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Sesame Street breaks Iraqi POWs
‘Culturally offensive’ music is being used to break prisoners

Heavy metal music and popular American children’s songs are being used
by US interrogators to break the will of their captives in Iraq.

Uncooperative prisoners are being exposed for prolonged periods to
tracks by rock group Metallica and music from children’s TV programmes
Sesame Street and Barney in the hope of making them talk.

The US’s Psychological Operations Company (Psy Ops) said the aim was
to break a prisoner’s resistance through sleep deprivation and playing
music that was culturally offensive to them.

However, human rights organisation, Amnesty International, said such
tactics may constitute torture – and coalition forces could be in
breach of the Geneva Convention.

Sergeant Mark Hadsell, of Psy Ops, told Newsweek magazine: “These
people haven’t heard heavy metal.

“This is an issue that seriously concerns us. If there is a prolonged
period of sleep deprivation, it could well be considered torture.” –
Amnesty International spokesperson

“They can’t take it. If you play it for 24 hours, your brain and body
functions start to slide, your train of thought slows down and your
will is broken. That’s when we come in and talk to them.”

Sgt Hadsell’s favourites are said to be ‘Bodies’ from the XXX film
soundtrack and Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’.

The theme tune from the US children’s programme Sesame Street and
songs from the purple singing dinosaur Barney are also on their hit

“In training, they forced me to listen to the Barney “I Love You” song
for 45 minutes. I never want to go through that again,” one US
operative told the magazine.

‘No lasting effect’

Rick Hoffman, vice president of the Psy Ops Veterans Association, told
BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that such a tactic would have no long-
lasting effect on prisoners.

“The use of this kind of audio-technique is rather new in
interrogation,” he said.

“There have been other kinds of non-lethal, non-harmful techniques,
such as sleep deprivation… which leave no long-lasting effects but
do have the end result of breaking down the individual’s will to
resist questioning.”

Amnesty International told BBC News Online that at least one Iraqi
captive – a civilian, later released – had reported being kept awake
for up to four days by loud music.

“This is an issue that seriously concerns us. If there is a prolonged
period of sleep deprivation, it could well be considered torture,”
said a spokeswoman.

“It is a very difficult line to draw between what constitutes
discomfort and what constitutes torture – that line will vary for
individuals and it would depend on each particular case,” she added.

She said they were looking into whether the US and UK were abiding by
their responsibilities under the Geneva Convention on the treatment of
prisoners of war.

The UK’s Ministry of Defence has said all its prisoners are being held
under the terms of the Geneva Convention and are visited by members of
the International Red Cross.


Book Extract: The Men Who Stare At Goats By Jon Ronson

Jon Ronson knew from his investigation into US military intelligence
that top brass had adopted some strange practices. Jamal al-Harith,
the Briton released from Guantánamo in the spring, confirmed it: here,
in our second extract from Ronson’s revealing new book, he describes
the discordant sounds and apparently random music played to him during
all-day interrogation sessions, and four psychological warfare experts
give their reaction.
The more I’ve delved into the US military’s psychological warfare, the
more examples of New Age-style, First Earth Battalion tactics I’ve
been noticing in the war on terror. I learned of one fact in
particular that struck me as entirely incongruous, something at once
banal and extraordinary. It happened to a Mancunian called Jamal al-
Harith in a place called the Brown Block. Jamal doesn’t know what to
make of it either, so he mentioned it to me only as an afterthought
when I met him in the coffee bar of the Malmaison Hotel, near
Manchester Piccadilly station, one June morning this year.

Jamal is a website designer. He lives with his sisters in south
Manchester. He is 37, divorced, with three children. He said he
assumed MI5 had followed him here to the hotel, but he’s stopped
worrying about it. He said that he keeps seeing the same man watching
him from across the street, leaning against a car, and that whenever
the man thinks he’s been spotted, he looks briefly panicked and
immediately bends down to fiddle casually with his tyre.

Jamal laughed when he told me this. He was born Ronald Fiddler into a
family of second-generation Jamaican immigrants. When he was 23, he
learned about Islam and converted, changing his name to Jamal al-
Harith: he liked the sound of it. He says al-Harith basically means
“seed planter”.

In October 2001, Jamal visited Pakistan as a tourist, he says. He was
in Quetta on the Afghanistan border, four days into his trip, when the
American bombing campaign began. He quickly decided to leave for
Turkey and paid a local truck driver to take him there. The driver
said the route would take them through Iran, but somehow they ended up
in Afghanistan, where they were stopped by a gang of Taliban
supporters. They asked to see Jamal’s passport, and he was promptly
arrested and thrown in jail on suspicion of being a British spy.

Afghanistan fell to the coalition. The Red Cross visited Jamal in
prison. They suggested he cross the border into Pakistan and make his
own way back home to Manchester, but Jamal had no money, so instead he
asked to be put in contact with the British embassy in Kabul.

Nine days later – while he waited in Kandahar for the embassy to
transport him home – the Americans picked him up.

“The Americans,” Jamal said, “kidnapped me.” When he said “kidnapped”,
he looked surprised at himself for using such a dramatic word.

The Americans in Kandahar told Jamal he needed to be sent to Cuba for
two months for administrative processing, and so on, and the next
thing he knew he was on a plane, shackled, his arms chained to his
legs and then chained to a hook on the floor, his face covered in
earmuffs and goggles and a surgical mask, bound for Guantánamo Bay.

In the weeks after Jamal’s release, two years later, he gave a few
interviews, during which he spoke of the shackles and the solitary
confinement and the beatings – the things the outside world had
already imagined about life inside that mysterious compound. He said
they beat his feet with batons, pepper-sprayed him and kept him inside
a cage that was open to the elements, with no privacy or protection
from the rats and scorpions that crawled around the base. But these
were not sensational revelations.

He spoke to ITV’s Martin Bashir, who asked him (off-camera), “Did you
see my Michael Jackson documentary?”

Jamal replied, “I’ve, uh, been in Guantánamo Bay for two years.”

When I met Jamal, he began to tell me about the more bewildering
abuses. Prostitutes were flown in from the US – he doesn’t know
whether they were there to smear their menstrual blood on the faces of
the more devout detainees. Or perhaps they were brought in to have sex
with the soldiers, and some psychological operations (PsyOps) boffin –
a resident cultural analyst – devised this other job for them as an
afterthought, exploiting the resources at the army’s disposal.

“One or two of the British guys,” Jamal told me, “said to the guards,
‘Can we have the women?’ But the guards said, ‘No, no, no. The
prostitutes are for the detainees who don’t actually want them.’ They
explained it to us: ‘If you want it, it’s not going to work on you.’ ”

“So what were the prostitutes doing to the detainees?” I asked.

“Just messing about with their genitals,” said Jamal. “Stripping off
in front of them. Rubbing their breasts in their faces. Not all the
guys would speak. They’d come back from the Brown Block [the
interrogation block] and be quiet for days and cry to themselves, so
you know something went on, but you don’t know what. But for the guys
who did speak, that’s what we heard.” I asked Jamal if he thought that
the Americans at Guantánamo were dipping their toes into the waters of
exotic interrogation techniques.

“They were doing a lot more than dipping,” he replied. And that’s when
he told me about what happened to him inside the Brown Block.

Jamal said that, being new to torture, he didn’t know whether the
techniques tested on him were unique to Guantánamo, or as old as
torture itself, but they seemed pretty weird to him. His description
of life inside the Brown Block made Guantánamo Bay sound like an
experimental interrogation lab, teeming not only with intelligence
agents, but also with ideas. It was as if, for the first time in the
soldiers’ careers, they had prisoners and a ready-made facility at
their disposal, and they couldn’t resist putting all their concepts –
which had until then languished, sometimes for decades, in the
unsatisfactory realm of the theoretical – into practice.

First there were the noises.

“I would describe them as industrial noises,” said Jamal. “Screeches
and bangs. These would be played across the Brown Block into all the
interrogation rooms. You can’t describe it. Screeches, bangs,
compressed gas. All sorts of things. Jumbled noises.”

“Like a fax machine cranking up into use?” I asked.

“No,” said Jamal. “Not computer-generated. Industrial. Strange noises.
And mixed in with it would be something like an electronic piano. Not
as in music, because there was no rhythm to it.”

“Like a synthesiser?”

“Yes, a synthesiser mixed in with industrial noises. All a jumble and
a mishmash.”

“Did you ever ask them, ‘Why are you blasting these strange noises at
us?’ ” I said.

“In Cuba you learn to accept,” said Jamal.

The industrial noises were blasted across the block. But the strangest
thing of all happened inside Jamal’s own interrogation room. The room
was furnished with a CCTV camera and a two-way mirror. Jamal would be
brought in for 15-hour sessions, during which time they got nothing
out of him because, he said, there was nothing to get. He said his
past was so clean – not even a parking ticket – that at one point
someone wandered over to him and whispered, “Are you an MI5 asset?”

