A History of Music Torture in the “War on Terror”


As the British legal action charity Reprieve launches a new initiative, Zero dB (against music torture), which encourages musicians to take a stand against the use of their music as part of an arsenal of torture techniques employed by the US military and intelligence agencies, Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files, looks at the history of music torture in the “War on Terror,” and examines musicians’ responses to it.

Hit Me Baby One More Time

There’s an ambiguous undercurrent to the catchy pop smash that introduced a pig-tailed Britney Spears to the world in 1999 — so much so that Jive Records changed the song’s title to “… Baby One More Time” after executives feared that it would be perceived as condoning domestic violence.

It’s a safe bet, however, that neither Britney nor songwriter Max Martin ever anticipated that this undercurrent would be picked up on by US military personnel, when they were ordered to keep prisoners awake by blasting ear-splittingly loud music at them — for days, weeks or even months on end — at prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay.

The message, as released Guantánamo prisoner Ruhal Ahmed explained in an interview earlier this year, was less significant than the relentless, inescapable noise. Describing how he experienced music torture “on many occasions,” Ahmed said, “I can bear being beaten up, it’s not a problem. Once you accept that you’re going to go into the interrogation room and be beaten up, it’s fine. You can prepare yourself mentally. But when you’re being psychologically tortured, you can’t.” He added, however, that “from the end of 2003 they introduced the music and it became even worse. Before that, you could try and focus on something else. It makes you feel like you are going mad. You lose the plot and it’s very scary to think that you might go crazy because of all the music, because of the loud noise, and because after a while you don’t hear the lyrics at all, all you hear is heavy banging.”

Despite this, the soldiers, who were largely left to their own devices when choosing what to play, frequently selected songs with blunt messages — “Fuck Your God” by Deicide, for example, which is actually an anti-Christian rant, but one whose title would presumably cause consternation to believers in any religion — even though, for prisoners not used to Western rock and rap music, the music itself was enough to cause them serious distress. When CIA operatives spoke to ABC News in November 2005, as part of a ground-breaking report into the use of waterboarding and other torture techniques on “high-value detainees” held in secret prisons, they reported that, when prisoners were forced to listen to Eminem’s Slim Shady album, “The music was so foreign to them it made them frantic.” And in May 2003, when the story first broke that music was being used by US PsyOps teams in Iraq, Sgt. Mark Hadsell, whose favored songs were said to be “Bodies” by Drowning Pool and “Enter the Sandman” by Metallica, told Newsweek, “These people haven’t heard heavy metal. They can’t take it.”

Approval for the use of music torture in the “War on Terror”

Depending on people’s musical tastes, responses to reports that music has been used to torture prisoners often produces flippant comments along the lines of, “If I had to listen to David Gray’s ‘Babylon’/ the theme tune from Barney the Purple Dinosaur/ Christina Aguilera, I’d be crying ‘torture’ too.” But the truth, sadly, is far darker, as Sgt. Hadsell explained after noting that prisoners in Iraq had a problem with heavy metal music. “If you play it for 24 hours,” Hadsell said, “your brain and body functions start to slide, your train of thought slows down and your will is broken. That’s when we come in and talk to them.”

Hadsell, like senior figures in the administration, was blithely unconcerned that “breaking” prisoners, rather than finding ways of encouraging them to cooperate, was not to best way to secure information that was in any way reliable, but the PsyOps teams were not alone. In September 2003, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the US military commander in Iraq, approved the use of music as part of a package of measures for use on captured prisoners “to create fear, disorient … and prolong capture shock,” and as is spelled out in an explosive new report by the Senate Armed Services Committee into the torture and abuse of prisoners in US custody (PDF), the use of music was an essential part of the reverse engineering of techniques, known as Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE), which are taught in US military schools to train personnel to resist interrogation. The report explains:

During the resistance phase of SERE training, US military personnel are exposed to physical and psychological pressures … designed to simulate conditions to which they might be subject if taken prisoner by enemies that did not abide by the Geneva Conventions. As one … instructor explained, SERE training is “based on illegal exploitation (under the rules listed in the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War) of prisoners over the last 50 years.” The techniques used in SERE school, based, in part, on Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean war to elicit false confessions, include stripping detainees of their clothing, placing them in stress positions, putting hoods over their heads, disrupting their sleep, treating them like animals, subjecting them to loud music and flashing lights, and exposing them to extreme temperatures. It can also include face and body slaps, and until recently, for some who attended the Navy’s SERE school, it included waterboarding.

The Senate Committee’s report, which lays the blame for the implementation of these policies on senior officials, including President George W. Bush, former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former legal counsel (and now chief of staff) David Addington, and former Pentagon general counsel William J. Haynes II, makes it clear not only that the use of music is part of a package of illegal techniques, but also that at least part of its rationale, according to the Chinese authorities who implemented it, was that it secured false confessions, rather than the “actionable intelligence” that the US administration was seeking.

