Do No Harm (fka Eminent Monsters)

The dark legacy of Scottish-born psychiatrist Dr Ewen Cameron is explored in Do No Harm

Film Review by Gianni Marini | 16 Mar 2019
  • Do No Harm
Film title: Do No Harm
Director: Stephen Bennett
Starring: Moazzam Begg, Liam Shannon

Born in Bridge of Allan, Dr Ewen Cameron was a world-leading psychiatrist who became the president of the World Psychiatric Association. He took part in the Nuremberg trial that determined Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s right-hand man, was sane enough to stand trial. But he also performed cruel psychiatric experiments on patients funded by the CIA. Do No Harm tracks the development of Dr Cameron’s experiments into so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques”. Interviews with survivors of kidnapping and torture in Northern Ireland in 1971 illustrate the transformation of psychiatric research into employable “active battlefield” tactics. As their ordeals are described, high-pitched white noise and flashing visuals disturb your hearing and vision.

Another thread is weaved into the timeline with the testimony of former detainees of Guantanamo Bay. Moazzam Begg, the Birmingham man released without charge after nearly three years in custody, describes his brutal treatment, including an episode where he is led to believe the sounds of screaming are those of his wife being assaulted in the next room.

The words of the interview subjects are backed up by government documents and subsequent court proceedings. Conflicting decisions by various body cause confusion over one of the central issues of the film – was this torture or, as the British Government argued at the European Court of Human Rights, degrading and inhumane treatment? The ECHR sided with the government.

The story is a shocking and compelling one, effectively humanised by the sincerity of the victims. But it is most impactful because it takes a broad look at the subject, joining the dots from a psychiatric institute in Canada to the CIA, to the Troubles in Northern Ireland and US-operated black sites across the globe. Director Stephen Bennett means this as a call to arms. He wants audiences to do something about it. The film reveals the systematic abuses by democratic governments on their own citizens and also acts as a dramatic reminder of why investigative documentary work is important.

Do No Harm screened at Glasgow Film Festival