Music and Torture
The past few posts on this blog have looked at how music and sound has been used to wreak violence on people. This post looks specifically at how music is used to torture people.
Music as a form of torture? This is very far away from what most of us believe about music and its role in our society. Suzanne Cusick is a key thinker and writer on this topic. Here is a link to an in-depth interview with her. In one of her articles, Cusick states:
“It would be possible to assume from the evidence in the popular press that the use of music in “interrogation” is (as one of the sources for the 2003 BBC story, claimed) “rather new”. I’m sorry to report that my reading suggests otherwise; nor is it the random, rogue behavior of particularly sadistic (or musical, or creative) interrogators and MPs. Rather, it is one component of a standard set of interrogation practices developed by the CIA (in cooperation with English and Canadian intelligence agencies) over the second half of the 20th century–a standard set of practices that includes the hooding, stress positions, and sexual/cultural humiliation that the photos leaked from Abu Ghraib prison enabled us to see. Its advocates call this set of practices “no touch torture”.”
Cusick and others trace the USA’s use of music and sound in various locations: Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Panama, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Here is one example, drawn from Tobias Rapp’s article, The Pain of Listening:
“The next time Ahmed was taken to the interrogation cell, the music was heavy metal instead of Eminem. The volume was earsplitting and the music was played for hours, even entire days. Sometimes they also stuck a stroboscope in front of his face.”
David Peisner has written this article about music and torture. Elsewhere he suggests that:
“One thing that is fairly certain is the music that was picked was picked partially because it was aggressive and loud, and it was also meant to be insulting to a Muslim. A lot of very devout Muslims don’t believe they, you know, are allowed to listen to music at all, let alone sort of Western music.”
This video from BBC is a story about a British citizen who was held at Guantanamo Bay.
Here is a link to the Society for Ethnomusicology’s condemnation of the use of music as torture.
And guess what? The use of music in this way is linked to LRADs, a topic covered recently on this blog:
“What made it possible for the 361st Psy Ops company to bombard Fallujah with AC/DC’s ‘Shoot to Thrill’ was the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD), designed by the American Technology Company and sold to the US army and marines, the coast guard and a number of US police departments. Attached to an MP3 player, the LRAD can project a ‘strip of sound’ that can be heard – and can’t be ignored – for 500 to 1,000 metres.” http://www.lrb.co.uk/v31/n14/adam-shatz/short-cuts
Frequently it is rock, rap and metal music that is used. Here is an article about how a number of musicians have filed complaints with the Department of Defense. And here is a video about this protest.
And here is a photo of Rage Against the Machine protesting the use of their music at Guantanamo Bay!