The experiences of Binyam Mohamed and Donald Vance

In case any doubt remains as to the pernicious effects of music torture, consider the following comments by Binyam Mohamed, a British resident, still held in Guantánamo, who was tortured in Morocco for 18 months on behalf of the CIA, and was then tortured for another four months in the CIA’s “Dark Prison” in Kabul, and Donald Vance, a US military contractor in Iraq, who was subjected to music torture for 76 days in 2006.

Speaking to his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve, Mohamed, like Ruhal Ahmed, explained how psychological torture was worse than the physical torture he endured in Morocco, where the CIA’s proxy torturers regularly cut his penis with a razorblade. “Imagine you are given a choice,” he said. “Lose your sight or lose your mind.”

In Morocco, music formed only a small part of Mohammed’s torture. Towards the end of his 18-month ordeal, he recalled that his captors “cuffed me and put earphones on my head. They played hip-hop and rock music, very loud. I remember they played Meatloaf and Aerosmith over and over. I hated that. They also played 2Pac, “All Eyez On Me,” all night and all day … A couple of days later they did the same thing. Same music. I could not take the headphones off as I was cuffed. I had to sleep with the music on and even pray with it.”

At the “Dark Prison,” however, which was otherwise a plausible recreation of a medieval dungeon, in which prisoners were held in complete darkness and were often chained to the walls by their wrists, the use of music was relentless. As Mohamed explained:

It was pitch black, and no lights on in the rooms for most of the time … They hung me up for two days. My legs had swollen. My wrists and hands had gone numb … There was loud music, Slim Shady and Dr. Dre for 20 days. I heard this non-stop over and over, I memorized the music, all of it, when they changed the sounds to horrible ghost laughter and Halloween sounds.  It got really spooky in this black hole … Interrogation was right from the start, and went on until the day I left there. The CIA worked on people, including me, day and night. Plenty lost their minds. I could hear people knocking their heads against the walls and the doors, screaming their heads off … Throughout my time I had all kinds of music, and irritating sounds, mentally disturbing. I call it brainwashing.

Vance’s story demonstrates not only that the practice of using music as torture was being used as recently as 2006, but also that it was used on Americans. When his story first broke in December 2006, the New York Times reported that he “wound up as a whistle-blower, passing information to the FBI about suspicious activities at the Iraqi security firm where he worked, including what he said was possible illegal weapons trading,” but that “when American soldiers raided the company at his urging, Mr. Vance and another American who worked there were detained as suspects by the military, which was unaware that Mr. Vance was an informer.”

Vance, who was held at Camp Cropper, explained that he was routinely subjected to sleep deprivation, taken for interrogation in the middle of the night, and held in a cell that was permanently lit by fluorescent lights. He added, “At most hours, heavy metal or country music blared in the corridor.” Speaking to the Associated Press last week, he explained that the use of music as torture “can make innocent men go mad,” and added more about the use of music during his imprisonment, stating that he was “locked in an overcooled 9-foot-by-9-foot cell that had a speaker with a metal grate over it. Two large speakers stood in the hallway outside.” The music, he said, “was almost constant, mostly hard rock. There was a lot of Nine Inch Nails, including ‘March of the Pigs.’ I couldn’t tell you how many times I heard Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You.’” He added that the experience “sort of removes you from you. You can no longer formulate your own thoughts when you’re in an environment like that.”

After his release, Vance stated that he planned to sue former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, on the basis that his constitutional rights had been violated, and noted, “Saddam Hussein had more legal counsel than I ever had.” He added that he had written a letter to the camp’s commander “stating that the same democratic ideals we are trying to instill in the fledgling democratic country of Iraq, from simple due process to the Magna Carta, we are absolutely, positively refusing to follow ourselves.”

Musicians take action

The last time that the US administration’s use of music as torture hit the headlines was in June, when Stafford Smith raised the issue in the Guardian, and when, in an accompanying article, the Guardian noted that David Gray’s song “Babylon” had become associated with the torture debate after Haj Ali, the hooded man in the notorious Abu Ghraib photographs, told of being stripped, handcuffed and forced to listen to a looped sample of the song, at a volume so high he feared that his head would burst, Gray spoke up to condemn the practice. “The moral niceties of whether they’re using my song or not are totally irrelevant,” he said. “We are thinking below the level of the people we’re supposed to oppose, and it goes against our entire history and everything we claim to represent. It’s disgusting, really. Anything that draws attention to the scale of the horror and how low we’ve sunk is a good thing.”

In a subsequent interview with the BBC, Gray complained that the only part of the torture music story that got noticed was its “novelty aspect” — which he compared to Guantánamo[‘s] Greatest Hits — and then delivered another powerful indictment of the misappropriation of his and other artists’ music. “What we’re talking about here is people in a darkened room, physically inhibited by handcuffs, bags over their heads and music blaring at them for 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said. “That is torture. That is nothing but torture. It doesn’t matter what the music is — it could be Tchaikovsky’s finest or it could be Barney the Dinosaur. It really doesn’t matter, it’s going to drive you completely nuts.” He added, “No-one wants to even think about it or discuss the fact that we’ve gone above and beyond all legal process and we’re torturing people.”

