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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Use psychology not force

Use psychology, not force'
TIMES NEWS NETWORK | Jul 19, 2011, 03.04am IST
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Read more:interrogation techniques|Faiz Usmani's death|civil society groups
MUMBAI: In the wake of Faiz Usmani's death while in police custody and in the backdrop of many such instances in the past, civil society groups have demand improved interrogation techniques and greater accountability in the force. According to police officials and initial post-mortem reports, Faiz, who was taken in for questioning on July 16, died of brain haemorrhage and heart disease in Sion Hospital on Sunday.

"While the cause of Usmani's death is yet to be ascertained, it is high time our interrogation techniques are put under the scanner," said an activist. India is in fact a signatory to the United Nations' Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment since the late 1990s which lays out guidelines against the use of torture in investigations. It defines torture as "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession…" The convention requires a systematic review of interrogation rules, methods and practices to prevent torture cases, but the strains and stresses of a highly under-staffed and overworked police force doesn't allow for this, admit activists.

P A Sebastien of the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights said strong deterrents need to be introduced to prevent incidents of police torture of detainees. "A person is innocent until he is proven guilty. If there is torture or a custodial death, it should be investigated fairly and independently on the lines of a murder. Only when the police know there is no immunity will instances of torture reduce," he said.

Psychiatrist Harish Shetty who has worked closely with the police force points out that fear models and threats may not always work. "Psychological methods that focus on 'elicitation' may work better than fear-based enquiry." He said that hardened criminals may need techniques that focus on a wide range of "feelings and stories". He also suggests that the authorities highlight successful interrogations where the police did not resort to force to get a detainee talking.

Former IPS official and lawyer Y P Singh points out that the interrogation versus human rights debate often poses a devil versus deep sea dilemma for investigators. According to Singh, the Mumbai police is not trained in scientific methods of investigation. "We also need to pass a law to permit the use of lie detectors and narcoanalysis," he said.

But the use of narcoanalysis is contested by many advocates like Kamayani who believes it is a form of torture. "In India, video clips of the actual narcoanalysis are telecast repeatedly, when the same is not even admissible as evidence in court," she said.

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