The Bourne Ultimatum: Fantasy Meets Reality

This post, written by Steven Barrie-Anthony, originally appeared on The Huffington Post

In The Bourne Ultimatum, amnesiac superspy Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) finally confronts the CIA schemers responsible for erasing his memory and reprogramming him as the ideal assassin. Audiences flocked to watch Bourne on opening weekend -- it was the biggest August opening ever, taking in over $70 million -- and the most compelling aspect of this very compelling film is that the premise doesn't seem very far-fetched, at all. Indeed, the story's only major fictional element is its depiction of successful CIA attempts to create a hypnotized breed of remote-controllable super-soldier. The rest -- the torturous "brainwashing" process, the ruined lives, and eventually, victims seeking answers and retribution -- has all happened before.

You might have heard (but probably haven't) of Janine Huard, a 79-year-old Canadian woman who in May settled her longstanding class action lawsuit against the Canadian government for conducting, in collusion with the CIA, invasive "brainwashing" experiments on her without her knowledge. To borrow from the Canadian Press: "Huard was a young mother of four suffering from post-partum depression when she checked herself into McGill's renowned Allen Memorial Institute in 1950. On and off for the next 15 years, she was one of hundreds of patients of Dr. Ewan Cameron subjected to experimental treatments that included massive electroshock therapy, experimental pills and LSD. The patients were induced into comas and exposed to repetitive messages for days on end to brainwash them."

Dr. Cameron was one of a cadre of psychiatrists and others working under the classified CIA program code-named MK-ULTRA, a decades-long, multimillion-dollar effort inspired by Communist attempts to brainwash American POWs during the Korean War. Many of those involved were prominent psychiatrists, Dr. Cameron particularly, having served during this period as president of the Canadian Psychiatric Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and as the first chairman of the World Psychiatric Association. In The Bourne Ultimatum, Albert Finney portrays a Dr. Albert Hirsch who seems very much an amalgam of these unscrupulous psychiatrists -- except that Dr. Hirsch's efforts were temporarily successful, whereas all known governmental brainwashing efforts (American, Canadian, Communist) were abject failures, leaving in their wake plenty of ruined lives but no superspies.
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