As anyone who has spent any degree of time with a child who has recently discovered the song ‘Baby Shark’ can tell you, the annoyance of music can certainly be stretched to torturous levels. The repeated refrain of the song quickly becomes a sort of sonic Chinese water torture and has you clawing the walls for the sanity of silence once more.
While the above has a pithy toddler undertone to it, the realities of musical torture are a far darker affair. As the brilliant Jon Ronson revealed in his book The Men Who Stare at Goats, the CIA are far from afraid of deploying a radical tactic and sometimes these are far from comical film fodder and stretch into a realm of nettlesome morality.
One technique that the CIA deployed is termed ‘Sound Disorentation’ whereby essentially prisoners are blasted with loud music for sustained 24-hour periods. As reports state, “detainees were kept in complete darkness and constantly shackled in isolated cells with loud noise or music and only a bucket to use for human waste”. The aim of this was to “create fear, disorient” and “prolong capture shock”. In some ways, this is almost a dark extension of cultural hegemony.
Cultural hegemony is the exportation of iconography as a subtle means of control. In other words, it refers to impoverished locals sitting around in some war-ravaged village in a subjugated country suddenly saying to their friends, ‘America can’t be too bad. I mean have you ever had a Coca Cola and listened to Elvis? I think it’s pretty clear from the shit we’re eating, drinking and listening to that we’re the baddies here.’
This is why the music choice for the CIA’s torture methods are so specific. As the British detainee of Guantanamo Bay, Moazzam Begg explained, “In a sense the music didn’t bother me. I’d grown up in Britain, I knew what it was. But Afghan villagers, Yemenis, these guys were dazed, dazzled and confused, bewildered, completely out of it.”
As Sergeant Mark Hadsell explained: “These people haven’t heard heavy metal. They can’t take it. If you play it for 24 hours, 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.” Furthermore, blasting the music loudly also induces sleep deprivation and all the horrors that come along with that.
While this cultural torture method has been widely condemned and protested by musicians, Stevie Benton of the band Drowning Pool whose song ‘Bodies’ was reportedly used, commented: “I take it as an honour to think that perhaps our song could be used to quell another 9/11 attack or something like that.” However, retracted this and claimed that his quotes had been taken out of context.
His quotes, however, whether twisted or otherwise, highlight an important element of all of this. While most people would agree that the techniques are condemnable, even the minority who opine that ‘all is fair in love and war’ find their point has a major flaw—the torture did break people, but it didn’t actually result in the attainment of meaningful intelligence.
The songs listed below are indicative of the practice. They are highly Americanised tracks that follow a very western song structure. Thus, the melodic contours and cultural context are both used with weaponised intent, in the supposedly now-banned practice.
10 songs that the CIA used to torture prisoners:
- ‘Baby One More Time’ – Britney Spears
- ‘Bodies’ – Drowning Pool
- ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ – Bruce Springsteen
- ‘Die MF Die’ – Dope
- ‘Enter Sandman’ – Metallica
- ‘Kim’ – Eminem
- ‘Raspberry Beret’ – Prince
- ‘Rawhide’ – the Blues Brothers
- ‘Theme Song’ – Barney & Friends
- ‘White America’ – Eminem