“An MI5 asset!” said Jamal. He whistled. “Asset!” he repeated. “That
was the word he used!”

The interrogators were getting more and more cross with Jamal’s
apparent steely refusal to crack. Also, Jamal used his time inside the
Brown Block to do stretching exercises, keeping himself sane. Jamal’s
exercise regime made the interrogators more angry, but instead of
beating him, or threatening him, they did something very odd.

A military intelligence officer brought a ghetto blaster into his
room. He put it on the floor in the corner. He said, “Here’s a great
girl band doing Fleetwood Mac songs.”

He didn’t blast the CD at Jamal. This wasn’t sleep-deprivation, and it
wasn’t an attempt to induce the Bucha Effect1. Instead, the agent
simply put it on at normal volume.

“He put it on,” said Jamal, “and he left.”

“An all-girl Fleetwood Mac covers band?” I said.

“Yeah,” said Jamal.

This sounded to me like the tip of a very strange iceberg.

“And what happened next?” I asked.

“When the CD was finished, he came back into the room and said, ‘You
might like this.’ And he put on Kris Kristofferson’s greatest hits.
Normal volume. And he left the room again. And then, when that was
finished, he came back and said, ‘Here’s a Matchbox Twenty CD.’ ”

“Was he doing it for entertainment purposes?” I asked.

“It’s interrogation,” said Jamal. “I don’t think they were trying to
entertain me.”

“Matchbox Twenty?” I said.

I didn’t know much about Matchbox Twenty. My research reveals them to
be a four-piece country rock band from Florida, who do not sound
particularly abrasive (like Metallica and Burn Motherfucker Burn!) nor
irritatingly repetitive (like Barney The Purple Dinosaur and Ya! Ya!
Das Is A Mountain). They sound a bit like REM. The only other occasion
when I had heard of Matchbox Twenty was when Adam Piore from Newsweek
told me that they, too (like Metallica and Barney), had been blasted
into the shipping containers where detainees were held at al-Qa’im in
Iraq. I mentioned this to Jamal and he looked astonished.

“Matchbox Twenty?” he said.

“Their album More Than You Think You Are,” I said.

There was a silence.

“I thought they were just playing me a CD,” said Jamal. “Just playing
me a CD. See if I like music or not. Now I’ve heard this, I’m thinking
there must have been something else going on. Now I’m thinking, why
did they play that same CD to me as well? They’re playing this CD in
Iraq and they’re playing the same CD in Cuba. It means to me there is
a programme. They’re not playing music because they think people like
or dislike Matchbox Twenty more than other music. Or Kris
Kristofferson more than other music. There is a reason. There’s
something else going on. Obviously I don’t know what it is. But there
must be some other intent.”

“There must be,” I said.

Jamal paused for a moment and then he said, “You don’t know how deep
the rabbit hole goes, do you? But you know it is deep. You know it is

Subsequently, I talked to Joseph Curtis (not his real name), who
worked on the night shift at the Abu Ghraib prison, in charge of the
computer network. I asked if he knew anything about the music. He
said, sure, they blasted loud music at the detainees all the time.
“What about quieter music?” I said, and told him Jamal’s story about
the ghetto blaster and the Fleetwood Mac all-girl covers band and
Matchbox Twenty.

Joseph laughed. He shook his head in wonderment. “They were probably
fucking with his head,” he said.

“You mean they did it just because it seemed so weird?” I asked. “The
incongruity was the point of it?”

“Yeah,” he said.

“But that doesn’t make sense,” I said. “I can imagine that might work
on a devout Muslim from an Arab country, but Jamal is British. He was
raised in Manchester. He knows all about ghetto blasters and Fleetwood
Mac and country and western music.”

“Hm,” said Joseph.

“Do you think …?” I said.

Joseph finished my sentence for me.

“Subliminal messages?” he said.

“Or something like that,” I said. “Something underneath the music.”

“You know,” said Joseph, “on a surface level that would be ridiculous.
But Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib were anything but surface.”

Jamal seemed fine when I met him in Manchester. I asked if he felt at
all unusual after listening to Matchbox Twenty and he said no. But one
shouldn’t read too much into this. There is a very strong chance,
given the history of the goat staring and the wall walking and so on
that US military intelligence honchos went in for, that they blasted
Jamal with silent sounds and it just didn’t work.

In late June 2004 I sent an email to Jim Channon and everyone else I’d
met during my two-and-a-half-year journey who might have some inside
knowledge about the current use of the kinds of psychological
interrogation techniques that had first been suggested in Jim’s First
Earth Battalion manual. I wrote:

Dear —

I hope you are well.

I was talking with one of the British Guantánamo detainees (innocent –
he was released) and he told me a very strange story. He said at one
point during the interrogations the MI [military intelligence]
officers left him in a room – for hours and hours – with a ghetto
blaster. They played him a series of CDs – Fleetwood Mac, Kris
Kristofferson, etc. They didn’t blast them at him. They just played
them at normal volume. Now, as this man is western, I’m sure they
weren’t trying to freak him out by introducing him to western music.
Which leads me to think … Frequencies? Subliminal messages?

What’s your view on this? Do you know any time when frequencies or
subliminal sounds have been used by the US military for sure?

With best wishes,

Jon Ronson

I received four replies straight away.

Commander Sid Heal (the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department non-lethals
expert who told me about the Bucha Effect): “Most interesting, but I
haven’t a clue. I know that subliminal messages can be incorporated
and that they have a powerful influence. There are laws prohibiting it
in the US, but I’m not aware of any uses like you describe. I would
imagine, however, that it would be classified and no one without a
‘need to know’ would be aware anyway. If it were frequencies, it would
probably need to be in the audible range or they wouldn’t need to mask
them with other sounds.”

Skip Atwater (General Stubblebine’s former psychic spying headhunter):
“You can bet this activity was purposeful. If you can get anybody to
talk to you about this, it would be interesting to know the ‘success
rate’ of this technique.”

Jim Channon: “Strikes me the story you tell is just plain kindness
(which still exists).”

I couldn’t decide if Jim was being delightfully naive, infuriatingly
naive, or sophisticatedly evasive.

Then Colonel John Alexander responded to my email. He remains the US
army’s leading pioneer of non-lethal technologies, a role he created
for himself in part inspired by Jim’s First Earth Battalion manual.

Colonel Alexander: “Re your assertion he was innocent. If so, how did
he get captured in Afghanistan? Don’t think there were many British
tourists who happened to be travelling there when our forces arrived.
Or maybe he was a cultural anthropologist studying the progressive
social order of the Taliban as part of his doctoral dissertation and
was mistakenly detained from his education. Perhaps if you believe
this man’s story you’d also be interested in buying a bridge from me?
As for the music, I have no idea what that might be about. Guess hard
rockers might take that as cruel and unusual punishment and want to
report it to Amnesty International as proof of torture.”

Jokes about the use of music in interrogation didn’t seem that funny
any more – not to me, and I doubt they did to him, either. I emailed
him back: “Is there anything you can tell me about the use of
subliminal sounds and frequencies in the military’s arsenal? If anyone
alive today is equipped to answer that question, surely you are.”

Colonel Alexander’s response arrived instantly. He said my assertion
that the US army would ever entertain the possibility of using
subliminal sounds or frequencies “just doesn’t make sense”.

Which was strange. I dug out an interview I’d conducted with the
colonel the previous summer. I hadn’t been that interested in acoustic
weapons at that point, but the conversation had, I now remembered,
briefly touched on them.

“Has the army ever blasted anyone with subliminal sounds?” I had asked

“I have no idea,” he said.

“What’s a ‘psycho-correction’ device?” I asked him.

“I have no idea,” he said. “It has no basis in reality.”

“What are silent sounds?” I asked.

“I have no idea,” he said. “It sounds like an oxymoron to me.” The
colonel gave me a hard look, which seemed to suggest that I was
masquerading as a journalist and was, in fact, a dangerous and
irrational conspiracy nut.

“I’m confused,” I said. “I don’t know much about this subject, but I’m
sure I’ve seen your name linked with something called a ‘psycho-
correction device’.”

Yes, he said, he had sat in on meetings where this sort of thing was
discussed, but there was no evidence that machines like this would
ever work. “How would you do that [blast someone with silent sounds]
without it affecting us? Anybody who’s out there would hear it.”

How could you blast someone with silent sounds “without it affecting
us”? This struck me at the time as an unassailable argument, one that
cut through all the paranoid theories circulating on the internet
about mind-control machines putting voices into people’s heads. Of
course it couldn’t work.

