Do 'Truth Serums' Work? Lawyers of alleged al-Qaida operative Jose Padilla have argued that he should not be tried because of questionable interrogation techniques used on him, including the use of truth serums. Do such formulas work?
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Do 'Truth Serums' Work?

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Do 'Truth Serums' Work?

Do 'Truth Serums' Work?

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The trial of alleged al-Qaida operative Jose Padilla is said to begin Monday. Lawyers for this American citizen, who was accused of plotting to set off a radioactive dirty bomb, have argued that he shouldn't be tried because interrogation techniques used on him, including injections of truth serum, have ruined his mind.

Dr. Ronald Miller is chair of anesthesia and perioperative care at UC San Francisco. Dr. Miller, welcome to DAY TO DAY.

Dr. RONALD MILLER (UC, San Francisco): Thank you very much.

CHADWICK: Is there such a thing as truth serum?

Dr. MILLER: Not in my mind. There are drugs that certainly can alter one's response from that of normal, but there is no magic potion that simply allows someone to tell the truth when they otherwise wouldn't.

CHADWICK: I'll just note that government prosecutors have denied that any torture or mistreatment of Mr. Padilla occurred. So the government says this hasn't happened. But you're saying that there is no drug that you can inject in someone, the kinds of things we read about in spy novels and see in movies. That doesn't really exist.

Dr. MILLER: That's correct. It's not to say that in the history of interrogation, that such drugs have not been used. Well, I don't know that for sure, but I would imagine that there have been many occasions in which drugs have been used. But to label them as mind-altering I think is incorrect.

CHADWICK: Well, what kinds of drugs are you talking about, and what do they do?

Dr. MILLER: Most of the drugs whose names have appeared on television or spy novels would be scopolamine, thiopental, pentothal, I think are the drugs that are most commonly used. They happened to be the same drugs that we use to induce anesthesia.

CHADWICK: So these things kind of make you go to sleep. That wouldn't be very useful for getting people to tell the truth.

Dr. MILLER: That's correct. So for example, if I wanted to sedate you, I would give a smaller dose than if I've wanted to completely anesthetize you. My analogy in this situation is when you walk into a bar where somebody is drinking alcohol, some people will have enough alcohol that they've eliminated their inhibitions, which makes them want to jabber more.

CHADWICK: And this drug in moderate doses, this will do the same thing.

Dr. MILLER: That's…

CHADWICK: It lowers your inhibitions, so you talk.

Dr. MILLER: Right. And so when we're administering anesthesia, if we administer the drug very slowly, we will go through a phase sometimes when patients jabber or they will talk in a manner that they probably wouldn't talk if they hadn't had those drugs.

It would be the same if you took somebody and gave them a martini or two. Some individuals might be more likely to tell you things that they wouldn't tell you otherwise. But that assumes that the information they have is the kind of information that someone would want.

CHADWICK: It doesn't necessarily mean that they're telling you the truth though, does it?

Dr. MILLER: You're absolutely correct. It means they talk more. They talk in a way that they probably would not talk had they not had the drugs, but in no way does it mean that they're telling the truth or that they know anything.

CHADWICK: Dr. Ronald Miller from the University of California at San Francisco, thank you.

Dr. MILLER: Thank you.

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