Tag Archive: Guantánamo

Weaponized music

This photo is the work the U.S. federal government, so the image is in the public domain in the U.S.

The Noise Curmudgeon  sends us to this Literary Hub piece on the use of loud music as a torture device by the U.S. interrogators in Guantánamo and elsewhere.  Along with blasting music at a damaging 100 decibels, the torturers at Gitmo would play songs by female performers which were “chosen specifically to offend the religious sensibilities of Islamist prisoners,” among other things.

So what does one play to break the will of detainees?  Some Britney Spears (that would break us), Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Mason, and the Barney and Friends, “I Love You Song.”

And for those who dismiss this awful tactic as torture, consider that the interrogators used loud music as a tool because “[i]t provoked fear, distress, and disorientation, crowding out the thoughts of the detainee and bending their will to the interrogators.”




A fascinating read about the weaponization of sound:

When Music Is Violence.  Alex Ross, writing for The New Yorker, reports on the use of extremely loud noise in psychological-operations and warfare.  The American public was introduced to this tactic in December, 1989, when the military employed it in Panama, blasting “non-stop music [to] aggravate [Manuel] Noriega into surrendering” after he was expelled from power and took refuge in the Papal Nunciatura in Panama City.  Although the “media delighted in the spectacle”, both “President George H. W. Bush and General Colin Powell, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, took a dim view of it.”  Despite a lack of enthusiasm for weaponized noise at the top of command, the use of loud music as a weapon has increased. “[D]uring the occupation of Iraq the C.I.A. added music to the torture regime known as “enhanced interrogation,” and the tactic has also been used in Guantánamo.

Ross looks at the intersection of music and violence, noting that when “music is applied to warlike ends, we tend to believe that it has been turned against its innocent nature.”  He states, “[s]ound is all the more potent because it is inescapable,” and notes how technological development has led to long-range acoustic devices that “send out shrill, pulsating tones of up to a hundred and forty-nine decibels—enough to cause permanent hearing damage.”  The discussion turns darker as Ross examines the “music sadism” pioneered by the Nazis, and draws the thread to Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Mosul, and Guantánamo, where “the loud-music tactic displays a chilling degree of casual sadism: the choice of songs seems designed to amuse the captors as much as to nauseate the captives.”  And there is more.

Do click the link above.  The article is thought provoking, disturbing, and absolutely worth reading.

Thanks to Daniel Fink, M.D. for the link.  Dr. Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area.  He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.