Not every musician shared David Gray’s revulsion. Bob Singleton, who wrote the theme tune to Barney the Purple Dinosaur, which has been used extensively in the “War on Terror,” acknowledged in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times in July that “if you blare the music loud enough for long enough, I guess it can become unbearable,” but refused to accept either that songwriters can legitimately have any say about how their music is used, or that there were any circumstances under which playing music relentlessly at prisoners could be considered torture. “It’s absolutely ludicrous,” he wrote. “A song that was designed to make little children feel safe and loved was somehow going to threaten the mental state of adults and drive them to the emotional breaking point?” He added, “The idea that repeating a song will drive someone over the brink of emotional stability, or cause them to act counter to their own nature, makes music into something like voodoo, which it is not.”

Singleton was not the only artist to misunderstand how music could indeed constitute torture — especially when used as part of a package of techniques specifically designed to “break” prisoners. Steve Asheim, Deicide’s drummer, said, “These guys are not a bunch of high school kids. They are warriors, and they’re trained to resist torture. They’re expecting to be burned with torches and beaten and have their bones broken. If I was a prisoner at Guantánamo Bay and they blasted a load of music at me, I’d be like, ‘Is this all you got? Come on.’ I certainly don’t believe in torturing people, but I don’t believe that playing loud music is torture either.”

Furthermore, other musicians have been positively enthusiastic about the use of their music. Stevie Benton of Drowning Pool, who have played to US troops in Iraq, told Spin magazine, “People assume we should be offended that somebody in the military thinks our song is annoying enough that played over and over it can psychologically break someone down. I take it as an honor to think that perhaps our song could be used to quell another 9/11 attack or something like that.”

Fortunately, for those who understand that using music as part of a system of torture techniques is no laughing matter, the Zero dB initiative provides the most noticeable attempt to date to call a halt to its continued use. Christopher Cerf, who wrote the music for Sesame Street, was horrified to learn that the show’s theme tune had been used in interrogations. “I wouldn’t want my music to be a party to that,” he said.

Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine has been particularly outspoken in denouncing the use of music as torture. In 2006, he also spoke to Spin magazine, and explained, “The fact that our music has been co-opted in this barbaric way is really disgusting. If you’re at all familiar with ideological teachings of the band and its support for human rights, that’s really hard to stand.” On this year’s world tour, Rage Against the Machine regularly turned up on stage wearing hoods and Guantánamo-orange jumpsuits, and during a recent concert in San Francisco, Morello proposed taking revenge on President George W. Bush: “I suggest that they level Guantánamo Bay, but they keep one small cell and they put Bush in there … and they blast some Rage Against the Machine.”

And on December 11, just after the Zero dB initiative was announced, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails posted the following message on his blog:

It’s difficult for me to imagine anything more profoundly insulting, demeaning and enraging than discovering music you’ve put your heart and soul into creating has been used for purposes of torture. If there are any legal options that can be realistically taken they will be aggressively pursued, with any potential monetary gains donated to human rights charities. Thank GOD this country has appeared to side with reason and we can put the Bush administration’s reign of power, greed, lawlessness and madness behind us.

Even James Hetfield of Metallica, who has generally been portrayed as a defender of the US military’s use of his band’s music, has expressed reservations. In a radio interview in November 2004, he said that he was “proud” that the military had used his music (even though they “hadn’t asked his permission or paid him royalties”). “For me, the lyrics are a form of expression, a freedom to express my insanity,” he explained, adding, “If the Iraqis aren’t used to freedom, then I’m glad to be part of their exposure.” Hetfield laughed off claims that music could be used for torture, saying, “We’ve been punishing our parents, our wives, our loved ones with this music for ever. Why should the Iraqis be any different?” However, he also acknowledged the reason that the military was using his music. “It’s the relentlessness of the music,” he said. “It’s completely relentless. If I listened to a death metal band for 12 hours in a row, I’d go insane, too. I’d tell you anything you wanted to know.”

While these musicians have at least spoken out, others — including Eminem, AC/DC, Aerosmith, the Bee Gees, Christina Aguilera, Prince and the Red Hot Chili Peppers — remain silent about the use of their work. Britney Spears’ views are also unknown, but if her comments to CNN in September 2003 are anything to go by, it’s unlikely that she would find fault with it. When Tucker Carlson said to her, “A lot of entertainers have come out against the war in Iraq. Have you?” Britney replied, “Honestly, I think we should just trust our president in every decision he makes and should just support that, you know, and be faithful in what happens.” Perhaps she should speak to Pamela Anderson, who recently posted a simple message to Barack Obama on her blog: “Please Shut down Guantánamo Bay — figure it out — make amends/stop torture — it’s time for peaceful solutions.”

The Guantanamo FilesAndy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

Note: The photo of Donald Vance is by Lauren Victoria Burke/AP, and the photo of Rage Against the Machine is by Chiaki Nozu/ Filmmagic.com/ Getty Images.

As published on CounterPunch, the Huffington Post, Antiwar.com, ZNet and AlterNet — and picked up on by BoingBoing.