The thing is, I now realised, if silent sounds had been used against
Jamal inside an interrogation room at Guantánamo Bay, there was a clue
in Jamal’s account, a clue that suggested that military intelligence
had craftily solved the vexing problem highlighted by Colonel

“He put the CD in,” Jamal had said, “and he left the room.”

Next, I dug out the recently leaked military report entitled Non-
Lethal Weapons: Terms And References. There were a total of 21
acoustic weapons listed, in various stages of development, including
the Infrasound (“Very low-frequency sound which can travel long
distances and easily penetrate most buildings and vehicles …
biophysical effects: nausea, loss of bowels, disorientation, vomiting,
potential internal organ damage or death may occur. Superior to
ultrasound …”).

And then, the last entry but one – the Psycho-Correction Device, which
“involves influencing subjects visually or aurally with embedded
subliminal messages”.

I turned to the front page. And there it was. The co-author of this
document was Colonel John Alexander.

1 In the 1950s, helicopters started falling out of the sky, crashing
for no apparent reason, and the pilots who survived couldn’t explain
it. They had been flying as normal and then suddenly they felt
nauseous, dizzy and debilitated; they lost control of their
helicopters. A Dr Bucha was called in to solve the mystery. What he
found was that the rotor blades were strobing the sunlight, and when
it reached an approximation of human brainwave frequency, it
interfered with the brain’s ability to send correct information to the
rest of the body.

© Jon Ronson, 2004.

This is an edited extract from The Men Who Stare At Goats, by Jon
Ronson, published by Picador on November 19 at £16.99. To order a copy
for £16.14, with free UK p&p, call 0870 836 0875. Jon Ronson’s three-
part television series, The Crazy Rulers Of The World, starts on
Channel 4 tomorrow.

Jamal al-Harith is one of four Britons released from Guantánamo in
March, after more than two years’ imprisonment, who claim they were
repeatedly tortured at the camp and, it was announced last week, are
suing Donald Rumsfeld and other US military leaders for £6m
compensation each.


Monday, December 25, 2006
The Noriega Playlist

A Christmas story of how Billy Idol defeated Manuel Noriega and ended
the 1980s.

Fifteen years ago, on Christmas Day 1989, Panamanian strongman Manuel
Noriega sought refuge inside the Papal Nunciatura (the Vatican
equivalent of an embassy) in Panama City. American troops quickly
formed a perimeter outside. While the idea of the 75th Rangers going
commando on the Vatican has a certain alt history elan, cooler heads
prevailed and negotiations for Noriega’s surrender commenced.

President George H.W. Bush had initiated the invasion, styled
Operation Just Cause, five days earlier. (Originally, the code name
was “Operation Blue Spoon,” incorporating elements of “Operation Nifty
Package” and “Operation Acid Gambit,” all derived from earlier Panama
invasion plans maintained in the “Prayer Book,” including “Operation
Purple Storm” and “Operation Bushmaster.” For an obsessively detailed
studied of the peculiar etymology of Pentagon code names and what
information is encrypted within them, check out William Arkin’s Code
Names or his killer blog Early Warning at The Washington Post.)

(As dramatic as the invasion sounds, it had a lot of competition for
1989 holiday viewers’ attention. The Iron Curtain was dramatically
crumbling, and the preceding week had also carried dramatic coverage
of the revolution in Romania, which included amazing footage I vividly
remember of a bunch of armed civilians taking over the live studio
broadcast of the Romanian national television network, picked up real-
time by CNN. Bush and Gorbachev declared the end of the Cold War, free
elections were held in Mongolia, and the Simpsons premiered.)

On Christmas morning, U.S. Army General Maxwell “Mad Max” Thurman (a/k/
a “The Maxatollah”) talked mano a mano with Monsignor Jose Sebastian
Laboa at the gate of the Nunciatura. The compound was near several
high-rise hotels. As Thurman turned to leave, a reporter hollered from
an upper floor window of the Holiday Inn: “Hey, General Thurman, how
‘ya doin’? Merry Christmas!”

Fearing reporters could eavesdrop on his negotiations using parabolic
microphones, Thurman ordered a music barrier be erected around the
embassy. The 4th PSYOP Group rolled in a fleet of Hummers mounted with
loudspeaker arrays. Conveniently, this being Panama, there was already
an Armed Forces Radio station in the city under American command.

The first day, December 25, it was all Christmas music. By December
27, the PSYOP troops had taken over the Armed Forces Radio playlist,
and they unleashed a barrage of the same tools of psychological
warfare they deployed back home from the windows of their Chevy Novas:
classic rock

Noriega loved opera. He got Styx.

The station had been playing requests for the troops since the
invasion began, as reported in a post-op memorandum:

“When the troops started coming in from the field, the requests became
quite imaginative. Canine handlers called asking for Billy Idol,
‘Flesh for Fantasy,’ the Marine Corps Combat Security Company called
saying they were going on a mission and needed a song to pump them up.
The song was ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ by Guns and Roses, a song which
had been requested many times already. The Special Forces Combat
Divers Team asked for several songs by The Doors, ‘Strange Days,’
‘People Are Strange,’ ‘The End’…We played a lot of songs with the
word ‘jungle’ in it as well as such songs as ‘God Bless the U.S.A.’ by
Lee Greenwood, and ‘We’re Not Going to Take It’ by Twisted Sister.”

Unsurprisingly, the whole thing took on its own manic momentum, the
reporters delighting in the Col. Kilgore meme as the Zeitgeist
injected itself into this minor historical moment, speaking volumes to
the imminent spirit of the age.
The complete playlist is available at George Washington University’s
National Security Archive. Among the highlights:

(You’ve Got) Another Thing Coming – Judas Priest
Blue Collar Man – Styx
Danger Zone – Kenny Loggins
Dead Man’s Party – Oingo Boingo
Don’t Look Back – Boston
Electric Spanking of War Babies – Funkadelic
Heaven’s On Fire – Kiss
If I Had A Rocket Launcher – Bruce Cockburn
In My Time of Dying – Led Zeppelin
Iron Man – Black Sabbath
Judgment Day – Whitesnake
Jungle Love – Steve Miller
No More Mister Nice Guy – Alice Cooper
Paradise City – Guns & Roses
Panama – Van Halen
Paranoid – Black Sabbath
Refugee – Tom Petty
Renegade – Styx
Run Like Hell – Pink Floyd
The Party’s Over – Journey
This Means War – Joan Jett
Wanted Dead or Alive – Bon Jovi
Wanted Man – Ratt
War Pigs – Black Sabbath
We’re Not Gonna Take It – Twisted Sister
You Shook Me All Night Long – AC/DC
Your Time is Gonna Come – Led Zeppelin

Noriega surrendered on January 3. He is currently imprisoned in a
federal correctional facility in Miami, scheduled for release next
September. (Check out This American Life’s story of the 10-year-old
girl from a small town in Michigan who became Noriega’s pen pal.)

The use of rock music as instrument of psychological warfare has
evolved since then, as evidenced by the confirmed reports of enemy
combatants being tortured with Metallica and the “Barney” theme in a
shipping container on the Syrian border (as brilliantly explored by
Jon Ronson in his excellent Men Who Stare at Goats). Though
revolutionary at the time, and considered excessive by President Bush
41 and General Colin Powell, The Noriega Playlist now seems a kinder
and gentler riff from a time when our geopolitical nihilism was young.

I have created an iMix at the iTunes store with the bulk of The
Noriega Playlist for your holiday listening enjoyment. We are open for
comments as to what might be a likely playlist for Tehran or

Posted by Chris Nakashima-Brown at 10:07 PM


U.S. Army Spc. Ben Watkins
Desert DJ plays for Iraqi POWs

By U.S. Army Spc. Cory Meyman
U.S. Army Reserve Public Affairs Office

UMM QASR, Iraq — Ben Watkins was a disc jockey mixing music tracks for
his local state college’s radio station at this time last year. These
days, Watkins is still mixing tracks — but for the enemy prisoners of
war camp in Iraq instead.

Watkins, an Army Reserve specialist from Mankato, Minn., is part of
the 13th Psychological Operations Battalion from Arden Hills, Minn.
His primary mission in the EPW camp is to help the prisoners learn and
follow the rules of the camp by recording simple instructional
messages in their native tongue.

The specialist had already learned a lot about his current job from
his civilian job as a DJ, as well as a natural interest in electrical

“I was a DJ for weddings, parties, and the college. I also did radio

Growing up in the nineties helped too, because you learned half of
this stuff just plugging in video game consoles and stereo equipment,”
Watkins said.

He records tracks of his own voice in Arabic telling the prisoners
what to do, where to go during the day, and the correct actions to
take in case of an emergency. He also helps design posters and
handbills so the prisoners have a graphic tool to learn from.

The messages have to sound convincing and help calm the prisoners down
in their new quarters.

