A History of Music Torture in the War on Terror
Continued from previous page
During the resistance phase of SERE training, U.S. military personnel are exposed to physical and psychological pressures … designed to simulate conditions to which they might be subject if taken prisoner by enemies that did not abide by the Geneva Conventions. As one … instructor explained, SERE training is "based on illegal exploitation (under the rules listed in the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War) of prisoners over the last 50 years." The techniques used in SERE school, based, in part, on Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean War to elicit false confessions, include stripping detainees of their clothing, placing them in stress positions, putting hoods over their heads, disrupting their sleep, treating them like animals, subjecting them to loud music and flashing lights, and exposing them to extreme temperatures. It can also include face and body slaps, and until recently, for some who attended the Navy's SERE school, it included waterboarding.
The Senate Committee's report, which lays the blame for the implementation of these policies on senior officials, including President George W. Bush, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney's former legal counsel (and now chief of staff) David Addington, and former Pentagon General Counsel William J. Haynes II, makes it clear not only that the use of music is part of a package of illegal techniques, but also that at least part of its rationale, according to the Chinese authorities who implemented it, was that it secured false confessions, rather than the "actionable intelligence" that the U.S. administration was seeking.
The Experiences of Binyam Mohamed and Donald Vance
In case any doubt remains as to the pernicious effects of music torture, consider the comments by Binyam Mohamed, a British resident still held in Guantánamo, who was tortured in Morocco for 18 months on behalf of the CIA, and was then tortured for four months in the CIA's "Dark Prison" in Kabul, and Donald Vance, a U.S. military contractor in Iraq, who was subjected to music torture for 76 days in 2006.
Speaking to his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the legal action charity Reprieve, Mohamed, like Ruhal Ahmed, explained how psychological torture was worse than the physical torture he endured in Morocco, where the CIA's proxy torturers regularly cut his penis with a razorblade.
"Imagine you are given a choice," he said. "Lose your sight or lose your mind."
In Morocco, music formed only a small part of Mohamed's torture. Toward the end of his 18-month ordeal, he recalled that his captors "cuffed me and put earphones on my head. They played hip hop and rock music, very loud. I remember they played Meatloaf and Aerosmith over and over. I hated that. They also played 2Pac, "All Eyez On Me," all night and all day. … A couple of days later, they did the same thing. Same music. I could not take the headphones off, as I was cuffed. I had to sleep with the music on and even pray with it.”
At the Dark Prison, however, which was otherwise a plausible re-creation of a medieval dungeon, in which prisoners were held in complete darkness and were often chained to the walls by their wrists, the use of music was relentless. As Mohamed explained:
It was pitch black, and no lights on in the rooms for most of the time … They hung me up for two days. My legs had swollen. My wrists and hands had gone numb. … There was loud music, Slim Shady and Dr. Dre for 20 days. I heard this nonstop, over and over. I memorized the music, all of it, when they changed the sounds to horrible ghost laughter and Halloween sounds. It got really spooky in this black hole. … Interrogation was right from the start, and went on until the day I left there. The CIA worked on people, including me, day and night. Plenty lost their minds. I could hear people knocking their heads against the walls and the doors, screaming their heads off. … Throughout my time, I had all kinds of music and irritating sounds, mentally disturbing. I call it brainwashing.