Irony of Ironies: Music used as effective torture device

I confess a certain satisfaction at seeing this headline: I have known my whole life that, just as music can be used for healing and educational enhancement, there is little that can be more imaginably ironic than the use of music as mind-bending torture, but the association between music and the extortion of confessions goes back thousands of years, into Roman and even earlier Indo-European history.  “To sing like a canary” or even “to sing” is a prison metaphor for a cooperative “snitch” (captured in several dozen movies including classics with Edward B. Robinson), while “make him sing” is an analogy for coerced confession and acting involuntarily as an informer.  I recall being alone in a large class of Criminal Procedure students at the University of Chicago Law School who argued vociferously that playing background music unsolicited—whether loudly or continually or that conveyed a certain message—could be (and was in cases we read in class) effectively torture.  Of course I actually remember being one voice alone against my entire class on many occasions in Law School, and else where, which is probably why my favorite movie is V-for-Vendetta and I was wearing my old relic-of-a-childhood-in England, a Guy Fawkes’ mask, long before that movie, and very shortly after 9-11……

Of course, I simply cannot understand why the Republicans in Congress are so anxious about the closing of Guantanamo Bay.  President Obama and his Attorney General Holder have both advocated and promised that this administration will institute prisons of exactly the same nature and for exactly the same purpose (indefinite detention of “terrorism” suspects without trial) inside the Continental United States.  He only plans to improve the Guantanamo experience by making it available to all of us: exactly as you’d expect, he plans to use torture and indefinite detention without discrimination by race, creed, or colour against all Americans….and that is absolutely consistent with his general respect for and commitment to the Constitution…..(i.e., nil).  “Remember, remember….”

Musicians crank up the volume on Guantanamo debate

AP, Oct 21, 2009 11:00 pm PDT

A coalition of mega-bands and singers outraged that music — including theirs — was cranked up to help break uncooperative detainees atGuantanamo Bay is joining retired military officers and liberal activists to rally support for President Barack Obama‘s push to shutter the Navy-run prison for terrorist suspects in Cuba.

Pearl Jam, R.E.M., and Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails are among the musicians who have joined the National Campaign to Close Guantanamo, which launched Tuesday.

On behalf of the campaign, the National Security Archive in Washington is filing a Freedom of Information Act request seeking classified records that detail the use of loud music as an interrogation device.

“At Guantanamo, the U.S. government turned a jukebox into an instrument of torture,” said Thomas Blanton, executive director of the archive, an independent, nongovernmental research institute.

Based on documents that already have been made public and interviews with former detainees, the archive says the playlist featured cuts from AC/DC, Britney Spears, the Bee GeesMarilyn Manson and many other groups. TheMeow mix cat food jingle, the Barney theme song and an assortment of Sesame Street tunes also were pumped into detainee cells.

A November 2008 report by the Senate Armed Services Committee into the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody makes several references to the use of loud music as an interrogation tool.

In one case interrogators played music to “stress” Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a citizen of Mauritania who has been at Guantanamo for more than seven years, because he believed music is forbidden, the report says.

Over a 10-day period in July 2003, Slahi was questioned by an interrogator called “Mr. X” while being “exposed to variable lighting patterns” and repeated playing of a song called “Let the Bodies Hit the Floor” by the bandDrowning Pool, according to the committee’s report.

Maj. Diana Haynie, a spokeswoman for Joint Task Force Guantanamo, said loud music has not been used with detainees since the fall of 2003.

Jayne Huckerby, research director at New York University’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, said high-decibel music was also used against detainees at clandestine prisons run by the CIA.

As part of an earlier FOIA request for information about these “black sites,” Huckerby received a top secret CIA document dated December 2005 in which the agency explains that the use of loud music or white noise is needed “to mask sound and prevent communication among detainees.”

If decibel levels are kept at 79 or lower — roughly equivalent to a garbage disposal — detainee hearing won’t be damaged, the agency said.

Huckerby says that music was not used as a “benign security tool,” but as a way “to humiliate, terrify, punish, disorient and deprive detainees of sleep, in violation of international law.”

CIA spokesman George Little said the CIA used music only for security, “not for punitive purposes — and at levels far below a live rock band.”

Founders launched National Campaign to Close Guantanamo with ads on cable television urging Congress to reject the “failed Bush-Cheney policies.”

Obama pledged to close the jail by January, but logistical snags and Republican opposition on Capitol Hill have made fulfilling that promise less likely. Former Vice President Dick Cheney, who warns that closing the prison would endanger national security, has fueled the resistance.

A group opposing the closure of the prison, Keep America Safe, said in a statement Tuesday that those held at Guantanamo are dedicated to killing Americans.


On the Net:

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