Watkins majored in theater at college, which is another reason he is
suited for his current situation.

The soldier had first thought about the Army when one of his fellow
actor friends said he would be perfect for psychological operations.

His friend was a recruiter for the Army who commented that with
Watkins’ talents in audio and theater he could easily fit the bill.

After Watkins graduated from college, he went to basic training and
his Advanced Individual Training school the same summer. Two weeks
after he returned home, he was deployed to Kuwait to help out in the
war effort.

“My civilian training in theater has helped tremendously. You need to
understand the audience you’re catering to,” he said.

His unit agrees they have benefited from Watkins’ skills.

“In this type of field, his skills from theater, audio technology, and
especially his grasp of audio editing help out the group a lot,” said
Staff Sgt. Joe Boz. “Not only that, but he does his job with
enthusiasm too, and that’s great.”

Photo, caption below.
Army Reserve Spc. Ben Watkins, from Mankato, Minn., of the 13th
Psychological Operations Battalion, dubs a tape the Enemy Prisoner of
War camp in Iraq will use to disseminate information to the detainees.
His mission is to help the prisoners understand the guidelines and
practices of living within the camp. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Cory

The soldier said he is interested in his job because he is helping out
the prisoners by taking care of them in his own way. The messages, he
says, aren’t about controlling the prisoners, but about relieving the
stress and anxiety of finding themselves in an unfamiliar place.

Watkins has had some problems being in a place he is unaccustomed to
as well, but the specialist says he is making do with what he has.

“I’m pretty content with what I’ve been given. I’m grateful. I could
have no shower, no three meals a day, and no air conditioning in this
small studio,” he said.

He’s also been using his resources to help out the soldiers in his
group. Watkins is designing a slide show video on his computer to send
back home to the families of his battalion so they can know what it is
like in Iraq.

At night, he helps out morale running a makeshift movie theater.
Watkins and others have pooled all their movies together, and play
them outdoors at night on a projection screen with speakers so the
American and British soldiers can relax and enjoy a show.

The specialist said he’s trying to be optimistic about being in the

“I’ve always liked camping. I just try to think about this as an
extended camping trip.”

He may be a world away from jockeying music at parties and acting in
plays, but Watkins is using knowledge from those same talents to make
life easier and more peaceful for the prisoners in Iraq. He said he
couldn’t think of anything more rewarding – and of course there’s
nothing a born performer likes more than a captive audience.


PSYOP Loudspeaker Operations

The Long Range Acoustical Device (LRAD) was originally built for the
U.S. Navy, intended to warn boaters out of the 500-meter exclusion
zone around their warships. There was a rumor that it could kill a
person standing directly in front of it. Not true. It might make you
sick, and you will definitely wish you hadn’t, but according to the
manufacturer, this is a non-lethal acoustical effects system. It’s a
big, black disc, maybe three feet across and about six inches thick,
and it will reach out and touch someone at over 1,000 meters. It is
ideal for PSYOP applications. The LRAD becomes increasingly
directional as distances to targets increase. It forms a “tight beam”
of sound that is exceptionally clear – if somewhat unpleasant – to an
individual or group that is acquired, literally, in its sights.The
LRAD has a sighting system.It’s an “iron sight,” and people sit up and
take notice a full kilometer away.

Tests proved that a broadcast could be heard clearly by a dismounted
unit in a cemetery over 1,400 meters distant from the LRAD’s position.
The LRAD runs on A.C. power but is adaptable. During distance tests at
100 meters, the sound was painful to listeners, even with hands held
over the ears and ear plugs in. At 300 meters, they could understand
every word, still with his hands over plugged ears. At 800 meters,
they could hear every syllable through ear plugs. The LRAD was
deployed atop Tall’Afar Castle, overlooking the al Sarai neighborhood.
The first time it was used Iraqis walking the streets stopped and
stared. Impact indicators went through the roof and Iraqis were seen
writing down the counter-terrorism tip-line number at over 600 meters
range. The LRAD has proven useful for clearing streets and rooftops
during cordon and search, for disseminating command information, and
for drawing out enemy snipers who are subsequently destroyed by our
own snipers.

On 5 November 2005 the LRAD made headlines when a group of armed
pirates attempted to board the 10,000-ton cruise ship Seabourn Spirit
100 miles off the coast of Somalia. The ship retaliated with the
earsplitting noise of a directed sound beam and escaped. The devices
have been deployed on commercial and naval vessels worldwide since
summer 2003.

Vehicle-mounted sonic weapons have been used by the Israeli military
in the Gaza and Lebanon. The sound is described “as being hit by a
wall of air that is painful on the ears, sometimes causing nosebleeds
and ‘leaving you shaking inside.”

The U.S. Navy has about 60 of the devices in Iraq and other regions.
Several U.S. law enforcement agencies also use the device.

The belief among some of the Detachment members is that the LRAD isn’t
perfect for all tactical environments, but is a valuable PSYOP tool.
One should be issued to each deploying tactical PSYOP detachment, to
be utilized by the team that can make the best case for requiring it.
Reproduction quality on the LRAD amplifies hisses and pops to an
uncomfortable degree.The key to minimizing this phenomenon is careful
attention to making good connections, not moving cables during
broadcast, and keeping connectors clean and dry. One man can carry the
LRAD, but not much else.It weighs about 45 lbs., and you need an
extension cord, your input device, and other equipment. The LRAD is a
bullet magnet. It is not easily concealed. Area security
considerations are therefore very important. The drawbacks are weight
and the fact that it does not  authentically reproduce sound. Instead,
it reproduces sound in a manner intended to carry great distances to
point targets and convey messages with authority. The LRAD is most
suitable for fixed site broadcast but leaves the user open to enemy
fire. It is also fragile. Its large, open-faced speaker membrane is
subject to damage from elbows, rifle muzzles or enemy fire.

Defense Update, the International Online Defense Magazine added that
the LRAD can issue a verbal challenge with instructions in excess of
500 meters and has the capability of following up with a warning tone
to influence behavior or determine intent.


Position Statement on Torture (February 2, 2007)

On behalf of the Society for Ethnomusicology the SEM Board of
Directors approves the Position Statement against the Use of Music as
Torture, which originated in the SEM Ethics Committee and has the
unanimous support of the Board of Directors.

The Society for Ethnomusicology condemns the use of torture in any
form. An international scholarly society founded in 1955, the Society
for Ethnomusicology (SEM) and its members are devoted to the research,
study, and performance of music in all historical periods and cultural
contexts. The SEM is committed to the ethical uses of music to further
human understanding and to uphold the highest standards of human
rights. The Society is equally committed to drawing critical attention
to the abuse of such standards through the unethical uses of music to
harm individuals and the societies in which they live. The U.S.
government and its military and diplomatic agencies has used music as
an instrument of abuse since 2001, particularly through the
implementation of programs of torture in both covert and overt
detention centers as part of the war on terror.

The Society for Ethnomusicology

* calls for full disclosure of U.S. government-sanctioned and
funded programs that design the means of delivering music as torture;
* condemns the use of music as an instrument of torture; and
* demands that the United States government and its agencies cease
using music as an instrument of physical and psychological torture.

Suggested link

For further information on the American history and praxis of using
music as an instrument of torture, the Society for Ethnomusicology
recommends the following article:

Suzanne Cusick, “Music as Torture, Music as Weapon,” Revista
Transcultural de Música/Transcultural Music Review 10 (2006).


Music as torture / Music as weapon
BY Suzanne G. Cusick


One of the most startling aspects of musical culture in the post-Cold
War United States is the systematic use of music as a weapon of war.
First coming to mainstream attention in 1989, when US troops blared
loud music in an effort to induce Panamanian president Manuel
Norriega’s surrender, the use of  “acoustic bombardment” has become
standard practice on the battlefields of Iraq, and specifically
musical bombardment has joined sensory deprivation and sexual
humiliation as among the non-lethal means by which prisoners from Abu
Ghraib to Guantanamo may be coerced to yield their secrets without
violating US law.

The very idea that music could be an instrument of torture confronts
us with a novel—and disturbing—perspective on contemporary musicality
in the United States. What is it that we in the United States might
know about ourselves by contemplating this perspective? What does our
government’s use of music in the “war on terror” tell us (and our
antagonists) about ourselves?

