MK-ULTRA Violence Or, how McGill pioneered psychological torture
Features | September 6th, 2012 Written by Juan Camilo Velasquez
Today, many journalists, doctors, and the general public see the Allan Memorial Institute in Royal Victoria Hospital as the cradle of modern torture, a cradle built and rocked by Scottish-born Dr. Donald Ewen Cameron. To the patients of Dr. Ewen Cameron, our university was the site of months of seemingly unending torture disguised as medical experimentation –– an experimentation that destroyed their lives and changed the course of psychological torture forever.
Cameron’s experiments, known as MK-ULTRA subproject 68, were partially funded by the CIA and the Canadian government, and are widely known for their use of LSD, barbiturates, and amphetamines on patients. In the media, they were known as the “mind control” studies done at McGill and were reported as a brainwashing conspiracy from the CIA and the Canadian government….
This story begins on June 1, 1951 at a secret meeting in the Ritz Carlton Hotel on Sherbrooke. The purpose of the meeting was to launch a joint American-British-Canadian effort led by the CIA to fund studies on sensory deprivation. In attendance was Dr. Donald Hebb, then director of psychology at McGill University, who received a grant of $10,000 to study sensory deprivation. It would be fifteen years after this meeting at the Ritz that Cameron would disastrously pick up where Hebb left off.
Dr. Hebb paid a group of his own psychology students to remain isolated in a room, deprived of all senses, for an entire day. In an attempt to determine a link between sensory deprivation and the vulnerability of cognitive ability, Hebb also played recordings of voices expressing creationist or generally anti-scientific sentiments – clearly, ideas psychology students would oppose. However, the prolonged period of sensory deprivation made the students overly susceptible to sensory stimulation. Students suddenly became very tolerant of the ideas that they had readily dismissed before. As a history professor at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, Alfred McCoy described in his book, A Question of Torture, that during Hebb’s own experiments “the subject’s very identity had begun to disintegrate.” One can only fathom the cognitive effects of Hebb’s work….
MK-ULTRA Subproject 68
Cameron’s research was based on the ideas of “re-patterning” and “re-mothering” the human mind. He believed that mental illness was a consequence of an individual having learned “incorrect” ways of responding to the world. These “learned responses” created “brain pathways” that led to repetitive abnormal behaviour.
Dr. Cameron wanted to de-pattern patients’ minds with the application of highly disruptive electroshock twice a day, as opposed to the norm of three times a week. According to him, this would break all incorrect brain pathways, thus de-patterning the mind. Some call it brainwashing; Cameron called it re-patterning….
Step 1: To prepare them for the de-patterning treatment, patients would be put into a state of prolonged sleep for about ten days using various drugs, after which they experienced an invasive electroshock therapy that lasted for about 15 days. But patients were not always prepared for re-patterning and sometimes Cameron used extreme forms of sensory deprivation as well….
Step 2: Following the preparation period and the de-patterning came the process of “psychic driving” or re-patterning, in which Cameron would play messages on tape recorders to his patients. He alternated negative messages about the patients’ lives and personalities with positive ones; these messages could be repeated up to half a million times….
The experiments done at McGill were part of the larger MK-ULTRA project led by Sidney Gottlieb of the CIA. In 1963, the year in which MK-ULTRA ended, the CIA compiled all the research into a torture manual called the Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation Handbook. Yes, a “torture manual” that would eventually define the agency’s interrogation methods and training programs throughout the developing world….
Following 9/11, the war on terror and the generalized fearmongering that ensued, the Bush administration changed the rules of the game out of concern for homeland security. Then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld approved special practices that included the “use of isolation facility for up to thirty days.” All of a sudden, the U.S. allowed the use of torture methods developed just up University….
Only decades later, in the 1980s, did past victims speak about their experiences, and by the nineties, the lawsuits began to pile up. In response, the Canadian government launched “The Allan Memorial Institute Depatterned Persons Assistance Plan,” which provided $100,000 to each of the former patients of Dr. Ewen Cameron. The compensation came from a recommendation by lawyer George Cooper, in which he clarified that the Canadian government did not have a legal responsibility for what happened, but a moral responsibility.