You’ve heard of water boarding, sleep deprivation, humiliation and other kids of physical torture. But now meet the latest device to extract information from prisoners of war: the music of Sesame Street and Barney.
They’re just two of the artists being used on those being held by U.S. forces in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
According to British human rights organization Reprieve, musicians are becoming increasingly upset that their work is being used to torture POWs and drive them close to suicide.
The group claims hard rock songs by bands like Rage Against the Machine, Nine Inch Nails, AC/DC and even Queen are pumped into cells at full volume for hours and days at a time, making it impossible for those being held to sleep, concentrate or avoid it.
The U.S. military believes it’s a non-violent way to create fear and disorient those behind attacks on its soldiers and other innocent people. But musicians are horrified that their work is being used for such a purpose and they’ve started an online petition demanding it be stopped.
Donald Vance knows what it’s like first hand. The Chicago contractor says he was jailed in Iraq after reporting illegal arm sales. He claims he was subjected to the technique for months on end, with hard rock being pumped into his freezing 2.7 metre X 2.7 metre cell 20 hours a day non-stop from a speaker inserted into a metal grate.
He was blasted by Nine Inch Nails and Queen, with the same songs being repeated over and over again. He was kept for 97 days before being released and says if they’d given him a blanket he would likely have hung himself.
He recalls being unable to concentrate or even think as the relentless notes kept penetrating his brain.
And Vance is used to rock and roll. Many who were raised in Taliban-led atmospheres like Afghanistan have never been exposed to the music and for them, the effect is even worse.
Binyam Mohammed is a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay who was held for a time in Afghanistan. He and other fellow prisoners claim they were blasted with Eminem’s Slim Shady and Dr. Dre’s songs for 20 days straight. He remembers some prisoners began hitting their heads against the wall while others ‘lost their minds.’
But it’s not just rock and rap. Reprieve says even music from the TV show Sesame Street has been used to disorient and annoy.
And so has the admittedly irritating “I Love You” by Barney, the large purple dinosaur (top left). Some adults cringe at hearing it just once. You can only imagine what being forced to listen to it at top volume for weeks at a time might do to your brain.
Composers for the shows have issued protests, noting their songs are meant to entertain and teach children and shouldn’t be used in that way.
But while some are condemning the practice, others are applauding it. Bassist Steve Benton of the group Drowning Pool admits he’s proud to have his songs used to fight terrorists.
“People assume we should be offended that somebody in the military thinks our song is annoying enough that played over and over it can psychologically break someone down,” he tells Spin magazine. “I take it as an honour to think that perhaps our song could be used to quell another 9/11 attack or something like that.”
As for Vance, he’s finally home now and has filed a lawsuit because of his incarceration and treatment. It’s been two long years since he was tortured by music and he now says he doesn’t listen to it much anymore. Instead, the one thing he does in his own home is to keep it quiet.
Most Frequently Played ‘Torture’ Songs
“Enter Sandman,” Metallica.
“Bodies,” Drowning Pool.
“Shoot to Thrill,” AC/DC.
“Hell’s Bells,” AC/DC.
“I Love You,” from the “Barney and Friends” children’s TV show.
“Born in the USA,” Bruce Springsteen.
“Babylon,” David Gray.
“White America,” Eminem.
“Sesame Street,” theme song
Other bands featured in the non-stop concerts:
Rage Against the Machine,
Red Hot Chili Peppers
List courtesy: Reprieve
Photo credit: Vince Bucci/Getty Images