My tryst with Narco Analysis

On the question of voluntary consent

After being arrested in Nagpur by the Maharashtra police on May 8th, 2007,myself and three other persons were charged with sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and were sent to police custody by the magistrate for approximately 11 days. To justify our ‘seditious’ intentions, the police concocted a story that our arrests were a preventive measure since we intended to blow up the Ambedkar Memorial at Deekshabhoomi. During my police custody my interrogators kept forcing me to sign a letter of consent for Narco-Analysis to be conducted on me.

Although I declined to sign such a letter I was shocked that the prosecution produced this letter of consent with my forged signature  in court. Both Ashok Reddy (my co-accused) and myself represented by our lawyers rejected such a letter as proof of our consent while in police custody. But, alas, the magistrate permitted such tests to be conducted on us even though we did not furnish our consent in court. Subsequently, we were taken to the Mumbai FSL at Kalina where four forensic tests were conducted on us, ie. Psychological profiling, Narco-analysis, Brain –mapping, and lie-detector tests. With no satisfactory results and having failed in this exercise of manufacturing proof of our criminal intentions (if any), the Maharashtra police soon tried to get us to undergo another test. This time the Bangalore FSL was fixed as a venue since it had a reputation of ‘success’ in aiding the security agencies in their investigation. The requisite court permission was obtained from a lower court in Bhandara in a murder case. (The particularities of the murder case are irrelevant since none of the questions asked during the forensic test dealt with the case details). This time, neither our lawyers, nor did we have any inclination that such an order was passed. The magistrate even  denied the existence of such an order to our legal counsels. The Asst Director, Dr. Malini, Bangalore FSL, conducted these sets of forensic tests on us in September 2007.

At both the laboratories we were instructed to sign a letter of consent before the commencement of these tests. Once again we declined. The Mumbai laboratories told us that such a rejection would constitute a rejection in the implementation of the court order. At Bangalore on the other hand, Dr. Malini threatened us that such a rejection would amount to the absurd logic that we were deceiving since we were afraid of the truth being exposed. Ultimately,after much ruckus both of us signed the form with an additional note stating that we were not giving our consent but rather following the courts orders. Such a mandatory formal consent is empty in content with no real rights in actual practice. The Madras High Court in the case of Dinesh Dalmia (2006) aptly sums up this absurd dilemma- the person “maybe taken to the laboratory for such tests against his will, but the revelation during the tests is voluntary”.

 Psychological Profiling

In psychological profiling, the FSL psycho-analyst goes into the details of the life of the accused. His/Her past history, family background, childhood problems are brought to the fore by friendly discussions. In this relaxed atmosphere the topic of the concerned crime is then brought before the accused and the psycho-analyst then attempts to discover his/her involvement in it.  This test was conducted on us only  at the  Mumbai FSL. Obviously Bangalore’s Dr. Malini believes that such psychological profiling tests are a waste of time. The Mumbai FSL Director, Dr. Rukmini Krishnamurthy in Aug 2008 stated that in 97% of the cases of those who underwent Narco-analysis, the suspect reveals the same facts as revealed in psychological profiling. Many other Forensic experts also admit that the Psychological Profiling was more accurate and preferable to narco-analysis.

Narco- Analysis Test

Before  we were taken to the various FSLs, a series of medical examinations were conducted on us to check our physical fitness and record our vital medical parameters. A list of the tests conducted are- HB, TC, DC , ESR, Blood sugar,Fasting, Post prandial, Random, blood urea, Se, Creatinine, Urine complete analysis, BP, Chest, X-ray, ECG, Echo, TMP, HIV, HBS-Ag. We are then made to totally fast i.e. denied food and water for 12 hours before Sodium Pentothal is administered. The reason behind this is to avoid nausea , which is a side effect of administering the truth serum. The test is conducted in an operation theatre of a local government hospital having back-up facilities for surgery,etc. i.e. in the case of a medical emergency. During the test an anesthetist,the interrogator or Forensic Psychologist, a physician and a person to video  record the proceedings are the only people allowed  to be present in the laboratory. The police are denied entry.

At the Mumbai narco tests, the person operating the video camera was also writing down the discussion verbatim.  At Bangalore, Dr Malini herself operated the video camera while asking questions,no one recorded in writing.  At both places there was no physician in stand by in the Operation Theatre while the tests were being conducted – this job was done by an unqualified laboratory hand.   The Anesthetist administered the  drug intravenously diluted with Saline, while constantly monitoring the heart beats and breathing pattern of the subject.