This paper is a first attempt to understand the military and cultural
logics on which the contemporary use of music as a weapon in torture
and war is based. After briefly tracing the development of acoustic
weapons in the late 20th century, and their deployment at the second
battle of Falluja in November, 2004, I summarize what can be known
about the theory and practice of using music to torture detainees in
Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo. I contemplate some aspects of late
20th-century musical culture in the civilian US that resonate with the
US security community’s conception of music as a weapon, and survey
the way musical torture is discussed in the virtual world known as the
blogosphere. Finally, I sketch some questions for further research and


This paper  reports on the earliest stages of a project that began not
in my musicological work but in a moment of my real life. In spring,
2003, I was reading Nuha al-Radi’s Baghdad Diaries, an account of her
life before, during and after the first Gulf War. I read

After the war ended, the Allies spent all day and all night flying
over our heads, breaking the sound barrier. Just like Panama when they
blasted Noriega, holed up in the Vatican Embassy with music. For
fifteen days, Bush deafened the poor ambassador and Noriega with hard
rock. Our torture went on for months– 20 or 30 times, day or night…
(al-Radi 1998: 58)

“So,” I thought, “perhaps it wasn’t just silliness, the actions of
bored or excitable soldiers who’d seen Apocalypse Now too many times.
Perhaps it was a policy.” As press reports conflating music’s use on
the battlefield with its use in interrogations proliferated, I began
desultory research on a phenomenon of the current “global war on
terror” that particularly wounds me as a musician–wounds me in that
part of my sensibility that remains residually invested in the notion
that music is beautiful, even transcendent–is a practice whose
contemplation would always lead me to contemplation of bodies and
pleasures. Not bodies in pain.

It is not my intention here to engage the moral, ethical and political
debates around torture, interesting as they are. Rather, I offer today
a rough taxonomy of the complex subject denoted by my title–the US
government’s use of sound and music as a battlefield weapon and its
use of music during the interrogation of “detainees” in the current
GWOT. It is a taxonomy peppered with questions and speculations about
the ways that these uses of music interact with more familiar aspects
of recent musical culture in the United States.

Music (or sound) as a weapon

“Acoustic weapons” have been in development by Department of Defense
contractors since at least the 1997 creation of the Joint Non-Lethal
Weapons Task Force, accounting for 1/3 of the Task Force’s budget in
1998-99. {1} Thus, they are not peculiar to 21st-century wars, or to
the current administration. The earliest contract I know to have been
let for such a weapon was on November 18, 1998, authorizing  now-
defunct Synetics Corporation to produce a tightly focused beam of
infrasound–that is, vibration waves slower than 100 vps–meant to
produce effects that range from “disabling or lethal”. {2} In 1999,
Maxwell Technologies patented a HyperSonic Sound System, another
“highly directional device … designed to control hostile crowds or
disable hostage takers”. {3} The same year Primex Physics
International patented both the “Acoustic Blaster”, which produced
“repetitive impulse waveforms” of 165dB, directable at a distance of
50 feet, for “antipersonnel applications”, and the Sequential Arc
Discharge Acoustic Generator, which produces “high intensity impulsive
sound waves by purely electrical means” {4} .

As far as I know, none of these have been deployed in the current
wars. They have been supplanted in the non-lethal weapons arms race by
a system the American Technology Corporation developed after 2000 –the
Long Range Acoustic Device, or LRAD.{5} Capable of projecting a “strip
of sound” (15 to 30 inches wide) at an average of 120 dB (maxing at
151 dB)  that will be intelligible for 500 to 1,000 meters (depending
on which model you buy), the LRAD is designed to hail ships, issue
battlefield or crowd-control commands, or direct an “attention-getting
and highly irritating deterrent tone for behavior modification”.
(  As of March, 2006, 350 LRAD systems had been
sold–to the US Navy, the Coast Guard, various commercial shippers for
marine interdiction; to the US Army and Marines for use by PsyOps
units, and at checkpoints and internment facilities; to the police
departments of Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Santa Ana, and Broward
County, Florida. According to the US Army’s 361st PsyOps company,
LRAD’s are used

for clearing streets and rooftops during cordon and search, for
disseminating information, and for drawing out enemy snipers who are
subsequently destroyed by our own snipers (Davison and Lewer 2006).

It can also be set to “fire” short bursts of “intense acoustic energy”
into crowds, to incapacitate people by causing spatial disorientation.
Similar weapons deployed by Israel in Gaza and Lebanon produce the
effect of “being hit by a wall of air that is painful on the ears,
sometimes causing nosebleeds and leaving you shaking inside”.(Davison
and Lewer 2006).

Capable of directing “music through the use of an integrated and
hardened MP3 player”, and of accepting “external audio devices, like a
CD or MP3 player”, LRADs have been deployed with combat units since
the fall of 2003. According to an ATC spokesman, they were used in
Iraq in 2004 “to play both high output music and deterrent tones,
evidently to great effect as a PsyOps tool, causing the insurgents to
react in ways that greatly increased their vulnerability”. {6} Most
likely, LRADs were the means by which the 361st PsyOps company
“prepared the battlefield” for the November 2004 siege of Fallujah by
bombarding the city with music–supposedly, with Metallica’s “Hells’
Bells” and “Shoot to Thrill” among other things (DeGregory 2004).
PsyOps spokesman Ben Abel explained to reporter Lane DeGregory of the
St. Petersburg (Florida) Times, “These harassment missions work
especially well in urban settings like Fallujah. The sounds just keep
reverberating off the walls.” Abel added “it’s not the music so much
as the sound. It’s like throwing a smoke bomb. The aim is to disorient
and confuse the enemy to gain a tactical advantage” (DeGregory 2004).
Abel made clear that although the tactic of bombarding the enemy with
sound was made at the command level, the choice of music was left to
soldiers in the field: “…our guys have been getting really creative
in finding sounds they think would make the enemy upset…These guys
have their own mini-disc players, with their own music, plus hundreds
of downloaded sounds. It’s kind of personal preference how they choose
the songs. We’ve got very young guys making these
decisions” (DeGregory 2004). On the battlefield, then, the use of
music as a weapon is perceived to be incidental to the use of sound’s
ability to affect a person’s spatial orientation, sense of balance,
and physical coordination.  It is because music is incidental that the
choice of repertoire is delegated to individual PsyOps soldiers’

Music as torture.

Although it seems to be both more widespread and older, the calculated
use of music in “detainee interrogations” is less easy to trace than
the use of sound as a weapon. Evidence from the current war is spotty,
based on the debriefings of released detainees by international human
rights organizations and reporters, on the accounts currently detained
persons have given to their lawyers, or on urban legends that
circulate on the internet, some of which are corroborated by the other
two kinds of accounts. Still, it is absolutely clear that music plays
an important role in the interrogation of detainees in the war on
terror. As early as May 2003 the BBC reported that the US Army had
used Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” and Barney the Purple Dinosaur’s “I
Love You” in the interrogation of  Iraqi detainees, playing the songs
repeatedly at high volume inside of shipping containers.{7} Documents
obtained by the ACLU include an email from an unidentified FBI agent,
dated Dec. 5, 2003, that describes at least three incidents involving
Guantanamo detainees being chained to the floor and subjected to
“extreme heat, extreme cold, or extremely loud rap music”.{8} . The
June 12, 2005 issue of Time included a story based on the 84-page log
of Mohammed al Qahtani’s interrogation there from November 2002 to
January 2003 (Zagorin and Duffy 2005){9} . Qahtani’s interrogations
began at midnight; whenever he dozed he was awakened either by water
poured over his head or the sound  of Christina Aguilera’s music. In
December 2005, Human Rights Watch posted brief first-person accounts
of detainees released from a secret prison in Afghanistan, many of
whom asserted that part of their experience included being held in a
pitch-black space and forced to listen to music that they described,
variously,  as “unbearably loud”, “infidel”, or “Western”. The same
posting included the account of Guantanamo prisoner Benyan Mohammed,
an Ethiopian who had lived in Britain, and who had been forced to
listen to music by Eminem (Slim Shady) and Dr Dre for twenty days
before the music was replaced by “horrible ghost laughter and
Halloween sounds.” {10} A long  New York Times story on March 19,
2006, described in detail “Camp Nama”, the headquarters of a multiple-
agency interrogation unit at Baghdad International Airport; there,
“high-value detainees”–those believed to have information directly
pertinent to battlefield movements, terrorist ringleaders, or imminent
terrorist attacks–were sent first to the so-called “Black Room”, a
garage-sized, windowless space painted black where “rap music or
rock’n’roll blared at deafening decibels over a loudspeaker” (Schmitt
and Marshall 2006) {11} . Read together,  these reports suggest that
the “deafening music” is usually delivered to a detainee who has been
chained into a “stress position”, in a pitch-black space made
uncomfortably hot or cold.