For a sequence of articles relating to Binyam Mohamed, see the following: Guantánamo: Torture victim Binyam Mohamed sues British government for evidence (May 2008), Binyam Mohamed’s letter from Guantánamo to Gordon Brown (May 2008), Guantánamo trials: critical judge sacked, British torture victim charged (June 2008), Binyam Mohamed: UK court grants judicial review over torture allegations, as US files official charges (June 2008), Binyam Mohamed’s judicial review: judges grill British agent and question fairness of Guantánamo trials (August 2008), High Court rules against UK and US in case of Guantánamo torture victim Binyam Mohamed (August 2008), In a plea from Guantánamo, Binyam Mohamed talks of “betrayal” by the UK (September 2008), US Justice Department drops “dirty bomb plot” allegation against Binyam Mohamed (October 2008), Meltdown at the Guantánamo Trials (October 2008), Guilt By Torture: Binyam Mohamed’s Transatlantic Quest for Justice (November 2008), Is Robert Gates Guilty of Perjury in Guantánamo Torture Case? (December 2008), British torture victim Binyam Mohamed to be released from Guantánamo (January 2009), Don’t Forget Guantánamo (February 2009), The betrayal of British torture victim Binyam Mohamed (February 2009), Hiding Torture And Freeing Binyam Mohamed From Guantánamo (February 2009), Binyam Mohamed’s Coming Home From Guantánamo, As Torture Allegations Mount (February 2009), Binyam Mohamed’s statement on his release from Guantánamo (February 2009), Who Is Binyam Mohamed, the British resident released from Guantánamo? (February 2009), Seven Years of Torture: Binyam Mohamed Tells His Story (March 2009), Binyam Mohamed’s Plea Bargain: Trading Torture For Freedom (March 2009), Guantánamo, Bagram and the “Dark Prison”: Binyam Mohamed talks to Moazzam Begg (March 2009), Obama’s First 100 Days: Mixed Messages On Torture (includes the Jeppesen lawsuit, May 2009), UK Government Lies Exposed; Spy Visited Binyam Mohamed In Morocco (May 2009), Daily Mail Pulls Story About Binyam Mohamed And British Spy (May 2009), Government Bans Testimony On Binyam Mohamed And The British Spy (May 2009), More twists in the tale of Binyam Mohamed (in the Guardian, May 2009), Did Hillary Clinton Threaten UK Over Binyam Mohamed Torture Disclosure? (May 2009), Outsourcing torture to foreign climes (in the Guardian, May 2009), Binyam Mohamed: Was Muhammad Salih’s Death In Guantánamo Suicide? (June 2009), Miliband Shows Leadership, Reveals Nothing About Torture To Parliamentary Committee (June 2009).

For a sequence of articles dealing with the use of torture by the CIA, on “high-value detainees,” and in the secret prisons, see: Guantánamo’s tangled web: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Majid Khan, dubious US convictions, and a dying man (July 2007), Jane Mayer on the CIA’s “black sites,” condemnation by the Red Cross, and Guantánamo’s “high-value” detainees (including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) (August 2007), Waterboarding: two questions for Michael Hayden about three “high-value” detainees now in Guantánamo (February 2008), Six in Guantánamo Charged with 9/11 Murders: Why Now? And What About the Torture? (February 2008), The Insignificance and Insanity of Abu Zubaydah: Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Confirms FBI’s Doubts (April 2008), Guantánamo Trials: Another Torture Victim Charged (Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri, July 2008), Secret Prison on Diego Garcia Confirmed: Six “High-Value” Guantánamo Prisoners Held, Plus “Ghost Prisoner” Mustafa Setmariam Nasar (August 2008), Will the Bush administration be held accountable for war crimes? (December 2008), The Ten Lies of Dick Cheney (Part One) and The Ten Lies of Dick Cheney (Part Two) (December 2008), Prosecuting the Bush Administration’s Torturers (March 2009), Abu Zubaydah: The Futility Of Torture and A Trail of Broken Lives (March 2009), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part One), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part Two), 9/11 Commission Director Philip Zelikow Condemns Bush Torture Program, Who Authorized The Torture of Abu Zubaydah?, CIA Torture Began In Afghanistan 8 Months before DoJ Approval, Even In Cheney’s Bleak World, The Al-Qaeda-Iraq Torture Story Is A New Low (all April 2009), Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi Has Died In A Libyan Prison, Dick Cheney And The Death Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, The “Suicide” Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi: Why The Media Silence?, Two Experts Cast Doubt On Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi’s “Suicide”, Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney On Use Of Torture To Invade Iraq, In the Guardian: Death in Libya, betrayal by the West (in the Guardian here) (all May 2009), Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney’s Iraq Lies Again (And Rumsfeld And The CIA), and WORLD EXCLUSIVE: New Revelations About The Torture Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (June 2009). Also see the extensive archive of articles about the Military Commissions.

