Scottish Daily Mail
GODFATHER TORTURE OF
He was the quietly brilliant Scots psychiatrist obsessed with winning a Nobel Prize. Instead, his name lives on in infamy as the man responsible for cruelty on an industrial scale
IN the wake of the collapse of the 20th century’s most maniacal regime, Scottish-born scientist Dr Ewen Cameron was supposed to be one of the voices of sanity. He was a world expert in psychiatry and focused on finding a cure for mental illness – an achievement which, he had little doubt, would one day secure him a Nobel Prize along with a place in medical history.
He achieved only the second of these objectives – but through barbarism rather than benevolence. If Cameron is remembered today it is as a post-war Mengele figure, as the godfather of mental torture with a legacy of suffering spanning some seven decades, 27 countries and countless victims. So what went wrong? A new film from Scottish director Stephen Bennett sets out to find the answers and to expose the fact that the terrifying mind control techniques pioneered by a minister’s son from Stirlingshire are still being used in interrogations to this day.
Eminent Monsters, which opens at several cinemas across Scotland tomorrow, makes for deeply troubling viewing.
It traces the progress of a seemingly highachieving scientist from small-town Scotland to one of Canada’s most highly regarded psychiatric hospitals where, ostensibly, Cameron’s role was to make patients with mental health issues well again.
In reality, he set about destroying them, ‘wiping’ their memories as one might remove the data on a computer’s hard disk and reducing them to husks of the human beings they once were.
Grotesquely, he charged them and their families for the privilege.
It was the Nuremberg Trials of 1945 and 1946, Mr Bennett believes, that proved the turning point for the Scot, who had become a US citizen in 1942.
As one of the pre-eminent scientists in his field, Cameron had been asked to attend the trials and examine Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess, a key architect of the Nazi regime charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Cameron found him to be sane but suffering from hysteria and amnesia.
Much later, though, Hess admitted that he had faked the amnesia.
Were this the full extent of Cameron’s misjudgments, he would be surely little talked about today.
He was, after all, far from the only medical man who was fooled by Hess. But the Nuremberg Trials appear to have shaped the psychiatrist’s thinking in alarming ways.
By examining Nazi indoctrination at close quarters Cameron became fascinated with the vulnerability of the mind.
It was almost as if the germ of Nazi wickedness transferred from the war criminals on trial to the mildmannered psychiatrist hearing evidence of their deeds.
MR BENNETT tells the Mail: ‘While many would have been appalled by such testimony played out in front of them, it seems that Cameron’s writings get darker from this point on.
‘He begins to imagine a new world order where doctors (psychiatrists et al) controlled a person’s life far more. Within the decade his secret experiments begin in the “Stables” of the Allan Memorial Hospital in Montreal.’
Born in 1901 in Bridge of Allan, Stirlingshire, Cameron studied psychological medicine at Glasgow University in the 1920s and later trained in psychiatry at the Glasgow Royal Mental Hospital in 1925.
By the end of the decade, he had moved to Canada and he lived between there and the United States for the rest of his life.
He was involved with the Allan Memorial Institute from its inception in 1943 and it was here, as the decade progressed, that his ‘treatment’ methods gradually morphed into torture.
Perhaps it was the involvement of the CIA which pushed him over the moral precipice. Cameron’s work had first come to the attention of the agency when he published a paper claiming he could wipe a person’s memory.
Now, as his experiments attracted funding both from the CIA and the Canadian Government, the line between treating people as patients and as guinea pigs was first blurred, then obliterated.
At the Allan, he oversaw the development of a secret wing, which came to be known as The Stables, where the most sinister tortures were played out.
The guiding principle of Cameron’s profession was ‘First, do no harm’. Yet, in The Stables, no one in his charge escaped it.
Mr Bennett’s film furnishes the viewer with mercifully brief but harrowing re-enactments of this inhuman regime.
Typically, patients would be isolated and induced into a medical coma for hours or days. Thereafter many were given heavy doses of LSD and fitted with blackout masks.
Tape loops were played on repeat through earphones the patients could not remove.
Sometimes they heard only white noise, other times voices repeating the same grim message over and over and at varying speeds.
‘You are an angry person,’ said one. ‘Angry at doctors; angry at nurses. Why are you so angry? Is it because you hate your mother?’
On and on the bombardment would go as access to food, water and, above all, contact with the outside world was minimised.
As a supposed cure for mental health issues the treatment, not surprisingly, proved completely without merit.
Not one is known to have experienced an improvement in their condition and the vast majority were left with much more serious mental impairments than those they had sought to address.
Val Orlikow, for example, a Canadian patient suffering from depression, was dosed with LSD and exposed to brainwashing at the Allan before finally emerging as a shell of her former self. On learning that the treatment was part financed by the CIA, she and others sued the agency and won.
As torture, however, the techniques employed by Cameron were deemed by the US authorities and others to be highly effective.