“No-touch torture”

It would be possible to assume from the evidence in the popular press
that the use of music in “interrogation” is (as one of the sources for
the 2003 BBC story, claimed) “rather new”. I’m sorry to report that my
reading suggests otherwise; nor is it the random, rogue behavior of
particularly sadistic (or musical, or creative) interrogators and MPs.
Rather, it is one component of a standard set of interrogation
practices developed by the CIA (in cooperation with English and
Canadian intelligence agencies) over the second half of the 20th
century–a standard set of practices that includes the hooding, stress
positions, and sexual/cultural humiliation that the photos leaked from
Abu Ghraib prison enabled us to see. Its advocates call this set of
practices “no touch torture”.{12}

In his 2006 book A Question of Torture, historian Alfred W McCoy
traces the origin of “no touch torture” to a research program funded
by the OSS, the CIA, and the intelligence services of Canada and
Britain in the years after World War II. Concerned by Soviet success
at “brainwashing” captives and destroying their wills, these agencies
supported research at Yale, Cornell, and McGill intended to learn how
we might do the same. {13} In the 1950s this contract research was
concentrated in three areas: 1) the Canadian government funded
research at McGill that explored the devastating impact of sensory
deprivation and sensory manipulation–which would eventually include
hooding; continuous noise (whether loud or not) and its opposite,
soundproofing; temporal disorientation, and erratic provision of food
and drink; 2) the CIA funded research at Cornell and Yale on the
effects of self-inflicted pain–which would eventually include stress
positions, and scenarios that provoked personal, sexual or cultural
humiliation; and 3) the CIA funded research at Yale on the capacity of
ordinary people to inflict lethal pain on others.

The reports of these experiments reveal a universalizing  naivete and
cultural bias that seems laughable now. Yet their results are the core
premises of what the European Human Rights Commission  described  in
1976 as a “modern system of torture” (McCoy 2006: 57).  This modern
system aims to  combine “sensory disorientation”–isolation, standing,
extremes of heat and cold, light and dark, noise and silence–with self-
inflicted pain, both physical and psychological, so as to cause a
prisoner’s very “identity to disintegrate”. {14} Whether that
disintegration  takes the form of induced regression (to infantile
behavior) or induced schizophrenia,  “the effect is much like that
which occurs if he is beaten, starved or deprived of sleep” {15} . The
prisoner becomes psychologically powerless before the authority of
interrogators, both dependent and unable to resist. Moreover, the
experimental data showed this “modern system of torture” to be much
more efficient than beatings or starvation, producing psychological
disintegration in a matter of days, rather than weeks or months. And,
as one CIA researcher noted, it was hard to document, for with the
exception of the standing (which can cause grotesque swelling/bruising
of the feet and legs) these “techniques” leave no visible marks on the
fleshy surfaces of a human body.

Institutionalized in 1963 in the CIA’s Kubark Counterintelligence
Interrogation Handbook, the techniques of “no-touch torture” were used–
indeed, consciously  tested again and again–by the CIA’s counter-
insurgency forces in Vietnam into the 1970s, by the English in
Northern Ireland, and by police units from Uruguay, Brazil, Guatemala,
the Phillipines, Iran, Argentina and Chile who were trained at the US
Office of Public Safety (1962-74), the US Army Intelligence Center in
Fort Huachuca, AZ, or the US Army School of the Americas (based in
Panama until 1976, and now based at Fort Benning, Georgia). {16}
Although the CIA’s interrogation techniques are not mentioned in
either the 1992 or September 2006 editions of the US Army’s Field
Manual for Human Intelligence Collection (HUMINT), the principal
textbook for training at Fort Huachuca, they seem to be part of Army
interrogators’ and PsyOps units’ training there.  (The music most
often mentioned in accounts of this training is the song “I love you”
associated with Barney the purple dinosaur.) In the field manuals, the
elements of “no touch torture” are understood to be subsumed under the
heading of “additional psychological strategies” by which
interrogators are encouraged to implement any of the eighteen
declassified “approaches” to an informant–approaches with headings
like “fear up” and “ego down”. {17} If one reads the press and human
rights organization accounts of “no touch torture” carefully, these
incidents can all be traced not to uniformed servicemen, but to
occasions when multiple-agency teams –that is, teams that include CIA
operatives, and Behavioral Science Consultants–administer the
interrogations. In part because CIA operatives are specifically exempt
from the provisions of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, in part
because the elements of “no touch torture” are part of what one might
call the military’s oral tradition, all the elements of “no-touch
torture” except waterboarding and extremes of hot and cold remain
permissible under the recently-signed Military Commissions Act of 2006–
permissible, and, to protect against international prosecution as
violations of the UN Convention on Torture, retroactively pardoned.

Cultural resonances

“No-touch torture” shares with non-lethal weapons the advantage that
it leaves no marks directly caused by interrogators on the visible,
fleshy surfaces of the body. Thus hard to prove, and hard to jibe with
images of torture familiar from visual and literary culture, “no-touch
torture’s” premise is nonetheless consistent with the premise behind
non-lethal weapons, including those that use sound; and it is
consistent with the premise by which PsyOps units use sound or music
to prepare the battlefield. The common premise is that sound can
damage human beings, usually without killing us, in a wide variety of
ways. What differentiates the uses of sound or music on the
battlefield and the uses of sound or music in the interrogation room
is the claimed site of the damage. Theorists of battlefield use
emphasize sound’s bodily effects, while theorists of the interrogation
room focus on the capacity of sound and music to destroy subjectivity.
There’s something here about the  intersection of   mind/body
relationship with the distinction between private and public space,
and the hierarchy of command and field operations,  that I want
eventually to think more about.

I also want to think much more about the eerie resonances between the
aesthetics implied by theorists of “no-touch torture” and the
aesthetics shared by a wide range of music cultures since the 1960s–
the music cultures that formed my sensibility, and, arguably, the
sensibilities of those who designed, who command and who implement the
acoustic aspects of “no-touch torture” and acoustic battle. I find two
especially intriguing. First, both blur the distinction between sound
and music. But whereas many composers, musicians and scholars have
tended to conceive that blurring as producing an acoustic continuum,
the state’s actors seem very clear that “music”, with all its cultural
specificity,  is less important than the power of sound itself. {19} .
How, I wonder, might one interpret the resulting state-imposed
hierarchy of sound over music? Specifically, how might inscribing such
a  hierarchy serve the state’s interests away from battlefield and
interrogation sites? Second, the state’s interrogators share with many
civilian musicians, composers and scholars the notion that listening
to music can dissolve subjectivity, releasing a person into a
paradoxical condition that is both highly embodied and almost
disembodied in the intensity with which one forgets important elements
of one’s identity, and loses track of time’s passing. The practices
and ideologies of classical music listening suggest that such music-
induced ecstasy is produced by intense attention to the relationships
among the sounds themselves. Such listening, Fred Maus has recently
written, “seeks identification with the controlling persona”. Maus
goes on to quote Edward T Cone “The goal … must be identification
with the complete musical persona by making its utterance one’s
own” (Maus 2004: 36).

Could this notion of listening, propagated in elite universities
(including those on contract to the CIA) in the last half of the 20th
century, have influenced the architects of “no touch torture”? Is it,
in itself, another symptom of the national security state that the US
has been since the era of World War II? How might that notion of
listening, which relies on its denial of both purely acoustic
phenomena and non-acoustic psycho-somatic experiences in the moment of
listening,  have interacted, in those years, with the notion that
theorists of “no touch torture” share with many vernacular proponents
of  psychedelic rock– the belief that music dissolves subjectivity in
conjunction with other psycho-somatic experiences, and always operates
partly through its bodily effects? How, if at all, might the two
different notions of how music ruptures subjectivity complement the
distinctions drawn by the state between “sound” and “music”, “command”
and “field execution”, “weapon” and “interrogation”? How might our own
musical behaviors–as scholars and teachers especially–interact with
these distinctions?

Music, torture and the blogosphere
(or, Is it torture, and what’s the playlist?)

Nearly every story in the mainstream US press about music’s use to
“torture” detainees has  prompted responses in the virtual world known
as the blogosphere. I discovered these responses by accident, but
quickly realized that they were at least as important to understanding
the relationship of “music as torture” to civilian musical culture as
thinking about classical music listening practices. In a way, I have
thought, the blogosphere responses document an important aspect of the
current wars’ home front.

Most blog responses consist of the posted news story, followed by a
handful of desultory comments.  Some, however, consist of
conversations that last from an hour or two (at lunchtime or in early
evening) to several days. These longer conversations take one of two
turns. Blogging communities who accept without question the idea that
music is being used to torture detainees move quickly to political
discussions of torture tout court, as it has been defined by recent US
policy and law, and by recent international law. Generally, these
conversations never return to music. But the other turn, taken by
blogging communities who pose the question “But is it torture?”, often
stays focused on music for quite a long time, regardless of how the
question has been answered. {20}

“Equating a cold room or loud music with torture is the worst kind of
moral relativism”,  wrote MayBee this past September 29 at, Soylent Red replied immediately
“Careful, MayBee. We don’t want anyone to cry or suffer from lowered
self esteem”.  The exchange inspired an hour’s spirited competition
among several bloggers about how best to torture detainees, all
spinning off from Soylent Red’s second posting:

But perhaps we could make some lemonade of this. Openly admit gays to
the military, but only as MPs or HUMINT collectors. Turn Guantanmo
into a year-round Pride Parade. Everything these people eat, sleep on,
what have you will have been touched by homosexuals. Every time they
take a shower they are being watched by homosexuals. Reinstitute
periodic strip searches. And every interrogation begins with the words
“You know, I’ve been checking you out”.