For other stories discussing the use of torture in secret prisons, see: An unreported story from Guantánamo: the tale of Sanad al-Kazimi (August 2007), Rendered to Egypt for torture, Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni is released from Guantánamo (September 2008). And for other stories discussing torture at Guantánamo and/or in “conventional” US prisons in Afghanistan, see: The testimony of Guantánamo detainee Omar Deghayes: includes allegations of previously unreported murders in the US prison at Bagram airbase (August 2007), Guantánamo Transcripts: “Ghost” Prisoners Speak After Five And A Half Years, And “9/11 hijacker” Recants His Tortured Confession (September 2007), The Trials of Omar Khadr, Guantánamo’s “child soldier” (November 2007), Former US interrogator Damien Corsetti recalls the torture of prisoners in Bagram and Abu Ghraib (December 2007), Guantánamo’s shambolic trials (February 2008), Torture allegations dog Guantánamo trials (March 2008), Sami al-Haj: the banned torture pictures of a journalist in Guantánamo (April 2008), Former Guantánamo Prosecutor Condemns “Chaotic” Trials in Case of Teenage Torture Victim (Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld on Mohamed Jawad, January 2009), Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo’s Forgotten Child (Mohammed El-Gharani, January 2009), Bush Era Ends With Guantánamo Trial Chief’s Torture Confession (Susan Crawford on Mohammed al-Qahtani, January 2009), Forgotten in Guantánamo: British Resident Shaker Aamer (March 2009), and the extensive archive of articles about the Military Commissions.

49 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    After this article was published, I received the following message:


    I am glad, in a way, to read your article (in CounterPunch, today) concerning the US forces’ use of music as a form of torture. I’ve long wondered how any musician or band could sleep at night knowing that his or its music is being used this way, to destroy another human’s mind. The first time this came to my attention was in 2003 or 2004, I think, when I read about the Gitmo boys (or was it others, in Afghanistan?) cranking up Red Hot Chili Peppers music to harass prisoners. Have they no shame? I am very saddened to read in your piece that this band, among many others, has not spoken out against this.

    (Actually, I recall reading long ago about how US forces were directing hugely loud rock music at Noriega’s house in Panama, to drive him out. Equally disgusting.)

    Keep up the good work,

    John, in Calif.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    And this from Charlie Ehlen:

    Mr. Worthington,
    Sir, thank you for this outstanding commentary.
    This old former US Marine/Vietnam veteran is also a music lover. I agree that being forced to listen to any sort of music at high volume for days on end would be torture. Take the idiot who wrote the music to Barney the dinosaur and force him to listen to it at high volume for days on end, I bet by the second day of nothing else, even he would have to admit it IS torture.
    To know that my country has stooped to this sort of low level behavior is absolutely disgusting. I am 100% in favor of every member of the criminal Bush administration, past and present, being tried for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other various crimes that they have done or allowed to be done during the past almost 8 years. Oh, and make them listen to loud music for days on end before the trials even begin, just to “soften” them up for the trials. Let us all see how they would like that. My guess is they would not like it one bit.
    What a damn shame, to take music, which is to be enjoyed and make it a part of a “package” of torture. That is way over and beyond the bounds of human decency. Let the criminals ALL be arrested and prosecuted. Maybe then the world can try to recover from the worst administration ever.
    Thank you sir, for your commentary and your valuable time reading this email.
    semper fi,
    charlie ehlen
    Glenmora, LA

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    And this:


    I read your latest article in today’s CounterPunch and must tell you … I loved it! It was a (relatively) long piece, but I actually read the whole thing, every word of it, which, with all the crap (material) available on the Net, print media and TV these days, is hard for me to do. A job well done, sir.

    Dave Macaray

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    And this:

    Good piece on CounterPunch today.

    Sensory deprivation techniques, including use of music/sound, were practiced and refined by researchers in the 1950s and 1960s, financed by US intelligence agencies. Dr Ewen Cameron in Montreal is one such figure. A lawsuit by several of his (unwilling) subjects was settled by the CIA in the early 80s. No admission of wrong-doing was obtained, and the results of the medical experiments, which should be considered akin to practices associated with nazi or fascist eras, have become standard operating procedures for the US military.

    I believe the first use of loud music, at least openly, was in Panama in 1989 when Noriega escaped to the Vatican embassy.

    jeff c

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    And this is my exchange with Charlie Ehlen:

    Hey Charlie,
    Good to hear from you again. I presume you’re going to be glad to see the back of Bush, Cheney, Addington and the rest of the torture gang. Just hoping that they’ll be held accountable. Did you see the Senate Armed Services Committee report that I linked to in the article? Very critical indeed, even though Senators Levin and McCain managed not to actually mention the words “torture” and “war crimes.”
    Getting justice is so hard, isn’t it?
    Take care.

    And Charlie’s reply:

    Yes, I have read parts of the report. About time is how I see it.
    Yes, very, very hard to get true justice. In fact that may never come if the cover-ups and pardons go as I am sure they are planned already.
    What a terrible mess. If it wasn’t so damned serious, it might be funny.
    You have my permission to use my comments/emails as you wish. I don’t care who knows my feelings about the injustice out there. In fact, the more who know, the better. It might spark someone else to action. I can’t do much more than write/talk now days, so if I can help by doing that, then I’m happy with it.
    Thank you for your most kind reply.
    Take care and I hope you and yours have a good holiday season.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    In relation to Eminem, John Dewey posted the following comment on the Huffington Post, which I thought was worth cross-posting:

    Actually, I think Eminem has been very clear about the Bush Administration:



    Like many of us who are fundamentally opposed to the system of mass control, Eminem is reclusive. He doesn’t give many interviews to mainstream media anymore, precisely because he knows how the machine manipulates even the best intentions.

