International Association Against Psychiatric Assault

The Foucault Tribunal: The Ignored Users' Voice
- Tristano Ajmone -

This speech was delivered by Tristano Ajmone during the meeting DIONISO E DIESSEMME: Quali percorsi immaginare per la salute mentale del domani, oggi, which took place at the Café Neruda Social Club, Turin (Italy), on the 2nd December, 2005.
This text is not subjected to copyright and can therefore be freely distributed, reproduced and quoted, without need of further approval from the author, on the condition that its source is mentioned.

My name is Tristano Ajmone, I am a psychiatric survivor. Since 2005 I'm president of OISM, the Italian Observatory on Mental Health 1, a non-profit organization, founded by my father, Dr. Claudio Ajmone, in the year 2001.

I have come here, today, to share with you the viewpoint of those who have endured psychiatry - I'm obviously speaking about coercive psychiatry. I thought that the best way to fulfil my purpose was to introduce the video of the Foucault Tribunal which recently I and Luca Bistolfi 2, a journalist who is a dear friend and collaborator of mine, have translated into Italian.

I want to introduce the Foucault Tribunal with the words of its organizers:
On the 1st and 2nd of May 1998 the "Free University Berlin" together with the "Irren-Offensive" (Lunatics Offensive) Association organized in Berlin an international Tribunal on the state of Psychiatry in the "Volksbühne" theatre.
The Tribunal was named after Michel Foucault, the French philosopher and author of Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason.

The defence and the accusation were academics and professionals, the jury was a box of nuts...
- introduction to the Foucault Tribunal, 1998
Thomas Szasz 3, Professor of Psychiatry Emeritus at the Health Science Center, State University of New York, Syracuse, the famous critic of psychiatry, was amongst the supporters of the Foucault Tribunal. For personal reasons he was unable to be present, but he produced an interview which was annexed to the video as an epilogue. In his Epilogue he points out that the Foucault Tribunal "…is really - I hope - an important event, because this is - to my knowledge - the first time that a university anywhere in the world has supported the idea of giving voice to this point of view."

Nowadays - something unusual in the history of psychiatry - all of a sudden psychiatrists are interested in hearing the users' voice, and everywhere spring up conferences and social events organized by psychiatrists in order to give voice to these users. So much so that the World Association for Psychosocial Rehabilitation organized on the 11th of June 2005, in Milan, the International Conference "Mental Health: The Consumers' View." This conference was organized in collaboration with the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research 4, a marriage which should make you reflect on the conflicts of interests which are at stake in this delicate question.

I was given the chance to participate in the conference, and I must say, honestly, that like all these events organized by psychiatry, it was structured in a way that would prevent any intervention which could change in a significant way the state of affairs in mental health.

The idea itself of promoting the psychiatric users' voice seven years after a group of ex-users had condemned psychiatry for crimes against Humanity - while pretending that this international tribunal never took place, and not inviting it's organizers - appears to me as a clear sign of the hypocrisy and bad faith which move the spirit of those promoting these events - which happen to be rather petty, no matter how many participants they gather, or how much money they cost.

My opinion is that such events only serve to dilute the dissent which is mounting on planetary scale against psychiatry - a dissent which puts in doubt the legitimacy of psychiatry as a science. The majority of these events are structured in a way so that too many people, with too many different views, will intervene, so that the time granted for speaking is never sufficient to render justice to any of the subjects dealt with. This is deplorable, because the subject matter of psychiatry has always been - and will always be! - human suffering. A suffering which historically has been translated in racial hygiene programs, lobotomy, electroshock, insulin coma, cold showers, four-point-restraint, and, in any case, in the deprivation of liberty.

The Foucault Tribunal 5, on the other hand, was an event abundantly preannounced, and the major exponents of mainstream psychiatry were invited to participate to it, yet psychiatry has disdained this event organized by users: they did not participate to it, nor they ever mention it. The point is that the Foucault Tribunal, as you'll gather by yourself by watching the video, brings up the crucial problems of psychiatry - those problems which I mentioned earlier, which don't find a space for expression in the "pro-users" events organized by mainstream psychiatry (and by this I mean also the basaglian psychiatry and the so-called "democratic psychiatry").