By the end of the hour, MayBee had brought the thread back to music,
posting about the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s song What I got I got to get
it put in you… “Particularly if played in a camp run entirely by
homosexuals with an enormous sign over the gate saying ‘The Gayest
Place on Earth’, I’d break before lunch.” The same weekend, on the
website Charlie (Colorado) mocked as an “absurdity”
the idea that “loud music and sexually suggestive gestures from
attractive women could become ‘torture’,  when people not under
interrogation pay substantial cover charges and tip heavily for the
same experience”. Strategichamlet (mail) replied

I agree … Anyone who has talked with a professional dominatrix knows
that there are a great deal of people in this country who are willing
to pay to be rather brutally tortured.

Both these exchanges startle for the casualness with which they
confirm an aspect of contemporary musical life that some of us worked
hard to articulate in the 1990s–the easy slippage, in the minds of our
contemporaries,  between music and sexuality. The first exchange
implies that “torture” by music could be similar to a “torture” that
induced homophobia, while the second likens  “torture” by music to
the “torture” of desirable heterosexual fantasy play for which US men
would willingly pay.

Blogs whose communities assume that music could be torture extrapolate
at first from their own experience of being forced to listen to music
in genres, and from cultural locations, that  they find distasteful.
Overwhelmingly, the conversations open with an exchange like this one,
from Dec 19 2005.  Writing in response to Human Rights Watch’s press
release about the Ethiopian forced to listen to rap for 20 hours,  laz
wrote to The J-Walk Blog (, “I used to have
downstairs neighbors that would listen to rap. And let me assure you,
it definitely has value as a torture device”. Leonardo replied “Twenty
days? I go nuts after three minutes!,” while Keith Povell commented
“Music as torture. Try listening to any commercial radio station (UK
especially) and you’ll get the idea.” Many other bloggers understood
music as torturous through memories of their own youths, or recent
experiences with their adolescent children. At  http://  a blog site for uniformed service people,
peter3_1 commented on Sept 12, 2006  “Eminem’s Slim Shady is enough to
drive a Moslem to drink! But, then, Iron Butterfly did that to my
parents, not to mention the Doors, pure torture they thought. “Oh
sure! Real torture! Heavy rock turned up and the a/c cranked real low.
That sound’s like my daughter’s room!”, SGTBH wrote , adding later
“Play Village People. You can stay at the YMCA over and over again.
Play Queen.” Honoloulu 58 cautioned those who suggested classical
music or show tunes “Got to watch [them], they can have a calming
effect and/or euphoric feeling for some.”

Bloggers who accept the premise that music could be torture
participate eagerly–indeed, almost gleefully–in virtual conversations
aimed at producing the ideal playlist for either battlefield or
interrogation-room use. {21} Two with particularly creative, sustained
conversations are , a mixed-sex, right-
leaning political blog run by web designer Charles Johnson (best-known
for exposing the forged documents about President Bush’s military
service that led to Dan Rather’s retirement from CBS) and http://, a sharply right-wing political blog whose musical
conversations are dominated by men.  “Little green footballs” staged a
contest for torture suggestions in mid-May, 2003, attracting nearly
200 responses in a matter of hours. Some of the most frequently
mentioned choices are “all rap music”, “Horse with no name”, “Alone
again”, “MacArthur Park”, “Honey”, “You light up my life”, all the
recordings of Cher, Yanni, Bobby Sherman, Kenny G. Harry Belafonte,
YMCA and the BeeGees, and all disco.

Whatever one might make of this playlist (it seems to me to indicate
the blog’s demographic rather precisely),
‘s competition provoked few mean-spirited comments. By contrast,  Free
Republic’s June 10, 2005, posting of a news story about the Army’s
quest for a new speaker system to deliver music as a weapon or
“torture” device sparked repertoire suggestions that were occasionally
laced with multivalent venom. Suggestions early that evening included
the music of Sousa, Welk, Donny and Marie, Barry Manilow, sound
effects ranging from Tibetan chants to rabbits being slaughtered, the
fantasy of Bill and Hillary singing “I got you, Babe”, and “anything
by Yoko Ono”. Ono soon became the subject of her own racist,
misogynist mini-thread. Mr Jazz wrote “You might as well stick panties
on the head of everyone in the village. At least THAT would be more
human than using Yoko Ono as a weapon of torture”. Straight Vermonter
posted a parody  of Article 13 from the Geneva Conventions to prohibit
the use of her music. And Ramius wrote

No dude…we gotta have some limits…I mean…just damn. I mean…
pork fat, shredded Koran, menstrual fluids…I see the usefulness
there. But I gotta draw the line at Yoko. I mean, we’re not

The belief that music could torture emerges, in the blogosphere, among
people who feel themselves to be “tortured” by certain musics–rap
music, disco, sentimental ballads, the music of Yoko Ono.
Additionally, the idea that music could torture seems linked both to
homophobia and to heterosexual fantasy; in fact, the most lively
repertoire discussions propose as torturous popular musics easily
associated with either homosexuality or the effeminacy perceived to
come from being too emotionally engaged with women. These folk seem
readily to imagine themselves moving from tortured to torturer, and
imagine music torturing by either a racial/cultural affront or, more
often, by feminizing and/or queerifying Muslim men: either way,
detainees would be emasculated (and the bloggers’ masculinity,
presumably, strengthened). My hunch that masculinity is at issue is
supported by one more blog posting, one of the last at Free Republic
in June, 2005, from SauronOfMordor who, like the PsyOps spokeman,
imagined sound to be more important than music. “Better yet”, he
wrote, “a female voice calling in Arabic, proclaiming the muj’s are
effeminate weaklings, and she and her sisters are waiting to kick
their butts and put their soiled panties on their heads.” Sauron,
Ramius’ and  many of the bloggers at Free Republic in particular, seem
among other things to use the idea of music as torture to displace
onto Muslim detainees a rage rooted in their own fear that they are
immersed in a culture that has become, in their words,  “nancy”,
“pansy” and “pussy”. Seen from a slightly different perspective, one
might suppose the bloggers’ virtual torture playlists impose on Muslim
men  the orientalist fantasy that Arab men are (always already)

Interestingly, the choices of these would-be torturers from the
“homefront”,  seem not to resemble the choices of soldiers in the
field.  Overwhelmingly, the field choices seem to be made from heavy
metal and rap–the music in GIs’ disc- and mp3-players, and wired into
their helmets when they go to battle. (Recordings by Britney Spears
and Christina Aguilera are said to have been used against specific
detainees: the recipient of the Aguilera treatment was a fluent
Anglophone, so one might assume that sexually provocative lyrics were
part of the point.) Generally coded masculine in mainstream US
culture, metal and rap are musics that those who don’t identify with
them often hear as embodying the sounds of masculine rage. Thus they
may seem, to soldiers in the field, to “torture” Muslim men by
creating a soundscape in which US men defeat them in a struggle of
masculinities. Some of the specific songs played in battle
(Metallica’s Enter Sandman, AC/DC’s Hell’s Bells) seem lyrically
apposite to preparing both sides for the  confrontation with gruesome
death that so many military memoirs liken to ecstasy. The lyrics of
Eminem’s Slim Shady, played over and over for Guantanamo’s “high value
detainees”, combine rage, misogyny and vivid sexual imagery in ways
that seem sure to offend–to confirm detainees’ defeat by all that they
might find loathsome about the culture of  “the infidel”.

But wait. The delivery of cultural offense is, from the state’s
perspective, only incidental to what goes on in the interrogation
room. The point, the disintegration of identity, depends not on music
but on sound. I want to close by trying to imagine the scene of
“interrogation”, and by thinking a bit further about the ways that the
use of music in “no touch torture” entangle contemporary musical
culture with the aims of the national security state (that has lately
become, too, a “state of exception”). {22}

The interrogation scene

How, I have wondered, might it feel to be in one of those
“interrogation rooms” for 20 hours, experiencing so-called “no touch
torture”? Could it possibly be “no touch”? In the absence, so far, of
detailed accounts from former prisoners of their experiences, I have
tried to think about this practice through my own experience of high-
volume rock, and, more recently, high volume dance music. I remember
from my youth the joyous feeling of the beat and guitar sounds
resounding in my very bones, and from my more recent middle-age the
feeling of Junior Vasquez’ disco beats all but pushing me onto and
across the floor, forcing me to move. For me, both kinds of experience
produced the feeling of being touched, without being touched by
anyone; all of us who sang or danced were physically touched by the
same force, which sometimes moved, sometimes enveloped, sometimes
caressed us. From that shared experience of being touched-without-
being-touched by the vibrating air in which we all moved, I drew a
deeply sensual, erotic (though not explicitly sexual) feeling of
communion with the friends and strangers around me, even as the music
blessedly silenced, temporarily, my individual thoughts. My
experience, of course, was not only psychological or sensual; it was
enhanced by the adrenalin rush, the raised blood pressure and heart
rate, the “ringing” that would last for hours in my bones that were
the best-known, immediate physical effects of loud music.

