Musical Torture

4 comments March 9th, 2009at 07:41pm Posted by Eli

NYT’s Robert Mackey focuses on the use of rap and heavy metal music to torture detainees.  It’s about as awful as you’d expect, but it gets downright weird at the end:

But since the idea that being forced to listen to a certain song or record can be described as “torture” often strikes people hearing about it as funny, reports of the tactic are often cast in a comic light.

Mr. Piore later told the British writer Jon Ronson that when he called his editor at Newsweek from Iraq to describe the use of loud music on detainees, “I was told to write it as a humorous thing.” After Mr. Piore filed his report, Newsweek stressed the fact that one of the songs blared at detainees in Iraq was the theme from the children’s television show “Barney” and added a comic kicker to his the story:

The sledgehammer riffs of Metallica, that’s understandable. But can children’s songs really break a strong mind? (Two current favorites are the “Sesame Street” theme song and the crooning purple dinosaur Barney — for 24 hours straight.) In search of comment from Barney’s people, Hit Entertainment, Newsweek endured five minutes of Barney while on hold. Yes, it broke us, too.

In Jon Ronson’s book on the American military’s development and use of psychological operations, “The Men Who Stare at Goats” (soon to be a major motion picture, starring George Clooney, Kevin Spacey and Ewan McGregor), he writes that while loud music was used on detainees in Guantánamo, other sorts or sounds were deployed as well, often in puzzling ways.

Jamal al-Harith, another British man who was released from Guantánamo, told Mr. Ronson that recordings of loud screeches and bangs, “jumbled noises,” were played by his interrogators — and also that at one stage during his interrogation, he was asked to listen to songs played at normal volume for no apparent reason. According to Mr. Harith, an interrogator baffled him by playing CDs including one by a Fleetwood Mac cover band, another with a selection of Kris Kristofferson’s greatest hits, and an album by Matchbox Twenty. As Mr. Ronson notes in his book, Matchbox Twenty was one of the bands Mr. Piore found listed on the PsyOps playlist in Iraq.

The editor’s urging to trivialize psychological torture is pretty despicable, but… Matchbox Twenty?  Of all the potential weapons in thePsyOps toolkit, they chose Matchbox Twenty???

Entry Filed under: Bush,Prisoners,Terrorism,Torture


  • 1. Roger  |  March 9th, 2009 at 10:13 pm

    Maybe they should have played some Stryper. “Free” or “Calling On You”.

  • 2. Eli  |  March 9th, 2009 at 10:13 pm

    It’d probably be Frampton for me…

  • 3. Cujo359  |  March 10th, 2009 at 2:29 am

    This is strange, but I have the feeling as we learn more about this it will seem commonplace in comparison.

  • 4. Ol'Froth  |  March 10th, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    I’d have used Terry Jacks.

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