prejudice the trial.”
The idea of a truth serum that would magically ease the path to justice is as ancient as modern civilisation. Ethical questions aside, no chemical has yet been found that is guaranteed to work.
The debate resurfaced after the September 11 2001 attacks on the United States, when a former head of the FBI and CIA said truth drugs might be more effective than torture to penetrate the minds of al-Qaeda suspects.
Then defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld denied that drugs were being given to suspects in Guantánamo Bay.
But no such reservations exist in India, where the use of the anaesthetising drug thiopental sodium has become increasingly common in the last five years.
Woozy suspects are supposed to find it harder to lie or deflect questions.
The Indian Constitution, just like the US one, prohibits any person accused of an offence from being “compelled to be a witness against himself”.
Human rights group Amnesty International said the use of drugs in interrogations was outlawed under international standards and breached medical ethics.
“This constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” Amnesty said in a statement.
But the director of the forensic science laboratory in charge of the interrogations says it is better than some alternatives.
“The subject is in a daze and he spills all the facts,” Dr J Vyas told Reuters. “It is any day a better method to extract truth than physical and mental torture.”
Six policemen have been sacked and four suspended for ignoring two years of complaints from dozens of poor families that their children were going missing.
By leaking “confessions”, Gonsalves says the police are more interested in restoring their tattered reputation and closing the case quickly than in conducting a professional investigation.
“The police are misusing the media to propagate a particular point of view ... to prevent any further investigation into the case and give the impression the case is solved.”
The Noida Bar Association’s refusal to represent the men violates their constitutional rights, experts say.
Others say the media must share the blame for being “willing collaborators” with the police and leaping to condemn two men who have yet to present their case.
“Demonising a suspect in the eyes of the world may lead to a complete denial of justice,” said senior criminal lawyer KTS Tulsi. “Unpopular men may fare badly in courts.” â€’ Reuters