This event today, on the other hand, seems to me to offer a much more substantial space to the voice of the psychiatric users, so much suppressed and censored in history - even by the alleged psychiatric reforms of today! Of course, we don't have here today hundreds of people like at the Milan Conference, but at least, for once, it is not sponsored by the drug companies, neither overtly nor covertly.

So, I would say that this place is the right place to introduce the Foucault Tribunal. In the preparation of this conference draft I bore in mind that the majority of the participants were going to be professionals of the mental health and social services. Good, that's fine; this is a subject which affects you directly, almost as much as the users, because you engage in active roles in the social machine of psychiatry. It's therefore an honour for me that you are willing to listen to my speech.

What are then these crucial matters which the users have since so long attempted to bring to public awareness? The matters at stake are really many, because under the umbrella of mental health converge a multitude of different problems. But the key matter is the legitimacy of psychiatry as a science.

Psychiatry is not a branch of medicine because mental illnesses are not illnesses in the medical sense of the word. There does not exist a single psychiatric illness which is measurable by means of biological tests (blood tests, etc.). Psychiatric illnesses are still today measured by means of eye observation and verbal interaction (or worse, often just by means of third party reports). It follows that the term "mental illness" is not to be taken literally, but only metaphorically. They are "illnesses" in the sense that they refer to people who complain about suffering of the soul, of feeling ill - but even this is true only in those cases where it is the suffering person that seeks help.

Psychiatry performs a function of social control on behalf of the State, it deprives of liberty people who have not committed crimes, or it excuses people who have committed crimes on the assumption that they were not responsible of their actions when they committed their criminal act.

In both cases psychiatry reveals its function: the destitution of people considered inconvenient. The historical examples are legion and they all share continuity: from the extermination of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and all categories of socially unfits, that took place during the Nazi period by the hands of psychiatrists, up to today mass hospitalization in psychiatric asylums of political dissidents in China, there is a single thread that joins these events: it's the thread of psychiatric ideology which swiftly passes from a political needle-eye to the next one, surviving every historical condemnation. Psychiatry has served the most brutal and diverse totalitarian regimes of history, carrying out their "dirty work"; and, undoubtedly, today psychiatry is introducing totalitarianism in the democratic countries.

I want to pinpoint here that people like myself, who have thought about their coercive psychiatric experiences, in their attempt to make sense out of them and to learn their lessons, have not casually chosen to define themselves as survivors, a word which bears clear bondages with the survivors of the Holocaust. In the Foucault Tribunal, amongst the witnesses of the accusation there is Elvira Manthey, a woman which managed to survive the psychiatric diagnosis of "antisocial person" which doomed her to the Nazi program of "cure and elimination" at the psychiatric facility of Magdeburg. But all this you'll see it in the video which I brought you today…

You see, regardless of how much today's psychiatrists feel removed from the psychiatrists who, during the Nazi period, exterminated Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and the handicapped; we survivors of psychiatry nevertheless feel a bond with these victims of the past. This bondage is based on the fact that we vividly perceive the bond between our fates and the fates of those innocent people who were exterminated by a merciless medical regime only because of the social disturbance that they caused to mainstream morality. And, allow me to add, we regard you professionals of "mental health" as the promoters and supporters of the ideology which justified all this and which continues to justify this type of inhuman and dehumanizing interventions.

The linguistic folklore of psychiatry should invite you to reflect on what has been said so far. Let's take as an example the macro-category of the so-called "mental disorders"… this is what in Chomsky's Transformational Grammar is called a nominalization - a dynamic process, involving more parts, is transformed into a void and static label. The question which should spontaneously arise is: "Who is disrupting order, and how?"

Up to 1973 homosexuality was considered and handled as a mental illness by psychiatry. The story of how the "illness" of psychiatry was abolished is very interesting and is worth mentioning.

