It is known as “no-touch torture,” the use of music to psychologically disarm or batter an opponent or prisoner. It is being used by U.S. military personnel against detainees at Guantanamo, in Afghanistan, and in Iraq.
The practice of “no-touch torture” has been part of interrogation procedures since World War II, according to Suzanne G. Cusick, writing for the Transcultural Music Review. Developed by the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), predecessor to the CIA, “no-touch torture” employed the use of sound, specifically music, played at a deafening volume while the prisoner was in a “stress position.” A stress position could be anything from hanging by the arms, upside down, or being forced to stand upright for extended periods of time without being able to sit or lay down. The “stress position” is usually accompanied by sleep deprivation and placing the detainee in pitch darkness.
The Associated Press released a list of songs obtained by the human rights legal group Reprieve (who are working to get the practice outlawed) of the top most played songs detainees are forced to listen to:
“Enter Sandman,” Metallica
“Bodies,” Drowning Pool
“Shoot To Thrill,” AC/DC
“Hell’s Bell’s,” AC/DC
“I Love You,” theme from the children’s television program “Barney and Friends”
“Born In The USA,” Bruce Springsteen
“Babylon,” David Gray
“White America,” Eminem
“Sesame Street,” theme song from the children’s television program of the same name
The list is extensive and reads like a haphazard listing of songs culled from a typical American iPod. Other artists commonly used are: Aerosmith, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Don McLean, Lil’ Kim, Limp Bizkit, Meat Loaf, Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Tupac Shakur.
The music works to break down mental barriers. As anyone who has ever been subjected to listening to a song over and over can attest, it can be rather annoying. Then there is the phenomenon of getting a musical tune stuck on replay in one’s mind. Again, somewhat maddening. In “no-touch torture,” the target cannot stop the constant barrage of sound, cannot be distracted, cannot get the song out of their head. Couple that with objectionable lyrics (and considering that many of the detainees are Muslim and, therefore, find much of the pop music about sinful practices and acts to be abhorrent), the inability to stop the intrusive and invasive sounds slowly but surely weaken mental defenses.
Many lay people scoff at the idea that simply playing Britney Spears or “Sesame Street”repetitively can cause psychological harm. But it must be asked: If “no-touch torture” was not effective, why would military personnel still be using such interrogations methods half a century after first employed?
Reprieve’s press officer Alex Graves hopes that the United Nations and individual countries will ban the practice. “But we also hope that the campaign will attract the attention of high-profile musicians who are willing to speak out against this incredibly horrible form of no-touch psychological torture.”