Why Torture? Why Not "Truth" Drugs?

Inspired by some of the Pit threads, and regardless of whether you think the US is involved in “torture” or not, I have to ask the question: If we want to interrogate any given individual suspected of terrorist activities, why would we use any physical means of coercion like “stress positions” and such to extract information?

Surely our knowledge of “drugs” of one sort or another could extract valid information more quickly, reliably and safer than physical pressure?

Is the concept of a “Truth Serum” completely bogus, and are those drugs that may have this effect simply be too unsafe or tricky to use?

Mods, please move this if you feel there is a better forum for this question.

Truth Serums and Lie detector test do not work well.
There is a Straight Dope article on Lie detectors somewhere. I will leave that for someone else to post.

Truth Serums are just drugs to loosen up a person’s tongue you might say. Alcohol is still one of the most effective. These work much better on an unprepared victim than a prisoner.

Snarky answer: we have a few lowlifes that enjoyed torture & this might included the VP.


Sodium pentothal and other drugs like it are often called “truth serums”. In reality, their action is related to alcohol and only makes one somewhat more talkative and less inhibited. Effects vary greatly by person. They may work somewhat in one case while the next terrorist just starts spewing fanatsy non-sense.

Here is an article on this very question:

“Truth” Drugs.

So in other words, they’re no more reliable than torture.

And torture does?

I thought that was one of the problems – people will just say anything to get the torture to stop. So unless you have some way of checking it, you can’t tell if they told you the truth or not.

“Truth Serums” are most likely non-existant. There was CIA research done in the 1950’s and 60’s with LSD and other psychoacitve substances as mind control devices, but the results proved too unpredictable to be effective. I think the closest they ever got to an actual truth serum was injecting barbiturates into one arm until the patient began to fall asleep, and then injecting amphetamines into the other arm. Some of the time they were able to get information out of these people, but more often than not the mixture of barbiturates and amphetamines killed them.

There really is no such thing as “truth serum.” Drugs like sodium pentathol reduce inhibitions but their “truth telling” abilities are greatly exaggerated in popular fiction. The reality is that the results from the use of these drugs are highly reliable and are as likely to contain elements of fantasy or deliberate falsehood as fact. It is a myth that a person is unable to tell a lie on these drugs and sometimes they may be effected to the extent that they confuse the facts with their own imagination.

In addition to unreliability there may also be 5th amendment issues considering that (in theory) the administration of a truth serum to unwilling witnesses would essentially be forcing them to testify against themselves.

Excellent links Shagnasty and II Gyan II.

I meant to say unreliable, of course.

NO!!!. I definitely did not say that or mean to imply that. Why would you take that out of context?
You even failed to show that you only took a small part of my post.

I definitely despise torture and the use of it. I was answering a question.

Please re-read my post and read all of it this time.

I do not support torture or believe in it or its effectiveness.


Interrogator: How many Soviet troops are stationed on the northern border of Czechoslovakia?

Subject: Hey, man, have you ever really looked at your hands?

I: Who is your officer?

S: Dave.

I: Dave? Who is dave?

S: Dave’s not here, man.

I wonder if an iterrogation sequence would seem like that big in “The Big Lewbowski”, complete with the Kenny Roger song, to the subject.

This is an interesting point indeed. I always thought that the 5th amendment was writen specifically to prevent the possibility of “torturing” a confession out of someone. But suppose science discovers an honest to goodness truth serum?
The “torture” angle about self-incrimination disappears.

Under those conditions, I would actually favor repealing the amendment; since now you could harmlessly determine if someone committed a crime.

I don’t believe there exists a “right” to commit crimes with impunity.

Sorry for the hi-jack, maybe I should open a GD about this.

The 5th Amendment is the right to not have to incriminate yourself. The 8th Amendment is the right to not face cruel or unusual punishments.

Yes but wasn’t the 5th crafted because of fear of “confessions” that were beaten out a suspect? Otherwise I cannot imagine any reason why one would need a right to not self-incriminate. The truth drug scenario removes the need for beating a confession out of someone. No pain necessary.

Do you feel I am commingling these amendments?

Note that many countries do use drugs for interrogation purposes. The intent is to basically make the victim temporarily crazy. The victim is unable to distinguish reality from hallucination, whether a voice is his own or not, etc. After a few days of this many people will start to divulge information they wouldn’t give out if they were in there right minds. (Note that the aftereffects of such drugs can be permanent.)

Because of the effectiveness of these techniques, the US military no longer expects US POWs to withhold information for very long and will no longer prosecute POWs who “abet the enemy” if they have undergone such torture.

Secondary comments: The US military has used these methods for many, many years. Even on “problem” US servicemen. They don’t consider it torture since no actual beatings take place. Of course it violates US and International laws, but who cares about that, right?

Note that given the (presumed) usefulness of such techniques, the current debate about torture focuses on the “TV movie of the week” scenario. You have to torture to get info on the bomb that’s going to blow up in 24 hours. If you have a few days, you don’t need (physical) torture.

But keep in mind that we’ve been using such techniques at Gitmo for 4 years and still don’t really know where Osama is. So much for effectiveness.

The question, as well as some of the answers included an unspoken assumption that torture is chosen on some sort of logical, tactical basis.

Drugs cost money, and require skilled operatives, and available drugs. Torture is free, and any brute can do it. Finding an available brute is usually not a problem.

Never complicate evil by imputing a philosophy.


And how would detainees who haven’t seen or had contact with Osama for four years possibly have a clue as to where he is?

You could make a case that little or no useful information about his whereabouts was obtained during, say, the first month or so. To try to make it sound like it’s even worse because the results didn’t improve after four years of trying is ludicrous.

Umm, new “detainees” are brought in all the time. It hasn’t been exactly the same group of folk the whole time. Sheesh.