In May 1972, a psychiatrist wearing a Nixon mask and a wig presented during the APA annual conference in Dallas a speech on behalf of the homosexual psychiatrists members of APA - a sort of secret group inside APA which defined itself as the "Gay-PA". In the speech pronounced by what will be known in history as "Dr. H. Anonymous", the members of the Gay-PA claimed their
right to be homosexuals without having to be considered "sick", and they highlighted the fact that their members' number inside APA amounted to a substantial quota.6

This intervention stirred up a muddle inside the APA, because homosexuality was then a psychiatric disease for which a psychiatrist would have been dismissed from the profession… the APA was faced with the embarrassing problem of enlisting amongst its active members hundreds of psychiatrists who were mandated to cure but who happened to be at the same time "sick", with the further embarrassment of not having ever noticed it - a revealing clue about the alleged diagnostic skills of psychiatrists!

In those times homosexuals in psychiatry were subjected to highly inhuman treatment - not that today's privation of liberty and civil rights is not an inhuman treatment in itself - but to the homosexuals hospitalized in mental asylums were inflicted atrocious physical tortures - which, of course, at the time were considered "cures".

So, how did the APA handle this embarrassing situation, and all the pressure exerted by the various movements of civil rights activists which promoted the intervention of Dr. Anonymous? Well, you won't believe it… they gathered and they put the matter to vote, deciding that all of a sudden homosexuality was no longer a disease… and - ABRACADABRA! - homosexuals regained their sanity status, freedom and civil rights… cured by a simple ideological second thought!

You see, all this is really amazing, because the only democratic aspect in psychiatry is the decision making process in which psychiatrists - and them only! - gather and vote "democratically" which behaviours are to be classified as diseases - a classical example of the few deciding for all. And you don't have to be a scientist to understand that all this has nothing to do with medicine, and that if all the oncologists of the world were to vote that cancer was no longer a disease, this would not spare those who suffer from it from dying! Cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes; these are all objective diseases, measurable and not subjected to opinion or vote!

The fact is that homosexuals disturbed the conservative class, but being homosexual was no longer considered a crime, any form of social "cleansing" had to pass through the pretext of "cure". This form of social control is still applied today by psychiatry, and the so-called personality disorders are the alibi for medicalizing people whose behaviours disrupt mainstream social order views - sons and daughters, neighbours, tramps who are considered uncontrollable and disturbing.

Of that anonymous ambassador; we now know his identity: he was Professor John Fryer, who died in 2003 at the age of 65; still remembered as "Dr. H. Anonymous". As a result of his battle against the psychiatric oppression within the psychiatric profession itself, today exists the AGLP 7 (Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists), an association reserved to those psychiatrists who openly declare themselves gay or lesbians.

As psychiatric survivors, we clearly see how there is an historical continuity between the psychiatry of the Nazi T4 extermination units and present day psychiatry - yes, even the Italian one, even the one that defines itself "democratic" or "reformist".

All that we survivors have suffered and endured can be traced back to an ideology, to a current of thought, which is still today part of mainstream psychiatry, and this ideology is the medical model of psychiatry, also known as biopsychiatry.
As long as psychiatry will claim to be a branch of medicine that deals with the cure of the soul, it will have to inevitably cling to this medical model, the biopsychiatric model, according to which thoughts, feelings and behaviours are the consequence of chemical balances or imbalances, of
hereditary genetic factors. In this ideology there is no room for free-will, nor any room for choice. This ideology lends - or hires! - itself to the suppression of social deviation. In the light of this ideology homosexuality ceases to be an individual choice which stirs up social disapproval, it becomes instead an organic disease - a collective one, being hereditary! - which sinks its roots in chemical imbalances, neurotransmitters malfunctioning, bad genes, etc; so that it becomes possible to seize this people from their own freedom, their life, from their own chosen identity… in name of an alleged science which acts on behalf of their own good and interests.