    Thanks, John. Good points. The first video is “Mosh: Post-Election Version,” with great animation (and great anti-war lyrics), and the second is “Immortal Technique” by Mos Def featuring Eminem.

    Some lyrics from “Mosh”:

    Let the president answer a higher anarchy
    Strap him with an AK-47, let him go, fight his own war
    Let him impress daddy that way
    No more blood for oil, we got our own battles to fight on our own soil
    No more psychological warfare, to trick us to thinking that we ain’t loyal
    If we don’t serve our own country
    We’re patronizing a hero
    Look in his eyes, it’s all lies
    The stars and stripes, they’ve been swiped, washed out and wiped
    And replaced with his own face
    Mosh now or die
    If I get sniped tonight you’ll know why
    Cause I told you to fight

    And as we proceed
    To mosh through this Desert Storm
    In these closing statements, if they should argue
    Let us beg to differ
    As we set aside our differences
    And assemble our own army
    To disarm this Weapon of Mass Destruction
    That we call our President, for the present
    And mosh for the future of our next generation
    To speak and be heard
    Mr. President, Mr. Senator
    Do you guys hear us?

    And I also forgot to mention that “White America,” which is one of the songs used as music torture, is not exactly supportive of the administration. Last verse:

    So to the parents of America
    I am the Derringer aimed at little Erica, to attack her character
    The ringleader of this circus of worthless pawns
    Sent to lead the march right up to the steps of Congress
    And piss on the lawns of the White House
    To burn the casket and replace it with a Parental Advisory sticker
    To spit liquor in the faces of this democracy of hypocrisy
    Fuck you Ms. Cheney! Fuck you Tipper Gore!
    Fuck you with the freest of speech this Divided States of Embarassment will allow me to have
    Fuck you! I’m just playin,’ America, you know I love you …

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    And this just in:

    Hi Andy
    Nice piece in CP.
    I remember the first time I heard music used as torture was when Pres. Noriega of Panama was seeking asylum in some monastery during Poppa Bush’s presidency. US troops were outside and set up speakers that blared nonstop into that holy site. I found it rude and blasphemous at the time. I am not religious but have respect for places of worship. That method was used again during the Waco standoff. It drove them bonkers. I think it would drive me crazy. The way things are going the whole world may end up listening to Heavy Metal 24/7.

  8. Ben Peek » Blog Archive » Music Torture says...

    […] Link. […]

  9. LSM » Linkdump says...

    […] Hit me baby one more time – musiktortyr i den amerikanska arméns regi Postat i Internet · […]

  10. Music Selections at the World-Famous Guantanamo Bay Beach Resort | The Current Buzz - Tech says...

    […] War on Terror: Hit Me Baby One More Time (Counterpunch, thanks Ned Sublette), and here’s an alternate version of the same essay, with images, at Worthington’s own blog. […]

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    This from Mike Caetano:

    I was discussing this issue with my brother. We think the torturers picked the music based on what they themselves wanted to hear from a distance. Outside of the Barney song, the songs read like a teenage iPod play list. Moreover, it seems to me that if they really wanted to quickly drive their detainees mad they would have played Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz or John Coltrane’s OM at full volume again and again. Whatever the case, it’s disgusting. Thanks for your work exposing these crimes.

    I replied:

    Thanks, Mike. Yes I think you’re right that they chose what they wanted to hear — or what they had in their iPods/CD collections that they thought might fuck prisoners up — rather then it being dictated from on high. I do think, however, as Ruhal Ahmed explained, that anything played that loud and continuously for the purposes of prolonged sleep deprivation would end up causing severe mental anguish.

    And after I asked if Mike minded me posting his comments here, he replied:

    I agree with Ahmed too. That’s actually what got me thinking about how the guards avoided going mad as well.

    I don’t have any problems with you posting my comment on your website even though it might give the wrong impression that I don’t like Ornette Coleman or John Coltrane. If it’s important, I’m writing from Fresno, California.

  12. A History of Music Torture in the “War on Terror” says...

    […] A History of Music Torture in the “War on Terror” | Andy Worthington. […]

  13. Οι μούσες των βασανιστών. « Διαλείψεις & Παρεμβολές says...

    […] και συγγραφέας Άντυ Γυώρθινγκτον, που έγραψε το πιο συνεκτικό κείμενο για το θέμα, καταγράφει ποιοι μουσικοί αντέδρασαν […]

  14. Andy Worthington says...

  15. Inspector Clueso Tackles Torture… « Back Towards The Locus says...

    […] about eighteen months he was transferred to one of the CIA’s infamous Dark Prisons in Kabul, where… “It was pitch black, and no lights on in the rooms for most of the time … They hung me up […]

  16. Binyam Mohamed’s Coming Home From Guantánamo, As Torture Allegations Mount « project-sheffield says...

    […] and torture (for 18 months in Morocco, from July 2002 to January 2004, and then at the CIA’s “Dark Prison” in Afghanistan) has been in the public domain for three and a half years — and it has long […]

  17. the Shackle Report » Blog Archive » tortured policy says...