A detainee, too, must experience himself as touched without being
touched, as he squats, hands shackled between his shackled ankles to
an I-bolt in the floor, in a pitch-black room, unable to find any
position for his body that does not cause self-inflicted pain. Surely,
among many other things, the experience creates a nexus of pain,
immoblility, unwanted touching (without-touch); and of being forced
into self-hurting by a disembodied, invisible Power. A dark ecstasy,
the experience must be neither isolation nor communion, but a
relationship that mimics the effects of the chains–the relationship of
being utterly at the mercy of a merciless, ubiquitous Power. I imagine
it, sometime, as being plunged into it something like the post-modern,
post-Foucauldian dystopia where one is unable quite to name, much less
resist, the overwhelmingly diffuse Power that is outside one, but also
is inside, and that operates by forcing one to comply against one’s
will, against one’s interests, because there is no way–not even a
retreat to interiority– to escape the pain. What better medium than
music to bring into being (as a felicitous performative) the
experience of the West’s (the infidel’s) ubiquitous, irresistable
Power? {23}

In the last few days, thinking about this panel’s overall focus on the
relationship of musical culture to the state that is the USA, I’ve
been pondering the gradual institutionalization of this scene in the
global imagination–through, for instance, its visual representation in
the film The Road to Guantanamo. I’ve been thinking that the scene,
both as drastically real for interrogators and detainees, and as
virtual for filmgoers, press readers, bloggers, and me, bears thinking
about as an artifact of the global war on terror, itself an artifact
of the US’ newly unabashed effort to project itself as global
sovereign. I’m struck, for instance, by the fact that “no touch
torture” using music to dissolve others’ subjectivities has been
imposed on persons picked up in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Egypt, Ethiopia,
Gambia, Indonesia, Iraq, Mauritania, Pakistan, Thailand and the United
Arab Emirates, including British and Canadian citizens. Thus, the
performative scene in which music is the medium of  ubiquitous,
irresistable power that touches without touching has been imposed on
representatives of the entire Muslim world. Music, then, is not only a
component of “no touch torture” but also a component of the US’
symbolic claim to global sovereignty–but in a way that is almost the
polar opposite of the Louis Armstrong “good will ambassador” tours of
the 1950s.[24] .   At the same time, however, the US has given the
detainees thus treated over to its own soldiers as scapegoats, toward
whom their choice of music linked to working-class masculinities  can
channel their rage at the economic and political forces that make them–
like their captives–human beings that the state allows to be killed
with impunity. Moreover, because  media representations on the one
hand and the technologies of  “new media” on the other allow the scene
to be widely imagined and responded to at home, the US has, perhaps
inadvertently, given the same detainees over to a certain swath of the
homefront, where they can be scapegoats for a different kind of rage.
Believing they cannot be killed with impunity, the homefront bloggers
at littegreen footballs and freerepublic do more than express their
rage at the feminized position they occupy as non-warriors in an
increasingly warrior-worshipping public culture. They create (and
occupy) as homophobic, racist and misogynist the subject position of
virtuous, justified torture–a subject position identified with, and
occupied by, the global national security state that has, in its most
recently passed law on the treatment of detainees, declared itself
exempt from international law. All the while, the scene–at least as
one can currently know it–allows certain kinds of repertoire to stand
for the violence of “Western”, “infidel” conquest, leaving repertoire
that is more likely to be valued by elites both innocent and intact.

But I freely confess here that I have barely begun this work. I do not
yet know who makes the choices in detainment facilities, and on what
basis. Nor do I know whether guards and interrogation teams hear, or
listen to, the music played. What do US personnel think about this
practice, and what do they feel? What do detainees think and feel?
What do either group think and feel about the specific repertoire
chosen? How, if at all, has the experience changed the musical
behaviors of either group?

What equipment delivers the sound? At what decibel level? Is it
engineered so as to afflict without causing permanent hearing loss?

Has music proven to be useful in “breaking” detainees for

Thinking culturally, I wonder what the musical ideas and practices of
those who designed “no touch torture” might have been? If the torture
scene is “performative”, what relations of power are brought into
being? How might this use of music to serve the national and imperial
agenda of the US as a “state of exception” affect 21st-century

For now, I offer this paper only as a way of beginning.

* [1] For an introduction to acoustic weapons in the context of
non-lethal weapons research, see Davison and Lewer (2006 ), Wright
(1999) and Aftergood (1994).
* [2] The contract can be found at https://www.armysbir/com/awards/
* [3] The company
claimed at the time that its system could cause eardrum rupture at
185dB, lung injury at 200dB, and death at 220 dB.
* [4] See
also http://www/
accoustic.htm [sic]
* [5] On American Technology Corporation, the LRAD, and its
several applications, see the company’s website,
For a profile of Elwood “Woody” Norris, the inventor of LRAD
technology and founder of ATC, see Sella (2003).
* [6] Personal e-mail to the author from James Croft III, Chief
Technology Officer, ATC, 26 October 2006.
* [7] “Sesame Street breaks Iraqi POWs”, 20 May 2003, http://
* [8] For a complete overview of the material gathered by the
American Civil Liberties Union, see
* [9] Excerpts from the interrogation log on which the story was
based are online at htp://www/time/com/time/magazine/article/
* [10] Http://
* [11] Details of similar procedures (including the uses of the
other colored rooms) can be found in Sifton (2006).
* [12] The most complete account of this congeries of techniques
is McCoy (2006).
* [13] For a description of these experiments see McCoy (2006)
chapter 2, “Mind Control”.
* [14] McGill University researcher Donald Hebb, cited in McCoy
(2006: 35).
* [15] Lawrence E Hinkle, Jr, “Consideration of the Circumstances
under Which Men May Be Interrogated, and the Effects That These May
Have upon the Function of the Brain”, Fil: Hinkle, Box 7, CIA Behavior
Control Experiments Collection, National Security Archive. Washington.
Cited in McCoy (2006: 42 and note 60).
* [16] Declassified parts of the Kubark manual can be found online
at See McCoy (2006: chapter 2)
for details of the way various US agencies have trained other nations’
security forces. For a comprehensive gathering of documents pertaining
to US torture of detainees that were available up to 2005, see
Greenberg and Dratel (2005).
* [17] The most recent US Army Field Manual for Human Intelligence
Collection, issued in September 2006, can be found online at http://
* [18] The full text of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 is
online at See
also the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, part of the Defense
appropriations bill, online at
* [19] On the musical side, I mean to evoke both to a very wide
spectrum of musical composition, ranging from musique concrete to the
improvisatory works of John Cage and Pauline Oliveros and  the rich
scholarly and creative literature that has emerged in response to R.
Murray Schaefer’s 1977 book The Soundscape. Our Sonic Enivronment and
the Tuning of the World (see Schaefer 1997).
* [20] Readers who doubt that these practices constitute torture
may wish to consult Borchelt et al (2005).
* [21] Florida reporter Lane DeGregory wrote a sidebar, entitled
“Anything but ‘MacArthur Park!’”, to his November 2004 report of
music’s use during the siege of Falluja. The sidebar exemplifies this
kind of media response that invites ordinary Americans to imagine
themselves as torturers. He or his colleagues at the St. Petersburg
Times “asked (Tampa) bay residents which songs they would play to
drive the insurgents out of Falluja, break down Iraqi prisoners, or
just drive their neighbors nuts”. The results, published November 21,
2004, are reported at
* [22] I mean to allude to Agamben´s book  State of Exception (see
Agamben 2005), as well as to the ideas in that book’s prequel, Homo
Sacer. Sovereign Power and Bare Life (see Agamben 1998).
* [23] The phrase “felicitous performative” refers to J.L. Austin,
How to do things with words (see Austin 1962), especially to Lecture
II, which seeks to define performative speech that actually works–that
is “felicitous”.
* [24] On these tours, see Eschen (2004).


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* Maus, Fred Everett. 2004. “The Disciplined Subject of Music
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Inside Camp Nama; In Secret Unit’s ‘Black Room’, A Grim Portrait of US
Abuse”. New York Times, March 19, 2006.
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