This ideological assault to individual freedom is well expressed by psychoanalyst James Hillman, in his most famous book The Soul's Code:
"today's main paradigm for understanding a human life, the interplay of genetics and environment, omits something essential - the particularity you feel to be you. By accepting the idea that I am the effect of a subtle buffeting between heredity and societal forces, I reduce myself to a result.
"The more my life is accounted for by what already occurred in my chromosomes, by what my parents did or didn't do, and by my early years now long past, the more my biography is the story of a victim.
"I am a living plot written by my genetic code, ancestral heredity, traumatic occasions, parental unconsciousness, societal accidents."
- James Hillman, The Soul's Code

To the prosperity of psychiatry corresponds the decline of psychology. But this is not understood by today's psychologists, because psychology is now since long dead and buried. Yet, this is well understood by psychiatric users, which are denied any form of real spoken therapy, because drug tranquilizers prevent any opening of the Self in clinical interviews. Also, what's the point in discussing problems which have been - a priori - defined as the result of chemical imbalances in the brain? Also, since ten years and more, psychologists in the USA are fighting to obtain the right to prescribe psychiatric drugs!

What has been so far said is, in brief, the message that psychiatric survivors have attempted to deliver to the masses; but they have always been censored. Accepting the implication of today's biopsychiatry implies accepting also the bond that ties today's psychiatry to the psychiatry of the Holocaust, and that of mass sterilizations. It is not that psychiatrists don't know all this, it is just that they have serious problems in handling this situation, because it's a political issue, and a rather hot one I would say…

Still in the year 1998, the same year the Foucault Tribunal took place, in San Servolo (Italy) was held the conference "Psychiatry and Nazism". The acts of the conference have been published in the Collana dei Fogli di Informazione by Centro di Documentazione di Pistoia 8 and are easily obtainable. I will quote an excerpt of the meeting; the speaker is Ernst Klee, expert on the Holocaust:
"Believe me, the mass sterilization of people considered inferior, and their killing, have nothing to do with Nazism; it's an idea much more remote. Psychiatry was not forced to do anything by Nazis. It utilized Adolf Hitler and Nazism - if I may use extreme terms - in order to accomplish its murderous plan and continue the destruction of unusable people… For the destruction program of the latter, psychiatry exploited Nazism. No one was forced to do anything; psychiatrists were doing it out of their own will and initiative."

In 2003 MindFreedom 9, an international psychiatric survivors organization which fights for human rights of people diagnosed with psychiatric disabilities, initiated a hunger strike "to Challenge International Domination by Biopsychiatry". By exerting pressure on the APA, they started a debate that questioned the legitimacy of psychiatry, its theories and its methods. A conspicuous body of scientists - psychiatrists, neurologists, psychologists and physicians - took sides with the protesters, examining and refuting the responses provided by APA in defence of its scientific claims. This story is too long to be mentioned here with due fairness, I will thus limit myself to point out that amongst the sustainers of the protesting survivors were outstanding personalities of the mental health profession, such as Peter Breggin, Fred Baughman, Loren Mosher, David Cohen, and many others. This was an event which attracted so much media attention that it jeopardised the original APA intention of ignoring these survivors or to dismiss them as "crazy fools".

The evidences, sir and madams, are all around us, and they have always been at a hand reach, as the voice of psychiatric users has always been at a hand's reach… it all depends on how much you feel ready and willing to follow the path of truth to its end.

This grasp of consciousness is not easy - I know it! -, it implies a stance of strong self responsibility. It implies having to depart from one's own psychiatric colleagues, from the drug companies, from the scientific journals of prestige; it implies raising a storm and having to pay personally in terms of career. I know that it is not a simple thing, but it is unavoidable! Forgetting would mean condemning a second time the victims of psychiatry and genocide. The alternative you have to this grasp of consciousness is to do as your colleagues have always done: bury your head in the sand like the ostrich does, and pretend that everything is fine, and that things will turn out better in the future. These are the "necessary illusions" which Noam Chomsky 10 speaks about.