    […] to Egypt for torture, Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni is released from Guantánamo (September 2008), A History of Music Torture in the “War on Terror” (December 2008), Seven Years of Torture: Binyam Mohamed Tells His Story (March 2009), and also see […]

  18. Who Authorized The Torture of Abu Zubaydah? by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    […] in itself is unacceptable, as the use of music is not simply a matter of being forced to listen to the same song over and over again at […]

  19. CIA Torture Began In Afghanistan Eight Months before Justice Department Approval by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    […] ago, who spent four or five months there after being tortured for 18 months in Morocco. I have previously described, the “Dark Prison” as “a medieval torture dungeon with the addition of ear-splittingly loud […]

  20. US Torture Under Scrutiny In British Courts by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    […] prisoner who was subjected to “extraordinary rendition” and tortured in Morocco and in the “Dark Prison,” a CIA prison in Afghanistan, secured what may be a significant victory in their campaign to […]

  21. UK Judges Order Release Of Details About The Torture Of Binyam Mohamed By US Agents by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    […] 2002, where he had spent 18 months being tortured, had then been rendered to Afghanistan, to the “Dark Prison” outside Kabul, a secret prison run by the CIA, where he had spent another four months, and had […]

  22. UK Judges Compare Binyam Mohamed’s Torture To That Of Abu Zubaydah by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    […] that never even existed. After his ordeal in Morocco, he spent four months in the CIA’s “Dark Prison” in Kabul, and was then flown to Guantánamo in September […]

  23. Musicians (Finally) Say No To Music Torture by Andy Worthington + The Divine Comedy: Guantanamo « Dandelion Salad says...

    […] music torture favorite) complained, but last December, when I wrote a detailed article about it, “A History of Music Torture in the ‘War on Terror,’” I surveyed a generally indifferent industry, in which some of those whose music had been […]

  24. handbagswatchesonlinecom says...

    Sensory deprivation techniques, including the use of music / sound, and practiced by researchers in the 1950s and 1960s, financed by U.S. intelligence refined. Dr. Ewen Cameron in Montreal is one of those figures. Legal action by several of his (will) the volunteers were settled by the CIA in the 80s. No admission of wrongdoing were received, and the results of medical experiments, which should be considered similar to the procedure with Nazi or Fascist era became associated Standard Operating Procedures for the U.S. military.

  25. Lady Gaga | You hear that?!? says...

    […] Edge of Glory” on repeat FOR THE ENTIRE 10K. That’s 6.2 miles of Gaga. Wild, right? As I understand it, they’ve used similar methods at Gitmo to extract information from suspected terrorists. The […]

  26. “Indefinite Detention Is The Worst Form Of Torture”: A Guantánamo Prisoner Speaks – OpEd | Moorbey'z Blog says...

    […] when he was sent to the “Dark Prison” near Kabul, a facility run by the CIA, which, in numerous accounts by released prisoners, resembled nothing less than a medieval torture dungeon, with the addition of […]

  27. Teri S Tyer says...

    The US government is heavily influenced by the KKK, Nazi groups and organized crime. Many elections are bought, sending fronts for these groups back into government over and over again to push policies which serve their interests.
    Internet forums promote free expression of ideas, but the major stations are propaganda vehicles for the above groups, and endlessly spout their main lines about spreading democracy and OTHER governments killing and torturing civilians. These groups and the politicians who front for them own and operate criminal rackets in the US, including sexual slavery rings in prostitution, pornography, S&M torture, and snuff-thrill killing for pleasure. Front politicians for such rackets often practice torture and abuse privately and own stock in sexual slavery industries. In government,they push for foreign wars to restock their rackets with sex slaves from abroad. Here in the US hundreds of thousands of people go missing every year, many of them into sexual slavery industries; Without government complicity and protection, torture and thrill killing rackets which depend upon unwilling victims could not exist to such an extent. Public policies which promote foreign wars on the same baggage of lies, allow the US military to kidnap slaves from other countries, import them to US and other ‘secret prisons”, and carry out the same tortures practiced secretly against Americans in the US.
    There are covert wars inside the US, targeting innocent people labeled ‘enemies of the state.’ There are death hunts, and witch-hunts-where no law enforcement agencies will intervene to protect ‘targets’ from group abuse. The US military uses slaves and torture as a means of training special forces soldiers, and allows bullying in schools to condition American children that abuse of “targets’ is socially acceptable for “leaders”. I experienced a witch-hunt when I was younger in which music torture was routine. To expose the reality of US use of music and other forms of torture, to rip holes in lies about the US government promoting freedom and democracy, just look below the surface of US everday life and it will be evident that torture is a routine practice against US citizens also.

