ON the face of it they are worlds apart. Nothing, you might think, could ever connect the Scottish town of Bridge of Allan in Stirlingshire and Bagram military airbase in Afghanistan.

While the former sits quaintly and quietly at the foot of the rolling Ochil Hills, the latter is flanked by the mighty Hindu Kush Mountains, a backdrop to dark and volatile events.

I confess to never having been to Bridge of Allan, but I have many times been to Bagram. It was war that first took me there, the so-called “war on terror” that the US embarked upon following the September 11 attacks in 2001 on American cities by the Islamist terrorist group al-Qaeda.

As a correspondent embedded with American military units, I would often find myself transiting through Bagram. While there it was impossible to ignore the incessant clamour of helicopters and planes that ferried non-stop the materiel of war needed to combat al-Qaeda and their Afghan Taliban hosts.

These aircraft, though, moved other things too. Sometimes men, prisoners, hooded and bound, being delivered or uplifted from Bagram’s infamous detention centre.

Though at first only rumoured to exist, the world would later learn of the terrible deeds done here at one of many “dark sites”, as the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) dubbed such interrogation facilities.

For detainees, the Bagram site was a living hell of cold, forced nudity and other mistreatment. Many of the 20 or so cells inside the prison were little more than stand-alone concrete boxes, some designed for sleep deprivation. Unheated, they were pitch black night and day, with music blaring around the clock.

Only later when under investigation for war crimes would Dr John “Bruce” Jessen, one of the two contract psychologists who helped design these CIA “enhanced interrogation techniques” at Bagram, tell questioners that “the atmosphere was very good … nasty but safe”.

Jessen’s words are haunting, and might have come straight from the lips of a very distinguished yet notorious psychiatrist predecessor, Dr Ewen Cameron.

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Which takes us back to the town of Bridge of Allan, for it was there on December 24, 1901, that the man who would become one of the world’s most eminent psychiatrists was born, destined for an “illustrious” career that ultimately fell into disgrace.

“Patients called him the ‘eminent monster’ and that stuck with me,” says Stephen Bennett, as we sit in a Glasgow cafe talking over the documentary about Cameron’s life the filmmaker has taken years to shoot, direct and bring to the screen at the Glasgow Film Theatre (GFT) on March 3.

Indeed, the film takes its title – Eminent Monsters – from that chilling nickname given to Cameron and those like him. All were psychiatrists and psychologists engaged in experiments on patients that helped devise systems of torture employed by military and security services across the globe, from Northern Ireland and Guantanamo Bay, to the CIA’s dark sites like that at Bagram.

In the course of developing his own barbaric practices, Cameron would sometimes destroy the lives of his unsuspecting patients while changing the course of psychological torture forever.

As has now been proven, Cameron’s techniques were to have no therapeutic validity whatsoever, and often, following his “treatments”, patients were unable to function, having been reduced to a state of infancy even years after the experiments were finalised.

Given this horrendous impact on people, would it be accurate then to compare what the Scottish-born doctor did to that of Nazi medical atrocities during the Second World War, I asked Bennett?

“Absolutely, Cameron was in effect a Scottish Mengele,” he unstintingly replies, referring to the Nazi SS physician Josef Mengele, himself nicknamed the Angel of Death, who conducted inhumane medical experiments on prisoners in Auschwitz concentration camp.

Curiously enough, it’s another connection with this dark Nazi period that marked a pivotal moment in Cameron embarking on his grotesque professional journey and distortion as a psychiatrist.

As an internationally prominent doctor in 1945 in the wake of the war, the Scot was asked by Allen Dulles, the then head of the US Office of Special Services (OSS), a forerunner to the CIA, to visit the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal.

Cameron was now a long way from those early days of his training in psychiatry at Glasgow Royal Mental Hospital in 1925. After stints in Switzerland and America, he now found himself in the service of Dulles, who had asked him to evaluate Rudolph Hess, Adolf Hitler’s deputy fuhrer, and assess his mental capacity to stand trial.

In the event, Cameron was to pronounce Hess sane, but the Nuremberg experience was to prove a crucial point in the evolution of Cameron’s own thinking, according to Bennett.

“I would say that Nuremberg was that moment when Cameron changed and became darker,” he explains.

Even before Nuremberg there were tell-tale signs that Cameron, born the oldest son of a Presbyterian minister and later fiercely ambitious to make his mark on the world of science, was going his own way. He had already become a world- renowned professor, eventually being elected as president of the American, Canadian and world psychiatric associations.

“After Nuremberg he comes back and helps develop and oversee a secret wing at the Allan Memorial Institute at Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, Canada,” Bennett continues.

The wing was part of the old mansion building’s former stables and became known as just that, “the stables”. By this time too, around 1948, Cameron had written his book Life Is For Living, a treatise Bennett describes as a “big vanity book of his own thoughts and on the morality of life”.

Cameron was now already at the start of the most controversial period in his career which would see him involved with the CIA as part of its MK-ULTRA Subproject 68, a mind-control programme with an emphasis on ideas of “re-patterning” and “re-mothering” the human mind.

According to the Alliance for Human Research Protection (AHRP), a US national network of medical professionals dedicated to advancing responsible, ethical medical practices and ensuring human rights, Cameron’s brutal techniques involved various stages.