Before going further it is essential to understand the working of anesthesia.  As quoted by Dr Amar Jasani “there are four different stages of anesthesia.  The first stage is called induction, which is when the person is actually given the anesthetic substance, and its effects start.  The second stage of anesthesia is a phase of excitement and the beginning of the loss of consciousness, when the person is partly conscious or  semi-conscious or in a trance like state.  As one continues to give anesthesia, which is called the surgical plane,when the person; losses sensation and is totally unconscious. This is called the surgical plane, because to undertake surgery the anesthesia has to be maintained at this stage by  maintaining an appropriate level of concentration of the anesthetic agent.  The loss of consciousness at this stage is irreversible.  However, if more anesthetic substance is given than the dose required for achieving and maintaining the surgical plane, then it leads to coma.  The fourth stage of anesthesia is called coma or overdose, and is often irreversible.  In the fourth stage there is depression on the brain stem and medullar regions and it can lead to death.”

During both the Mumbai and the Bangalore narco tests, the anesthetist gradually regulated the concentration of sodium pentothal so that we would remain in the second stage of anesthesia for a maximum period.  This duration was the window during which the forensic psychologist asked the questions.  Initially the psychologist asked control questions, ie those questions that are indisputable (like name, surname, place of birth and so on).  Later on specific questions, linked to the crime were asked.  At the Mumbai tests the psychologists ceased asking question once we went into a state of unconsciousness.  But at the Bangalore Narco-tests, the forensic psychologist, Dr Malini, continued asking questions,
at times slapping and abusing the subject so that he/she may not slip into unconsciousness.  Some accused of the Mumbai 7/11 serial train blast case even experienced their ears being squeezed by pliers and some were given electric shocks to keep them awake and hence extend the duration of questioning.  The pain inflicting methodology of Dr Malini was also intended to subdue the subjects so that they would answer the questions obediently and without resistance.  Contrary to popular belief,it is possible to recollect and remember the treatment meted out and the  questions asked although one is a state of trance.  Somewhat like recollecting a dream after waking up – one may not remember all the details with  complete accuracy, but one will definitely remember the highlights!

The Bangalore forensic experts used the drugs with ‘police efficiency’, ie with total disregard for medical ethics and health of the subject.  In other words, the second stage of anesthesia is forcefully and artificially brought about, even if the subject keeps slipping into the third stage.  Similar
to a wave form, where the crest of waves represent the second stage, and, the troughs the third stage. Dr Malini regularly slapped, scolded and physically tortured the subjects to jerk them out of their troughs.  In retrospect one understands that even the medical records of the subjects also help the anesthetist to this threshold of semi-consciousness to the optimum.  But eventually, all this cannot continue endlessly. The exercise has to finally end due to the depletion of oxygen in the subject’s body.  The subject is then made to wear an oxygen mask and allowed to sleep.  The subject recovers from deep sleep after an hour and is gradually given water and a light snack to avoid vomiting. The grogginess continues for
another 2-3 hours.

Dr.Malini even overcame this medical obstacle. At the Bangalore FSL, in many cases, a single subject was subjected to many narco tests in a single day, although the court permission was obtained for only one.   At the 7/11 Mumbai train blast accused Asia Khan Basher Khan was  subjected to a total of 7 narco tests at the Bangalore FSL.  From my experience, and those of other accused that I have managed to interact with in jail, we can confidently conclude that the narco tests only decreases the individual’s ability to lie and is in no way a fool proof method for uncovering the truth.  The revelations supposedly made under the influence of truth serum may contain fantasies like a person under the  influence of alcohol.

Knowing this inherent flaw, the government security agencies and Dr. Malini in particular have used the Narco analysis for other purposes. One wherein the video recording of the Narco analysis test is edited and manipulated so as to “manufacture” results as desired by the prosecution. This “fabricated evidence” was deliberately leaked to the media in the case of the 7/11 train blast accused so as to generate public support for the police arrests. In the Sr. Abhaya unnatural death case the CBI raised the aspect of illegal tampering of the video CDs by the Bangalore forensic experts in the Kerala High Court (Sept. 2008).Secondly assuming that the accused has no mental record of  the questions asked and the answers given during the tests the police use  this “assumed hidden knowledge” in further interrogation  sessions.   They tell the accused that he/she  has revealed the “truth” during the Narco-test and should therefore “confess” the crime since it would be pointless in putting up a resistance. In future to avoid such abuse of the subjects’ human rights the courts should make it mandatory for the concerned FSL to submit unedited copies of the Narco-VCD along with its written reports to the accused.

