THE shocking legacy of a Scottish psychiatrist is uncovered in a new documentary to be screened at the Glasgow Film Festival.

In Eminent Monster, Scots director Stephen Bennett traces how techniques pioneered by Dr Ewen Cameron were used as part of the CIA’s controversial MK Ultra project and went on to be used against detainees in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and global “black sites” in the years following 9/11.

Bennett’s film features testimonies by former Guantanamo Bay detainees, surviving members of the “hooded men” interned by the British Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary in 1971 and interviews with the families of Cameron’s patients, who say the Glasgow University-educated medic subjected their relatives to “torture”.

Referred to in the GFF brochure by its original title Do No Harm, “Eminent monster” was how Bridge of Allan-born Cameron was known to patients at the Allan Memorial Institute in Montreal. There, from 1957 to 1964, he was paid by the CIA to carry out experiments as part of their MK Ultra programme into mind-control techniques. Cold War paranoia was rife, stoked by reports of soldiers having returned from the Korean War praising communism. If the reds can “brainwash”, went the logic, we must learn how it’s done.

Cameron was indeed eminent: during those years, he served as president of the Canadian Psychiatric Association, the American Psychopathological Association and the World Psychiatric Association. He was ambitious, too, with his eyes on a Nobel Prize.

However, his experiments, which included electro-convulsive therapy, sleep deprivation and huge doses of mind-altering drugs including LSD, have long since been slammed as unscientific – and unethical.

“Cameron threw everything at you,” says Bennett. “It was like he was at a buffet. Not only would he give you ECT, he’d give you six times the shock value however many times a day, lock you into a room, make you listen to things with the volume going up and down. It wasn’t science any more. It was bombardment of the senses.”

Cameron’s findings became part of the CIA’s Kubark counter-intelligence interrogation manual, which featured techniques used on 14 men imprisoned without trial in Northern Ireland in 1971.

In August 2002, when George W Bush’s lawyers issued the so-called “torture memos”, they cited the 1978 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that these techniques were “inhuman and degrading” but not “torture”. Torture by another name was to be allowed in the war on terror on Guantanamo prisoners such as Mohamedou Ould Slahi and Moazzam Begg.

“At one point in my life, I wanted to be a lawyer,” says Bennett. “I worked in Brussels when I was a youngster. I still think of the European Court of Human Rights as being this huge arbiter of human rights. It says it on its Ronseal title. The notion that this could all be turned on its head in such a nefarious way to justify the rolling out of these techniques is staggering.”

The filmmaker first came across Cameron’s work in the opening chapter of Naomi Klein’s 2007 book The Shock Doctrine, which argues that Western economies push through free market deregulation and other “shock” changes while their citizens are too distracted or traumatised to notice.

“I had a very visceral reaction to all that,” he says. “I’d never heard of Ewen Cameron. I’m a Glasgow boy and Bridge of Allan is just around the corner. I spent the whole night obsessing on the internet for hours.”

Bennett continues: “MK Ultra leads you down a whole rabbit warren where you find things that seem really outlandish, things that might be plausible. So much smoke and mirrors. But that plausible deniability is what the CIA have always done very well.”

In 2011, the 40th anniversary of internment, Irish historian and solicitor Jim McIlmurray brought the surviving hooded men together again for the first time.

“All I knew was that there was a link between these men, Cameron’s experiments and Guantanamo and the black sites,” says Bennett. “I was trying to make the connections.”

Bennett, currently finishing a new documentary series on poverty in Scotland with author/rapper Darren “Loki” McGarvey, is appalled by the picture he found.

“Personally for me, I think we have crossed a Rubicon and there’s no way of going back,” he says. “That same 1978 precedent used by the US government has been rolled out into other countries as well. The notion that Britain has allowed the spread of these techniques in a way that is not legally defined as torture, that has spread like tentacles of poison, is very, very ugly.”