Of course, it's easy to proceed like many psychiatric organizations proceed today, i.e.: by carefully selecting the psychiatric users which are to speak at conferences. Thus doing there are no risks of stumbling into unmanageable scandals. But how is it possible, I ask, to make of all users one lot? What opinion might he bear a user which has, for example, only engaged in day-hospital support? What does he know about being restrained to a bed with straps, or receiving electroshock, or being seized from one's own house by the ambulance and the police, in front of the family and neighbours… what will he know of what all this means to the person?

When we survivors hear that some people claim to have gained benefit from their psychiatric experiences, we are glad about it! What we are not going to tolerate is that such benefits should be used as a pretext to justify coercion and all that which millions of unwilling people have suffered.

Survivors do not dispute that there might exist a form of non coercive psychiatry, practiced consensually and on the bases of a free contract stipulate between therapist and client. What we dispute is forced medicalization - a phenomena which, by the way, exists only in psychiatry, since no other branch of medicine imposes its cures by using force. Or, maybe, somebody here knows of some cases of forced dentistry medical treatment? Have you ever seen a surgeon going around with an ambulance and the police looking for people to force them to have their kidney stones removed?
Biopsychiatry must be abolished, not only because it is not a scientific model, but also because it is a bad and dangerous idea. And, beware, ideas have consequences…

Also, coercive psychiatry must be abolished, because this type of coercion is a crime against humanity and a violation of libertarian principles.

Psychiatry tends to belittle these truths of the past, it tends to distract the professionals of mental health from its historical crimes by waving in front of them the carrot of progress, by engaging their minds and their time in useless and sterile debates about today's problems and their future solutions.

This is what psychiatry has always been doing, and so little it matters which flag they wave in front of us today, the point is that they do not want to accept the historical responsibility for their ideas; they are not willing to renounce to coercion. Psychiatry has always, in every country, lead to the rapid establishment of lagers in which to incarcerate inconvenient people. The fact that some reformist psychiatrists today assure us that their intention is to never use electroshock or other forms of institutionalized torture is, in my view, like saying "we will not abolish racial laws, but don't worry, we will no longer implement them…" What sense does it make to close mental hospitals if we don't abolish coercion? What difference does it make to be imprisoned in a half-way house or in a lager? We would still be deprived of our liberty.

I know that some of you might find offensive some things which I have said…. I am sorry, but it is not my fault, I am not responsible for the crimes of psychiatry. The psychiatric game has always and only been played in your field: the field of mental health. I therefore invite you to clarify your own ideas and to make order in your home, because - and this video of the Foucault Tribunal is a proof of it - here, outside your institutes, many people are indignant, fed up and determined to fight for Freedom, even at cost of sacrificing their own liberty and lives.

Before closing my speech, I would like to quote an excerpt from Szasz's Epilogue to the Foucault Tribunal video:
Psychiatric victims or inmates - there are various names - have been protesting in psychiatry for hundreds of years but that has not been very fruitful. They can't stand alone, because they are discredited. People say they are crazy and they don't have any credibility.

Psychiatry is a branch of medicine and physicians should not use force against patients. People should not be deprived of liberty and treated against their will, just like they are not treated in other branches of medicine.
It's not necessary to propose an alternative; it would be easy to do so. But in my writings for almost 40 years I have used the analogy, which I think is very valid, to slavery. Slavery is an unqualified evil. Now, it existed for thousands of years of human history and there came a point and slavery was abolished. Abolishing slavery does not require that one propose an alternative as to what to do with these people. That would, once involuntary psychiatry, once it would be abolished, society would develop different ways of dealing with different problems because so-called "mental illness" is many different problems. One can't make a single solution.
- Thomas Szasz, Epilogue to the Foucault Tribunal.

These words, truthful and sincere, uttered by a Professor of Psychiatry Emeritus, best explain the tragedy which the so-called users of psychiatry have experienced since the dawn of psychiatry. The question about the alternatives should not be posed! What is the alternative to homosexuality, heterosexuality? What is the alternative to masturbation, chastity? fornication? mercenary sex? Yet, both homosexuality and masturbation have been amongst the historical diseases on which the psychiatric edifice rested up to the seventies in western world, and still does in some countries of the so-called third world.

