Torture Music Leaves No Marks, But Destroys Minds

For you, the phrase "head-banging music" might evoke hazy student nights in the college bar. For Binyam Mohamed, the British resident recently returned from Guantánamo to the U.K., it brings back darker memories. Of his treatment in the CIA-run "Dark Prison" in Afghanistan Binyam recalls:

"It was pitch black no lights on in all the rooms for most of the time…They hung me up. I was allowed a few hours of sleep on the second day, then hung up again, this time for two days. My legs had swollen. My writes and hands had gone numb… There was loud music, [Eminem's] "Slim Shady" and Dr. Dre for 20 days… [Then] they changed the sounds to horrible ghost laughter and Halloween sounds. [At one point, I was] chained to the rails for a fortnight … 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."

During his time in the U.S. "secret prison system" Binyam experienced a varied menu of torture techniques which grimly illustrate what happens when the "gloves come off" and legal safeguards are thrown out of the window. During his almost seven-years in U.S. prisons, his suffering included beatings, being slashed with razors, having loaded guns put to his chest and being hung up for a week at a time. But it was "torture music" that Binyam found hardest to bear.

"Imagine you are given a choice," Binyam asked Reprieve's Director, Clive Stafford Smith, 'Lose your sight or your mind. Which would you choose?' For Binyam, and for most people, it is losing our mind and our very sense of self which we fear the most. Plenty of people lost their minds in the Dark Prison, but that is by no means the only place where U.S. forces, including the CIA and U.S. military personnel, have employed torture music. Thailand, Poland, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Morocco, Iraq: the list is endless.

Torture music is not "torture-lite," despite being designed to "leave no marks." The method has a history and a science. The CIA realized, through psychological experiments in the 1950s and 60s that you could break down a person's identity and trigger psychosis through sensory deprivation and overload. Recognizing its seriousness, the United Nations (U.N.) and European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) have already outlawed the use of music in this fashion. The U.N. called it torture and the ECHR, cruel and inhuman treatment. However U.S. forces have continued to use this method.

In partnership with the U.K. musicians' union, Reprieve set up zero dB, to put an end to the use of music to torture. Through zero dB, musicians are speaking out against torture music and calling on President Obama to expressly outlaw it. The list of musicians objecting to the practice — some of whose own music has been used to torture — and calling for the humane treatment of prisoners grows daily. This list includes Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, Massive Attack, Elbow, Ash, Dizzee Rascal.

The use of music in torture should be openly condemned and prevented. And those who authorized the torture program — including the use of music as torture — should be investigated and held accountable for their role in the abuse of prisoners. There is a real danger that "psychological" techniques like torture music will be increasingly attractive as more obvious practices like "waterboarding" are ruled out.

We cannot afford for torture music to slip under the radar. To find out more or join the protest by adding your name to our petition, go to:

Chloe Davies researches renditions and secret prisons and works on the rehabilitation of prisoners at UK legal action charity Reprieve. Reprieve uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, and represents 30 men currently held in Guantánamo Bay as well as prisoners on death row worldwide.

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I wonder how many terrorists have been
recruited because of these practices.


If by "terrorists" you mean people who have decided to take up arms againsts the US invasion, I would guess a lot. Imagine if this happened in our country, would we not take up arms against the invaders? And would we not laugh at them if they called us "terrorists." I mean, would you consider yourself a terrorist if you were fighting against foreign forces that were torturing your people? So why are we calling them terrorist? It's pretty clear to me who the aggressors are, and it's not them! The US should take heed and get the hell out of the country! This war is bringing shame to us all!


We haven't had to do that yet. I do believe that if we did not fight there we would be fighting here. Would not bother me to be called a terriorist. I believe during the Revolution we were traitors.

Iraq seems to be doing well now. Since we are leaving. How many children have they recruited to blow themselves up and also injure or kill local people and the military? Where is you outrage for that. I do not believe that the American people would allow their children do that. There is never any good answer for war.


Maggie...The American people allow their children to enlist in the military, placing their lives at risk in a country we invaded under false pretenses. Why wouldn't we allow our children to die to expel an invader in our own country?


Roald...When our children join the military they are of age and it is something they want to do. Whether it is for education, jobs or a military career they have a choice. We as parents have to respect that choice (not always easy, no matter what they choose do)

As for the other you just let someone try to put a device on one of my children or grandchildren it would be the worse day of their life. Most American women would not sit by and watch that happen. As a matter of fact I don't believe that most American men would want to be around if that happened.


We have a different point of view and I respect yours. You write lucidly and compellingly.

The difference between martyring yourself and serving in the military is a matter of degree only. In both situations you are serving your cause. The chance of death is higher in one than the other.


Moderator..Once again, I did not proofread. My last post went under the name Maggie. It was supposed to be directed to her. If possible, please correct this error. If not, Maggie, please accept my apology.


Roald - no problem. I to like to hear other points of view. Stops and makes you think.


Maggie - Yes it does and I appreciate reading what you have to say.

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