  28. A música como instrumento de tortura says...

    […] e Seus Amigos também eram constantemente utilizadas. Segundo relatos de militares em 2003 e prisioneiros (em tradução […]

  29. Prisoner Escaped Jail to Dodge Rap Music, Sentenced to 10 Extra Months | Miami Legal Round Table says...

    […] A History of Music Torture in the “War on Terror” | Andy Worthington […]

  30. Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi Has Died In A Libyan Prison | 911Truth.org says...

    […] to Egypt for torture, Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni is released from Guantánamo (September 2008), A History of Music Torture in the “War on Terror” (December 2008), Seven Years of Torture: Binyam Mohamed Tells His Story (March 2009), and also see […]

  31. List of Songs the CIA Used to Torture Muslim Prisoners - AnonHQ AnonHQ says...

    […] source […]

  32. List of Songs the CIA Used to Torture Muslim Prisoners | Philippinas.net says...

    […] source […]

  33. Death Disco: Music, Torture and the Diary of Mojamedou Ould Slahi - British News Cloud says...

    […] in his case rap and metal. Sexual advances from a woman and high-volume background music, possibly stuff like Nine Inch Nails or Metallica. Initially there's almost a kind […] Read […]

  34. List of Songs the CIA Used to Torture Muslim Prisoners | What Daa Fuck says...

    […] source […]

  35. DJ CIA – Jacobin Dev says...

    […] the incorporation of music into the imperial arsenal predated the war on terror, the musical torture of detainees from Abu Ghraib to Guantánamo has brought the arrangement to a new, more sinister […]

  36. The List of Songs CIA Used to Torture Muslim Prisoners – FB NEWS POST says...

    […] you know that as far back as 2008, organizations have been encouraging musicians to oppose the use of their music in torture employed by the US government? […]

  37. Here Is The List of Songs The CIA Used to Torture Muslim Prisoners says...

    […] Did you know that as far back as 2008, organizations have been encouraging musicians to oppose the use of their music in torture employed by the US government? […]

  38. List of Songs the CIA Used to Torture Muslim Prisoners | Tales from the Conspiratum says...

    […] source […]

  39. The Brutal Normalcy of the Warfare on Terror - TecnoMagzne: News, Reviews Tecnology says...

    […] that it was used—together with music by Meatloaf, Aerosmith, 2Pac, and plenty of others—to psychologically torture prisoners at America’s Guantanamo Bay detention […]

  40. The Brutal Normalcy of the War on Terror says...

    […] he learned that it was used—along with music by Meatloaf, Aerosmith, 2Pac, and many others—to psychologically torture prisoners at America’s Guantanamo Bay detention […]

  41. Cyber The Brutal Normalcy of the War on Terror media - CyberBlock says...

    […] he learned that it was used—along with music by Meatloaf, Aerosmith, 2Pac, and many others—to psychologically torture prisoners at America’s Guantanamo Bay detention […]

  42. The Brutal Normalcy of the War on Terror | GREENGROUND IT says...

    […] he learned that it was used—along with music by Meatloaf, Aerosmith, 2Pac, and many others—to psychologically torture prisoners at America’s Guantanamo Bay detention […]

  43. The Brutal Normalcy of the War on Terror - Manhattan Herald says...

    […] that it was used—along with music by Meatloaf, Aerosmith, 2Pac, and many others—to psychologically torture prisoners at America’s Guantanamo Bay detention […]

  44. Haunting Photos of the Hidden War on Terror – Forked Tongue Report says...

    […] that it was used—along with music by Meatloaf, Aerosmith, 2Pac, and many others—to psychologically torture prisoners at America’s Guantanamo Bay detention […]

  45. The List of Songs CIA Used to Torture Muslim Prisoners says...

    […] you know that as far back as 2008, organizations have been encouraging musicians to oppose the use of their music in torture employed by the US government? […]

  46. Torture tactics? ‘Baby Shark’ played on repeat at night to deter homeless from Florida city building – TheTop10News says...

    […] heavy metal was being used by US PsyOps teams in Iraq. “If you play it for 24 hours,” Hadsell said, “your brain and body functions start to slide, your train of thought slows down and your will is […]

  47. Torture tactics? ‘Baby Shark’ played on repeat at night to deter homeless from Florida city building | WorldNews | Travel Wire News says...

    […] metal was being used by US PsyOps teams in Iraq. “If you play it for 24 hours,” Hadsell said, “your brain and body functions start to slide, your train of thought slows down and your […]

  48. A Florida city is playing ‘Baby Shark’ on a loop to keep homeless people away – The Science Instinct Best Picks says...

    […] as the FBI tried to oust him from his compound in Waco, Texas. Blasting obnoxious music is designed to create fear and disorient prisoners or dictators holed up in embassies or, in the case of a […]

  49. A Florida city is playing 'Baby Shark' on a loop to keep homeless people away | Rickey J. White, Jr. | RJW™ says...

    […] as the FBI tried to oust him from his compound in Waco, Texas. Blasting obnoxious music is designed to create fear and disorient prisoners or dictators holed up in embassies or, in the case of a […]

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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