Doctors of the Dark Side

How medical professionals became complicit in US torture

Doctors of the Dark Side Waterboarding, sleep-deprivation, walling, sensory deprivation and sexual humiliation are all torture tools that have been used in US-controlled military prisons. But in the shadows the men who cruelly implemented and painstakingly covered up the torture have remained hidden; the physicians and psychologists. This incredible documentary reveals how those meant to protect prisoners have facilitated some of the worst atrocities of the war on terror.

A bright white light flashes on and off incessantly. A phone rings and rings. A prisoner is kept in a cage, completely deprived of sleep through these stimuli. "Captured terrorists may be subjected to a wide range of legally sanctioned techniques designed to psychologically dislocate the detainee." This is what the CIA special guidelines for Medical Services says. The prisoner shouts wildly and uncontrollably. The guidelines also highlight the key role medical staff are to play in these techniques. "Appropriate medical and psychological personnel must be on site during all detainee interrogations employing enhanced techniques." As Leonard Rubenstein from John Hopkins University points out in relation to the shocking pictures of terrible prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib, "Doctors weren't complicit, they were the centrepiece of torture".

"From Hippocrates to now, the standard for the healing professions has been simple: that the obligation is first and foremost to the patients well-being. Torture shatters that covenant", argues Nathaniel Raymond, the head of Physicians for Human Rights. So how did they become the cornerstone of a world superpower's torture regime? As Raymond McGovern, a retired CIA analyst, points out, "To warp a person, a professional doctor, into doing this kind of thing really is quite a trick. The sad thing is it is so easy with group mentalities."

Mohammed Jawad was detained for an alleged involvement in a grenade explosion, though he was later released without charge. While at Gitmo his interrogator became alarmed when Jawad, a teenager at the time, started talking to a wall. He asked a psychologist to check on his mental state. The psychologist said of him, "He appears frightened and it looks as if he could break easily if he were isolated...Make him as uncomfortable as possible. Work him as hard as possible".

Many abusive techniques continue to be used under the Obama administration and the list of torture cases overseen by medical practitioners during the US War on Terror goes on, yet no doctor has been investigated officially. Truly shocking considering the level of evidence in the public domain relating to their involvement in torture. As one human rights lawyer points out, they had it in their power to change the very frightening direction the treatment of prisoners has gone in. "If you took the health professionals out, the system as we know it would have come to a grinding halt."


The Producers

Martha Davis is a psychologist expert in the video study of interview behaviour. In the 1990s her publications and educational videos caught the attention of detectives and federal investigators. Conferring with trained interrogators contributed to her research for Interrogation Psychologists, a documentary she produced in 2008. After four years researching how physicians and psychologists became involved in detainee torture, she assembled a team of film professionals to make Doctors of the Dark Side.

Making The Film

Director Martha Davis (Interrogation Psychologists) spent four years investigating the controversy and produced the documentary with an award-winning team that includes Oscar-winners Mark Jonathan Harris (Writer) and Mercedes Ruehl (Narrator), and Emmy-winner Lisa Rinzler (Director of Photography). Editor M. Trevino (Hidden Battles) led the post-production team of the feature length documentary. The Executive Producers are Thea Kerman and Sergio Rothstein.

This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site you are agreeing to our use of cookies. For more info see our Cookies Policy