 Polygraph lie-detector tests

In the lie detector (polygraph) tests we were made to sit and about 5-6 sensors were attached to various parts of our bodies. One at our finger tips, one at our arms to calibrate the blood pressure,another across the chest and across the head, one on the ear lobe, and sensory pads were kept below our feet and buttocks. These sensors monitored our body’s response to a series of questions (probes), which we were allowed to answer in
only yes or no.  The underlying principle here is that a deceiving person will show physiological signs of deception such as perspiration, an increase in heart beat, change in breathing pattern, and so on.

Two types of probes are supposed to be asked, control questions and specific questions. When the control questions are asked the sensors record the physiological responses, which ought to be at normal levels since one would not have lied while answering them. Such control questions should be mixed along with specific ones.  A sufficient time gap should be maintained between the questions so as to normalize readings.  If there is a noticeable physiological change during the answers given to specific questions as compared to the control ones, the forensic expert then concludes that the subject has lied.

In the Mumbai FSL, the forensic expert presented me and my co-accused, with a set of 16 questions each.  About 8 were control ones. The questions were shown to us prior to the actual commencement of the tests. During the tests the entire set of questions were asked, this time recording the readings of the sensors. This process was carried out thrice so as to average out any errors.

At the Bangalore FSL this process was carried out in an entirely unprofessional manner.  Firstly the list of questions was huge, totaling about 60 questions.  Secondly control questions were absent from the list. Thirdly none of the questions were shown to us before the tests.  This made it difficult to comprehend the questions,especially in the case of incorrect framing.  For example, question no 22 was “do you know Avinash and Javed?” – this question can have multiple answers and the subject will therefore require time to answer in yes or no; thus affecting the reading.  Fourthly the entire lists of questions were asked only once, without much time intervals between the questions.  But this erroneous methodology did not matter.  Dr Malini came to her pre-determined conclusion that we both “showed signs of deception …. indicating non truthfulness in (our) statements given”.

Brain Electrical Oscillation Signature (BEOS) or Brain Mapping Tests

These electrodes record the electrical activity of the brain when certain stimuli are presented before the subject.  These recordings are fed into a computer which analysis the electrical oscillation by using Neuro Signature System (NSS).  At the Mumbai FSL we were presented with a audio stimuli, while at the Bangalore FSL video slides on the computer screen were shown to us, ie video stimuli.  In BEOS, the underlying  principle is that if one were part of a certain incident, event or crime, as in this case, video or audio stimuli (probe) regarding the incident would bring out a response in one’s experiential knowledge.

If not, the knowledge of the event could be called conceptual.  Through the electrical oscillations fed into the computer, the analyst is supposed to conclude whether the subject is part of the incident or event in question. As previously mentioned, here too two types of probes are presented – control or neutral probes, and specific probes.The probes are designed based on the information given by the Investigation Officer as well as the subjects. At the Mumbai FSL different sets of possible event scenarios containing about 10 to 20 probes (statements) and arranged in a
sequential order were read out to us.  We were instructed to close our eyes and avoid movements.  In the BEOS report from the Mumbai FSL, each probe was mentioned, tabulated with a corresponding signature showing either ‘experiential knowledge’ or ‘nil experiential knowledge.

Hilarious as it may sound, “married to my  wife” probe showed ‘Nil experiential knowledge’!  At the Bangalore FSL we were shown video  slides on a computer screen, no audio stimuli were presented. The probes did not contain any control ones.  What is most unscientific of the Bangalore FSL was that in its final report of the BEOS test, it mentioned that auditory probes were presented, whereas in fact none were. Even the signature of each video probe was not mentioned in its report.  The deliberate doctoring of results by the Bangalore FSL reached heights of absurdity when we observed that both Ashok Reddy (my co-accused) and my BEOS reports were exactly similar –mere photocopies.

In conclusion

As easily noticeable, the above discourse is insufficient and subjective.  My experience is limited to just two FSLs.  There is a need for properly compiling more such experiences of subjects who have undergone these  tests.  I hope this endeavor will help motivate the scientific and medical community to build such database.  It would serve us as an important tool for ‘movement against narco analysis test as a form of TORTURE’.

Arun Ferreira

Central Jail,

December 2008