Was that, then, the doctor’s real purpose – to develop a method of interrogating suspects through brainwashing and sensory deprivation under the guise of treating their mental health issues?
Film director Mr Bennett says it is hard to be entirely clear about the Scot’s motives.
He says: ‘Cameron in his papers understood and posited the application of these techniques.
‘I think he saw himself as a general – many would die under his orders but he might win the war.
‘His insatiable thirst for a Nobel Prize meant that anyone was fair game. And this was all done by paying members of the public who sought him out.’
FOR Mr Bennett, the most striking discovery was not that a rogue psychiatric doctor was torturing patients in Canada during the 1950s.
It was that Cameron’s work was included in the CIA’s first handbook on torture, the Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation manual, in 1963.
More chilling still, he recognised Cameron’s ‘DNA’ in the techniques used by US authorities on suspects held without trial in the Guantanamo Bay prison facility in Cuba.
In other words, his methods were still in use.
Mr Bennett says: ‘I became determined to tell this story. After trying unsuccessfully to get this project made in 2007 and then in 2012 I felt frustrated. Looking back at it now
I’m glad as, unbeknown to me, the biggest piece of the jigsaw hadn’t revealed itself.’
This was the case of the 14 ‘Hooded Men’ interned during raids by the British Army in Northern Ireland following a spate of bombings in 1971.
In all, 342 people suspected of being involved with the IRA were arrested and interned without trial. However, 14 of those were singled out and subjected to the UK’s newly developed ‘Five Techniques of Deep Interrogation’.
This, says Mr Bennett, amounted to sustained psychological torture – and an eerily familiar brand of it at that.
‘It was obvious that this had the hallmarks of Scotland’s Mengele, Dr Cameron,’ he says.
Forced to wear hoods that left them blind, the men were first thrown to the ground from lowflying helicopters. They were then taken to a secret interrogation centre, bombarded with white noise and made to adopt agonising ‘stress positions’ against a wall for hours on end.
They were also deprived of food and water and prevented from going to sleep.
Though they did not know it at the time, the treatment they were subjected to had its origins in that Montreal hospital, was fine-tuned by the US authorities in the 1950s and 1960s and had now crossed the Atlantic to the UK.
None of the 14 men who went through this ordeal was ever convicted of a criminal offence.
All suffered from some form of post-traumatic stress.
Even almost half a century later, one of them admits in the film he still suffers panic attacks when he is left in a room on his own.
The men took their case to the European Court of Human Rights which, in 1978, ruled that although they had been subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, they had not been tortured.
The distinction was a crucial one, allowing other nations to adopt similar interrogation practices and paving the way for the horrors seen in Guantanamo Bay.
And it is here, perhaps, that Mr Bennett’s film enters the most controversial waters.
It was in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on the US in 2001 – the terrorist atrocity which claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people – that President George W Bush waged his War on Terror.
For many, Guantanamo, the Cuban naval base and military prison where hundreds of terror suspects were held and interrogated, was a sure sign that he meant business.
But can there, under any circumstances, be a justification for torture – particularly when those on the receiving end include the innocent as well as the guilty.
TWO Guantanamo survivors who turned out to have no involvement in any atrocities are interviewed in the film. One of them was held there for 14 years.
‘Torture,’ says Mr Bennett, ‘plays into a base instinct. It is fetishised by the film and TV industry which further creates the narrative that it works or is justified.’
Indeed, as his film establishes, the action drama series 24, which first aired in the US weeks after 9/11, regularly features torture or the threat of it as a device to secure information.
But, says Eminent Monsters’ director: ‘What we know from experts is: one, torture someone and they will say anything to make it stop; two, there was zero actionable [military] intelligence gained from the physical and psychological torture of the 9/11 terrorists; and, three, the result of this torture has directly led to the growth of Isis and Al Qaeda.’
He adds: ‘None of this excuses the evil that the 9/11 terrorists did and I am in no way an apologist for them.
‘However, when we see that the Guantanamo pre-trials have gone into their seventh year and that they are in legal limbo given that most, if not all testimony is considered to be the result of torture, then we see the problem.
‘If we believe in the rule of law, which I do, then we should be able to put these men on trial and charge them.
‘Instead there is a quagmire of obfuscation and legal gymnastics and personnel change meaning that the true victims – in this case the 9/11 survivors and those bereft – remain unable to move on.’
At the Allan Memorial Institute, a photograph of the Scot who wrought horror inside its walls still hangs on one of them. Although curiously, the nameplate below it has been obliterated.
Cameron himself died of a heart attack while climbing with his son in New York State in 1967. More than half a century on, his legacy remains chillingly present.
Eminent Monsters is screened at the Glasgow GFT, Dundee DCA, Inverness Eden Court and Bo’ness Hippodrome near Falkirk tomorrow and the Macrobert Arts Centre in Stirling on Monday. There will be two further screenings in Edinburgh in March.