The Britney bludgeon, a weapon of torture: Pop stars tell the U.S. military to stop using their songs to 'break' terror suspects
by Mail Foreign Service
December 11, 2008
In the hands of a teenager with a powerful set of speakers it is a lethal weapon.
Popular music played at extreme decibel levels will already have been judged torture by many a parent.
But a phenomenon that did no more harm than widen the generation gap has suddenly taken on more sinister overtones with reports that ear-splittingly loud music has been used as a 'sonic bludgeon' by the U.S. military against prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.
Human rights groups are protesting that blasting tracks such as Britney Spears's Baby One More Time and Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A. into cells at high volumes for hours on end can cause the inmates longterm psychiatric problems.
Now the musicians themselves have joined the fray, furious that their songs are being used to 'break' suspected terrorists.
band Massive Attack and Tom Morello, guitarist with U.S. group Rage
Against The Machine have joined a campaign against the practice.
According to an FBI memo, one interrogator at Guantanamo bragged that he needed only four days to 'break' someone by alternating 16 hours of loud music with just four hours of silence.
The practice has been used often in the 'war on terror', with U.S. forces systematically playing loud music to hundreds of its detainees. Lt Gen Ricardo Sanchez, the former U.S. military chief in Iraq, said the aim was 'to create fear, disorient . . . and prolong capture shock'.
Ruhal Ahmed, from Tipton in the West Midlands, underwent excruciating 'music torture' sessions at Guantanamo. He said his hands were tied to his feet, which were shackled to the floor, forcing him into a painful squat for periods of up to two days.
'You're in agony,' said 27-year-old Mr Ahmed, who was released without charge in 2004.
The pain was compounded when music was introduced, because 'before you could actually concentrate on something else, try to make yourself focus on some other things in your life that you did before and take that pain away'. But, he said, 'the music makes you feel like you are going mad'.
It is thought that inmates who grew up under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan - when music was banned - are particularly affected by exposure to loud music.
Ethiopian-born Londoner Binyam Mohammed, 30, now a prisoner at Guantanamo, said men held with him at the CIA's 'Dark Prison' in Afghanistan ended up screaming and smashing their heads against walls, unable to endure any more. 'Plenty lost their minds,' he added.
The new campaign is a joint venture between musicians and the human rights group Reprieve, which represents 30 inmates at Guantanamo. There are plans for minutes of silence during concerts and festivals to raise awareness of the issue.
One of the more unlikely protesters is Bob Singleton, whose song I Love You - sung by U.S. children's television character Barney the Dinosaur - has been used to 'torture' detainees.
He said he was horrified that 'a song 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'.