Nearly 20 years ago, US armed forces in Panama used the music of Guns N’ Roses and Elvis Presley, played at maximum volume over loudspeakers, to try to drive the country’s leader, Manuel Noriega, to surrender. A tactic was born.
Since then, music played at unbearable volumes has been frequently deployed in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere by the CIA, as part of a sophisticated portfolio of torture against detainees.
Now the music world is hitting back. A collective of bands and artists, including some whose recordings have been used against their wishes, have come together to demand the US stops using their work as an instrument of war.
Bruce Springsteen has already voiced anger at how Born in the USA has been devalued in this fashion. Now, on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he has been joined by artists including Massive Attack, Elbow, Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello, UNKLE’s James Lavelle, Matthew Herbert, The Magic Numbers and Bill Bailey. Their protest will include minutes of silence at concerts and festivals.
“What we’re talking about here is people in a darkened room, physically inhibited by handcuffs, bags over their heads and music blaring at them,” musician David Gray said. “That is nothing but torture. It doesn’t matter what the music is. It could be Tchaikovsky’s finest or it could be Barney the Dinosaur. It really doesn’t matter, it’s going to drive you completely nuts.”
Amongst the songs most used are: Metallica’s Enter Sandman, Eminem’s White America, AC/DC’s Hells Bells and the Sesame Street theme song. One of the reasons for using loud music in this way is that it leaves no marks on the body.
Binyam Mohamed, the British resident held in Guantanamo Bay, who was tortured by having his penis slit with a razor blade while detained in a secret jail in Morocco, said that the constant loud music made him feel that he was losing his sanity. He told his lawyer and director of legal charity, Reprieve, Clive Stafford Smith, that while being hung up and deprived of sleep “there was loud music. [Eminem’s] Slim Shady and Dr Dre for 20 days ... plenty lost their minds. I could hear people knocking their heads against the walls and the doors, screaming their heads off.”
Some prisoners have said it can be even worse than more traditional methods of physical torture, including waterboarding. The UN and the European court of human rights have already banned the use of loud music in interrogations.
Stafford Smith said the administration of US President George W. Bush had portrayed the practice as harmless.
“Binyam Mohamed put it best when I spoke with him in Guantanamo Bay: ‘Imagine you are given a choice,’ he said. ‘To lose your sight or lose your mind. While having your eyes gouged out would be horrendous, there is little doubt which you would choose.’”
Another former prisoner, Donald Vance, said he was subjected to near-constant hard rock music.
“There was a lot of Nine Inch Nails,” he said. “I couldn’t tell you how many times I heard Queen’s We Will Rock You.”
Two years after his release, he said he now keeps his home “very quiet.”
The campaign, Zero dB, was launched yesterday by Reprieve, which represents more than 30 prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. Many of the detainees there and others held in secret locations have reported being subjected to deafening music for hours, in an attempt to break them.