Just a few days ago - precisely: the 22nd of November 2005 - an interview of mine about psychiatric atrocities which take place in a local mental hospital has been published on the newspaper Torino Cronaca and - confirming Professor Szasz's words - this hospital was fast in granting a counter interview in which my ex-psychiatrist warns that "We must bear in mind that such accusations might be vitiated by the illness, or by some negative feelings. Surely it's a question of revenge or malice." Is it motive of surprise to you that, in the light of what has been said so far, the psychiatrist which so proudly boasts that he cures his patients now discredits me by accusing me of being still crazy, doing so by mean of a long-distance diagnosis, since we have not met in the last two years? This is the power of psychiatry: it's the power of definition, disguised as science!
I am still, to this present day, filed in my records as a person severely mentally ill…

I thank you for having granted me your attention, I will conclude by reading to you - in name of the psychiatric survivors - the verdict of the Foucault Tribunal.

The Verdict of the Foucault Tribunal

We conclude that, being unwilling to renounce the use of force, violence and coercion, psychiatry is guilty of crimes against humanity: the deliberate destruction of dignity, liberty and life. Most of all through the legal category of "mental patient" which permits a total deprivation of human and civil rights and the laws of natural justice.

Furthermore, psychiatry cannot pretend to the art of healing, having violated the Hippocratic Oath through a conscious use of harmful drugs, which caused in particular the world wide epidemic of tardive dyskinesia, as well as other interventions which we recognize as tortures: involuntary confinement, forced drugging, four point restraints, electroshock, all forms of psychosurgery and outpatient commitment.

These practices and ideology allowed the psychiatrists during the Nazi era to go to the extreme of systematic mass murder of inmates under the pretext of "treatment".

Psychiatry not only refuses to renounce the force it has historically obtained from the state, it even takes on the role of a highly paid and respected agent of social control and international police force over behavior and the repression of political and social dissent.

We find psychiatry guilty of the combination of force and unaccountability, a classic definition of totalitarian systems. We demand the abolition of the "mental patients" laws as a first step toward making psychiatry accountable to society. To this end, compensation will have to be made for the harms it has done. Public funds must also be made available for humane and dignified alternatives to Psychiatry.

Reasons for the Verdict

The defense speaks of the therapeutic necessity for psychiatric coercion and, if necessary, the use of physical force. They admit though, that in "good psychiatric institutions" as little coercion as possible is used. Coercion is apparently not therapeutic, rather it is dependent on the type of psychiatry practiced. We condemn all forms of psychiatric coercion as a violation of human rights.

The laws for the mentally ill prescribe psychiatric coercion in the case of danger to oneself or others. In practice this is widely transgressed. The matter is only one of endangerment; no crime has been committed. This means that preventive detention is being practiced.

The defense describes someone as being mentally ill because his ability to help himself is reduced. They believe that he should be relieved of certain societal demands because of impairments in his ability to experience and behave as expected by society.
We are of the opinion that the accepted idea of illness is inadequate. In this case an institution such as a psychiatric hospital cannot offer any assistance.

We are of the opinion that treatment by doctors should only be applied on a voluntary basis.
It is especially dangerous that many judges are biased and that they agree with the expert opinions of the psychiatrists.
Psychiatric survivors have a right to demand financial compensation for any pain and suffering they experienced.

Berlin, 2nd of May 1998


  1. previously here Sito OISM: www.oism.info
  2. Luca Bistolfi authored the free eBook La Verità Sull'Olocausto, (The Truth on The Holocaust) downloadable from www.ebooks-planet.com
  3. previously here : szasz.oism.info
  4. Website: www.marionegri.it
  5. See: www.foucault.de
  6. The full speech of Dr. Anonymous previously viewable on OISM: www.oism.info/en/society/social_control
  7. See: www.aglp.org
  8. See: Centro Documentazione di Pistoia, www.centrodocpistoia.it
  9. See: www.mindfreedom.org
  10. Noam Chomsky, Necessary Illusions : Thought Control in Democratic Societies, South End Press
Impressum: International Association Against Psychiatric Assault
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