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Panel speaks on psychological torture and 'Eminent Monsters' film

Feb 18 2020

By Rachael Ku, Student Assistant.


The Center for Human Rights and International Justice recently screened the film Eminent Monsters, a Hopscotch Films documentary tracing the history of western psychological torture. Eminent Monsters uncovers the roots of government-sanctioned torture practices, from the establishment of a human torture laboratory in Montreal in the 1950s and the terror of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, to the "Hooded Men" of Belfast seeking justice and reparations at the European Court of Human Rights. The film sheds light on the failure of the international community to take action against the use of inhumane interrogation practices.

The film was prefaced with a brief introduction from Dr. Harvey Weinstein, a Senior Research Fellow at UC-Berkeley Law School's Human Rights Center and retired Clinical Professor in the UC-Berkeley School of Public Health. Weinstein, who appears in the film, said, “It’s an important film because it’s about what happened in the past and what’s happening now.”

The screening was followed with a discussion from a panel of experts who discussed the ramifications of psychological torture. The discussion was moderated by Adam Kochanski, a Postdoctoral Fellow in International Relations at McGill University and a research fellow at Stanford University’s Center for Human Rights and International Justice.

Regarding the collusion of health professionals with governments, Weinstein described the role of psychologists in developing and participating in torture methods to be “terrifying to me as a physician.” He then explained how the authorization, routinization, and dehumanization of acts of torture have allowed individuals to justify torture despite the fact that the practice “has never been proven to be effective.

Panelists Beth Van Schaack, the Leah Kaplan Visiting Professor in Human Rights at Stanford Law School and Faculty Fellow at the Center for Human Rights and International Justice, explored the role of lawyers in maintaining and protecting torture practices worldwide while Dr. Daniel Mason, a Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford, discussed the “particularly insidious” nature of subjecting vulnerable patients with mental illnesses to medical experimentation.

The event ended with a Q&A, during which the panelists emphasized the ineffectiveness of coercive interrogations and the merits of non-coercive interrogative environments. “It has been well documented that coercive interrogations don’t work,” Weinstein said. Alternatively, “collaborating breaks down resistance.”

“We need to teach people to be upstanding individuals, not bystanders,” Weinstein concluded during the event’s final reflections.