Doctors of the Dark Side: documentary about complicity in torture

January 11, 2014 is the twelfth anniversary of the opening of the torture camp at Guantanamo Bay where 155 of the the original 779 men, some of who were mere boys at the time, still languish.

Though it is still not widely known in the US, nearly all of these men and boys never did any harm to the US and most of them did no harm to anyone.  They were rounded up and eventually sent to Guantanamo to fill up the prison that Dick Cheney had built there and which needed prisoners.  They were tortured in Afghanistan and some of them in black sites before going to Guantanamo where they continue to be tortured to this day.

On Thursday, January 9, 2014, there was a screening of Doctors of the Dark Side, a film by award winner Martha Davis, who was present in the audience.  The film shows the shocking participation of doctors in US torture of the men in Guantanamo.

The film is the result of Martha Davis’ four years of investigation of the role of psychologists and physicians in implementing and covering up the torture of prisoners in US military controlled prisons.  It relates the stories of four prisoners and the doctors involved in their torture.

Martha Davis

Martha Davis, on left, at work on Doctors of the Dark Side

I spoke with Martha Davis after seeing the film and had not realized that she was not primarily a film maker.  She told me that after retirement as a psychologist, she had become consumed with the matter of physicians and psychologists who had been involved with torture. I had referred to her as an artist and she disclaimed that status, but as she described her process, I assured her that it sounded much like that of making all the performing art I ever have.  She included those moments of wondering why she ever wanted to do it. That and throwing out whole parts of things at some stage–sometimes a very late stage in my experience–just go with the territory.

She was able to attract excellent professionals including Oscar winning Mark Jonathan and Mercedes Ruehl–a writer and the narrator respectively.  Lisa Rinzler, an Emmy award winner, was the Director of Photography. Martha Davis’ work on writing and conceptualizing the film in addition to her meticulous research no doubt interested the film professionals who contributed to the completed documentary.


Click here to go to the film’s website where you can see clips and benefit from a study guide and other rich materials to learn more about US torture and the complicity of physicians and psychologists.  You can also buy a copy of the film. It is well worth it.

After the screening, members of a panel of authorities on the Guantanamo torture camp made statements and answered questions.  The panel included Andy Worthington, British historian and world authority on the prisoners, who has written extensively on the subject since 2006 and whose website is linked here.  Andy knows well and has collaborated on speaking tours with former Guantanamo prisoner Omar Deghayes now a resident of the UK about whom you can read here on this blog.  Other panel members were Todd Pierce, an attorney and former US militay defense counsel for Guantanamo prisoners, and a practicing psychologist whose name I can’t recall, who took the place of Debra Sweet who is recovering from a fall on the ice here in New York.  Debra was present and made some remarks before the screening, but feared she would not able to stay for the entire program.

There was mention in the film of the fact that doctors were among the first of the Nazis to be tried at Nuremberg.  Questions were asked of the panelists about the complete failure of legal consequences against the US in general for its world wide program of torture and of US military doctors in particular.  Also, questions arose of how to free the remaining prisoners, most of whom have been cleared for release by the US but continue to be held (and tortured) at Guantanamo.

Andy spoke at length about the heroism and selflessness of those prisoners who have chosen to go on a prolonged hunger strike.  They are brutally force fed, which is a form of torture as well as being a breach of international law.  He said that the topic of the Guantanamo prisoners had been nearly lost from public attention in recent years, but the hunger strike had brought them back into world view. The prisoners are helping themselves and their fellows with these actions.  One of them is Shaker Aamer, the last British prisoner at the torture camp, about whom you can read more on Andy’s website here and in the British Daily Mail here.

Shaker Aamer

Shaker Aamer smiling for a photograph for his children, one of whom was born after he was captured and whom he has never seen.  Shaker was doing charity work in Afghanistan when he was captured.

As reported in the post just before this one on this blog, “special teams of heavy soldiers in body armor” manhandle striking prisoners out of their cells.  They are then constrained in painful positions in special chairs and violently force fed.  It is doctors who do the force feeding, one of the kinds of torture the prisoners endure.  Undertaking a hunger strike when this is the inevitable result is heroic. It is often easier for human beings to just go with the flow in everyday life, to say nothing of in a torture camp, but these men are resisting and refusing to go along with the injustices to which they have been submitted for twelve years.

Someone commented toward the end of the discussion on the way all of us present looked after the screening–shocked and shaken.  It was a very disturbing experience, even for those of us who are aware of the prisoners and of their plight.  “What can we do?” was the question in our minds and on our lips.

Bonnie and I went out together and spent several more hours talking about what we had seen and heard.  I am always so eager to “do something” and feel frustrated when I don’t know what to do.  Bonnie remarked that it is the time to try to raise awareness, which she does with her very fine blogging on national sites.  I know that she is right and this post is my attempt to do what needs to be done now.  I can hope that one day there will be no more torture camp at Guantanamo nor any of the black sites or indeed no more torture in US domestic prisons.

The physicians and psychologists who participate in the torture of persons at Guantanamo and in the black sites and in US domestic prisons must be licensed by state authorities.  The Doctors of the Dark Side website has suggestions and links for taking actions to stop the complicity of medical professionals in torture through these state licensing boards.  New York State is one where anti-torture measures in this context are being considered.

Since I started this post: An article in the New York Daily News linked below gives details about a study published on the subject of the role of US military doctors in torture.  Their results substantiate what Martha Davis’ film shows.

The Daily News article states, “The 19-member panel behind the piece, “Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terror,” conclude doctors and psychologists have neglected their professional duty by collaborating in the intelligence gathering process when they engaged in or sanctioned inflicting harm on individuals in U.S. custody.”

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One Response to “Doctors of the Dark Side: documentary about complicity in torture”

  1. nancy Says:

    Jack replied to the email announcing this post which ended with a quotation from a woman I met in a protest of the prisoners a decade ago, “Together we can do this,” by saying:

    “The key word in your street quote is ‘Together'”

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