Friday, April 17, 2009


Ajmal Kasab, the gunman in the Mumbai terror attacks who was photographed stalking CST station with a machine gun and was later caught alive, is appearing in court and has already retracted his confession, stating that it was "coerced". He was photographed and then caught, wasn't he? What is there to confess? Well, one assumes, all the details about the planners and the journey from Karachi and the local accomplices (two of whom are also being tried). This "confession" was sent to Pakistan; other evidence that included identical DNA reports for two different individuals, Kasab and Abu Ismail, which according to Chidambaram was a "minor clerical error".

If by "coercion" Kasab means torture, can we believe his confession? Plenty of evidence says that we cannot (links 1, 2). In fact, eliciting false confessions is often the aim of torture, by totalitarian regimes the world over. I am not sure what "coercion" refers to in Kasab's case, but I really, really hope that it was not torture: if it was, all evidence obtained from him is useless. (And my hopes are not high: we know how Indian police treat common criminals and suspects.) Also, making a mess of this trial -- the only recent case of a terrorist being caught alive, anywhere in the world -- would be a disgrace to our police and investigatory system.

Elsewhere in the world, Barack Obama authorised the release of four memos detailing "justifications" for torture under the Bush administration. The memos make it clear that the authors knew they were endorsing the very methods that they routinely condemn when practised by foreign governments. Several responses are out on the internet; Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Sullivan are worth reading. Obama has said he is not in favour of prosecuting the CIA operatives who tortured (though that doesn't close the door on independent prosecutors); however, he did not say anything -- one way or the other -- on those who wrote the memos or those in the administration who authorised the torture. Recently, the Red Cross released its own report on the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Both the report and the memos make gruesome reading. Both have spurred international discussion. I wonder if anyone in power in India is talking about the use of torture by our agencies. The media routinely turns up individual cases, but nobody seems to be talking about the issue as a matter of policy.


Anonymous said...

After all this information online, you immediately suspect the Indian Police! And you don't even consider the possibility that Kasab might lying in front of the court!

Hope you realize that there is something called defence lawyer tactics 101

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Dear Anonymous -- the police admitted that they were giving him "truth serum" (sodium pentothal). Again, confessions extracted under that drug are not admissible in court. I do not know what Kasab meant by "coerce" (one news item says he alleged torture), it is possible he is lying, but I do not know why a confession is required to convict him. There is enough other evidence. Truth serum and such things are required only to find out further information about the planners, but such information is not admissible in court: it has to be corroborated in some other way.

Anyway, the court may well reject the claim that the confession was coerced...

Rahul Basu said...

In any case, I think what Rahul S hopes, as do I, is that India should not make a hash of this trial of a terrorist. The world will be watching and it's a test not only of our judicial system but how it appears to the rest of the world.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

RB -- that, and I'd like to see justice done and the story unravelled, with proof that stands up in a court of law. So I really hope that Kasab's confession (coerced or not) is not all they have, and whatever is in that confession can be backed up independently.

km said...

To the Anonymous:

Like Rahul, I too think it's more strategic and vital to trace Kasab's steps back to his his organization and his financers.

The tactical step of hanging Kasab is but an inevitability but India (and the rest of the world) gains absolutely NOTHING from it.

Anant said...

Dear Rahul,

Why mix up 2 different and equally important issues? Thanks to the Kasab issue now the atrocious Obama administrations actions about the torture during the Bush era which is also in your post completely forgotten. Please break up the post into two for benefit for your readers.


Rahul Siddharthan said...

Anant - do you think if I break it up into separate posts the world will magically take the Bush torture memos seriously? I'm not Andrew Sullivan and I'm not trying to change the world. The two issues are related, in my point of view: both relate to how to deal with prisoners accused of terrorism who you believe (but don't know) have information that they're not divulging.

If you think the torture memos deserve their own post and you are not satisfied with what's already out there on the blogosphere, why don't you write something yourself?

Anant said...

Re. the 2 points being related, the point is taken.

As to why I do not write something, my blogger´s block is just not coming undone!