To prepare them for the de-patterning “treatment”, patients would be put into a state of prolonged sleep for about 10 days using various drugs, after which they experienced an invasive electroshock therapy that lasted for about 15 days. If this failed, Cameron used extreme forms of sensory deprivation as well.

“There is not only a loss of the space-time image but a loss of all feeling that should be present … in more advanced forms the patient may be unable to walk without support, to feed himself, and he may show double incontinence,” was how Cameron later described the process.

Finally, with the patient in isolated confinement, in drug-induced altered states of consciousness, and deprived of sensory stimulation, adequate food, water and oxygen, they would be bombarded by “psychic driving” using an American football helmet clamped to the head, with taped messages such as “my mother hates me” played for hours non-stop up to a half-million times.

“The ugly genius” of these techniques, explains Bennett, is that they remove a sense of time and space. Breaking the patient to ensure this sensory experience, he says, was what Cameron’s methods were all about.

The filmmaker recalls how, during research for Eminent Monsters, he heard of one woman patient who could still hear the passing of a plane and so was still able to realise that the days too were passing.

The National: Eminent Monsters reconstructs the horrifying experiments of Dr Ewen Cameron, whose research informs some of the most brutal forms of torture used around the world to this dayEminent Monsters reconstructs the horrifying experiments of Dr Ewen Cameron, whose research informs some of the most brutal forms of torture used around the world to this day

“Cameron was dismayed at the thought of the women recognising the sound of the plane and time passing, so he ramped up the volume of the taped sound even more in the headphones placed on patients,” Bennett recalls.

That all this was carried out without patient consent and in breach of the abiding principle of psychiatry of “do no harm”, speaks volumes itself of the extent to which Cameron was prepared to go in pursuit of his experiments.

At one point in the film, Leslie Orlikow, the daughter of former patient Val Orlikow who entered the Allan Institute, describes how her mother, who suffered from depression, “thought Dr Cameron was God and she trusted him implicitly”. But she, too, was forced into his “psychic driving” experiments.

That all this was funded by the CIA and the research results subsequently compiled into a “torture manual” called the Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation Handbook, was only the start of the programme’s pernicious and toxic legacy.

In the Kubark – which originally was the codename for the CIA in the Vietnam War – the intelligence agency learned from its experiments throughout the 50s and 60s and the methods that evolved would be picked up and used by other security services across the world, including here in the UK.

It was the story of what became known as “the hooded men” that Bennett says provided the linkage that allowed the story of Cameron’s legacy to fully fall into place.

AS part of “Operation Demetrius”, in the summer of 1971 during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the UK Government arrested hundreds of men. Fourteen were chosen for “special treatment” and thrown to the ground from low-flying helicopters while hooded, before being taken to a secret interrogation centre.

There, on top of brutal beatings and death threats, the men were then subjected to what would become known as the five techniques: hooding, stress positions, white noise, sleep deprivation and deprivation of food and water.

All the “techniques” had by now been “fine-tuned” in part as a result of Cameron’s experiments and research compiled in Kubark, which was exchanged with the Canadian and British authorities, the latter implementing them in Northern Ireland as part of its interrogation procedure. While none of the 14 hooded men was ever convicted of any criminal offence, their case had profound repercussions.

In 1978 the UK Government was to win an appeal against the case taken out against them at the European Commission of Human Rights on the grounds that the techniques amounted to “inhuman and degrading treatment” but not torture.

And so the scene was set for other countries to use the ruling to justify an aggressive interpretation of the term “torture”. What was to follow was the CIA’s creation of the nightmare of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and dark sites like that in Afghanistan at Bagram.

One can only guess what Cameron, who died of a heart track in 1967 while mountain climbing with his son, would have made of such places and his legacy. That same son, a lawyer, was to inherit his father’s research files only to later burn what were effectively state documents without any explanation.

The CIA’s Kubark, meanwhile, which is nowadays readily available, time and again cites Cameron’s experiments conducted at “the stables” as one of the main sources of its techniques for sensory deprivation.

“Results produced only after weeks or months of imprisonment in an ordinary cell can be duplicated in hours or days in a cell which has no light, which is sound-proofed, in which odours are eliminated,” one of the document’s conclusions reads.

While difficult to prove a direct correlation between the two events, Bennett says that in one of his more rare experiments at the stables, Cameron put a woman in a coffin for 35 days as part of a sensory deprivation procedure.

In 2009, following an investigation at Guantanamo, a coffin-like box was discovered to have been built by the CIA interrogation team at the detention facility.

Asked what he’d like to see audiences to take away from his searing film, director Bennett identifies two things.

The first is an understanding of the way we have created our own new monster by only bolstering the terrorists’ cause through torture. The other is the extent to which there has been what he calls a “perversion of science”.

The principle of “do no harm” has been destroyed, says Bennett, by our governments for their own ends to the point that doctors are in on interrogation and in turn are making it work for their paymasters.

It’s a view also echoed by one of the film’s other contributors, Steven Reisner, psychological ethics adviser to the US-based Physicians for Human Rights.

“What makes this issue important is that it’s become the calling cry,” warns Reisner. “Torture is some sign of American power to allow some people to think America will be great again.”

Worlds apart, meanwhile, the odious and brutal legacy of Dr Ewen Cameron still plays itself out at the cost of terrible suffering for many.