Naomi Klein’s new book ‘The Shock Doctrine’ has an interesting chapter on the techniques of Dr Ewen Cameron, Scottish born US psychiatrist and former head of the American and World Psychiatric associations.
The essential thesis of Klein’s book is that since the end of WWII America’s ‘free market’ policies have come to dominate the world through the exploitation of peoples and countries in the midst of upheaval. At these chaotic junctures, wide ranging reforms which benefit the elite at the expense of the poor are much less likely to be opposed. The new economic order established is massively lucrative for a few but is ruinous for the majority of the population, who are in many cases prevented from protesting either by a repressive state machine (Chile 1973) or by their preoccupation with another incident (UK post Falklands conflict).
Klein draws a parallel between the intentions of interrogation – to breakdown and remake a person – with that of ‘Shock and Awe’ style regime change – to overwhelm and remake a country. In the opening chapter of her book she tells of patients who had gone to Dr Cameron for treatment for relatively minor psychiatric complaints and were subsequently used, without their permission, in experiments that Cameron was being paid to do by the CIA in order to glean information about how to control the human mind.
Descriptions of Cameron’s techniques make alarming reading. Cameron is reported as contending that by way of an array of shocks inflicted on patients he could unmake and erase faulty minds believing that the only way to teach patients new healthy behaviours was to get inside their minds and ‘break up old pathological patterns’. The first step in this was ‘depatterning’, for which the goal was to return the mind to a state as if it were a blank sheet of paper. To achieve this Cameron used a device called, after its inventors, the ‘Page-Russell’ – an ECT device that administered six shocks rather than the usual one. Page and Russell recommended that their machine be used on patients no more than four times – that is up to 24 shocks per patient. Cameron used it on patient twice a day for thirty days – 360 shocks per patient.
Cameron also disorientated his patients with a variety of drugs including chlorpromazine, hallucinogens and barbiturates, LSD and PCP. Alongside memory – which he aimed to banjax with ECT – he felt that our sense of self is maintained by continuous sensory input. With this in mind he aimed to further dent the his patients’ defences by converting the old stables behind the hospital and creating isolation boxes. Cameron kept some of his patient in these boxes for weeks. To make patient lose their sense of time, Cameron had the kitchens mix up the times and sequences in which meals were delivered.
Once complete depatterning had been achieved, the ‘psychic driving’ – rebuilding personalities on a ‘blank slate’ – could being. In scenes which must have been reiniscent of ‘A Brave New World’ tape recorded messages were played to patients, often for days at an end. These messages, it was believed, would be absorbed by the patients and lead to behaviour change.
It didn’t end there. Cameron also kept some patients in a ‘sleep room’ where a patient would be kept in a heavily sedated state for twenty to twenty-four hours a day for fifteen to thirty days. Klein notes that there are several indications that Cameron was aware that he was simulating torture conditions, not least when in 1955 he openly compared his patients to POWs facing interrogation.
In 1988 the CIA were subject to a freedom of information act request and reluctantly produced the ‘Kubark Counterintellegence Interrogation’ manual. This is a 128 page manual for the ‘interrogation of resistant sources’. Klein notes that it had Ewen Cameron’s ‘marks all over it’.