This effective documentary examines why no one is held to account over torture and how close the UK is to adopting techniques used in Guantánamo
If there is another terrorist attack in Britain, one of the interviewees suggests in this documentary by Scottish director Stephen Bennett, then the UK is only a step away from using the kind of torture techniques linked to Guantánamo. Globally, torture is happening in a regular cycle: every time it gets exposed and condemned, no one is ever really held to account.
That may be a depressing fact, but as citizens the least we can do is make ourselves aware it’s going on and keep the history alive through retelling. Eminent Monsters’ highly competent contribution is to connect some of the dots and craft a narrative that mostly implicates complicit professionals from the world of psychology and psychiatry, starting first and foremost with Dr Ewen Cameron.
After this son of Stirlingshire helped to prosecute Nazis at the Nuremberg trials, he developed mind-control techniques – including sensory deprivation, drug use and prolonged exposure to audio loops, known as “psychic driving” – that were used on harmless patients under his care in Canada. A programme was sponsored by the CIA, known as the MKUltra, which gets mentioned a lot in conspiracy-driven fiction and docudrama. Basically, it’s torture, and the British used it on suspected IRA members, particularly a group whose survivors interviewed here are still struggling to have their treatment described as torture. From there, it’s easy to draw a line to Moazzam Begg and Mohmaedou Ould Slahi, both interviewed here, who suffered similar treatment in Guantánamo in the wake of 9/11.
None of this is new information, but Bennett crafts the narrative effectively, using the straight-to-camera interview setups favoured by documentarian Errol Morris, and lots of graphics that highlight words in documents shown to drive the point home.
At times, the aesthetic veers a little too close to the kind of true-crime exposés that are all over Netflix, but maybe that’s intentional. Kudos to the team all the same for throwing a bit of shade on TV’s 24 and its propagandistic apologias for torture.
• Eminent Monsters: A Manual For Modern Torture is released in the UK on 16 February.