It is an examination of the invention and propagation of psychological torture techniques. As you can imagine, grim.
It starts with the experiments carried out by Scottish psychiatrist Ewen Cameron on Canadian mental patients in the 1950s. God only knows what he was trying to do, but his ideas for rewiring the brain were taking vulnerable, fragile people who came to him for help, and immobilising them in a state of sensory depravation for months and years, with tapes of disembodied voices forced into their ears all day or night. No one was told they were being experimented on or consented to be part of the experiments. Needless to say, it was a good way to drive people mad.
His ideas got picked up by MKUltra, and were disseminated between Canada, the UK and the USA. In the UK, these techniques were picked up and used against Irish detainees during the Troubles in the 1970s. Basically British soldiers just lifted you, put a bag over your head, and kept you in stress positions, sleep-deprived, naked, and drugged. The media labelled the victims ‘The Hooded Men’ and they are still trying, to this day, to get what was done to them recognised as torture.
When the Hooded Men took their case to court, the European Court of Human Rights declared that what they experienced was “inhumane and degrading treatment” but not officially torture. And this has set the legal precedent around the world that psychological torture is not really torture. It is quoted in the document drawing up the legal basis for the torture of Guantanamo detainees.
The film is very interesting and illuminating in the genesis and the ‘selling’ of psychological torture as an acceptable and effective form of less-than-torture. I could have done with a less stylised presentation, but I guess they thought no one would sit through such grimness were it not presented with a little bit of a flourish.
Wish I could say any of this was in any way surprising but we are currently living through a bit of a renaissance for torture and it is actively endorsed by Western heads of state. But one positive thing to take away from it is, the Powers That Be only do what they think they can get away with – so don’t let them get away with anything. Don’t let the fear of the Other, the madman, the terrorist, the Islamic extremist, all these bogeymen, dampen your empathy for a human being in pain. Don’t allow it to be done in your name.