Anorak News | Now That’s What I Call Brutality: the songs used to torture prisoners

Now That’s What I Call Brutality: the songs used to torture prisoners

by | 17th, September 2013


WHAT music do you hate? What music would drive you mad? We’ve trawled the archives to bring you the list of songs used by torturers to make their victims squirm. Retired US Air Force Lt-Col Dan Kuehl told the St Petersburg Times that it’s nothing new:

“Joshua’s army used horns to strike fear into the hearts of the people of Jericho. His men might not have been able to break down literal walls with their trumpets, but the noise eroded the enemy’s courage.”

Had Joshua played Cliff Richard on vuvuzelas he would have conquered the world.

In his book on experimental intelligence practices, The Men Who Stare At Goats, journalist Jon Ronson traces the technique’s origins to a 1970s military manual recommending loudspeakers playing “indigenous music and words of peace” as a means of demotivating America’s enemies – a strategy which has since left behind its New Age roots for today’s sonic onslaughts.

But what is God’s own music? How do you beat down the enemy? Why, with Now That’s What I Call Brutality:

Julio Iglesias

According to former prisoners of Chile’s General Pinochet, George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord, and pretty much anything by Julio Iglesias were played for days at a time.


Donald Vance, in the section for high-value detainees at Baghdad’s Camp Cropper, the music that blared all day, every day through the block-and-concrete corridors would unpredictably ‘jump’ between styles.  Prisoners could not settle in to resist, say, the sonically vivid rage of songs by Nine Inch Nails, or the maddening repetitions of songs like Queen’s We Are the Champions, for the one would suddenly interrupt the other, preventing entrainment and therefore preventing resistance. 


Their lyrical command Fuck Your God is played by Us Army DJs to prisoners in Iraq.

Nancy Sinatra

The FBI blasted loud music at the Branch Davidians during the Waco siege in Texas with These Boots Are Made for Walking.

Barney The Dinosaur

I Love You by Barney the Purple Dinosaur has been played to Guantanamo inmates.

Van Halen

When the United States invaded Panama in December 1989, Noriega took refuge in the Holy See’s embassy on December 24, which was immediately surrounded by U.S. troops. After being continually bombarded by hard rock music, including Van Halen’s hit song Panama and “The Howard Stern Show” for several days, Noriega surrendered on January 3, 1990. 

Also played:  Tibetan chants and Rick Astley.

Bruce Springsteen

It should stand as no surprise that a large majority of the songs used in Guantanamo Bay consisted of seemingly patriotic ditties like Springsteen’s most famous American anthem. One Spanish citizen accused of being linked to the terrorist network Al-Qaida claimed his interrogators played this song the majority of the time during his entire two year stay in the Cuban prison. However, Clive Stafford Smith, the legal director of the UK human rights charity Reprieve, noted that it may not have been the most patriotic choice since “the message of the song is harshly critical of American policy, condemning the war in Vietnam and describing a veteran’s efforts to find work.”

 Christina Aguilera

Interrogation techniques at Guantanamo Bay, including playing Christina Aguilera’s music to keep terror suspects awake, have been highlighted in a report… The 84-page document, obtained by Time magazine, concerns the interrogation of Mohammed al Qahtani, the so-called 20th hijacker – an alleged acquaintance of Osama bin Laden and an intended participant in the September 11 attacks…

The quizzing of al-Qahtani often started at midnight, Time magazine reports. He was woken up by having water dripped on his head or Aguilera’s music played…The US national anthem was played while al-Qahtani was forced to stand. After one all night session, he was reportedly allowed to sleep for four hours from 7am.


Binyam Mohamed on Guantanamo:

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 non-stop 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.


The Telegraph looks at anti-pirate ops in Somalia:

…the Long Range Acoustic Device targets a suspect with a 500 yard beam of excruciating noise. Sailors can attach the device to an Ipod or MP3 player to repel pirate boats with renditions such as Hells Bells by the heavy metal group AC:DC.

David Gray

David Gray  lambasted American interrogators for allegedly using his song Babylon to help extract information from internees in Iraq.

Haj Ali, the hooded man in the notorious Abu Ghraib photographs, told of being stripped, handcuffed and forced to listen to a looped sample of the song, at a volume so high he feared that his head would burst.

Dr Dre

Prisoners were strung up by their wrists for days while being blasted with music by artists like Dr. Dre. They were bound, with headphones placed on their heads, and forced to listen to Meat Loaf for hours. They were locked into wooden boxes and forced to endure Saturday Night Fever by the Bee Gees for entire nights at a time. 

Other songs used at Guantanamo:

Baby One More Time – Britney Spears
Killing In The Name – Rage Against The Machine
Don’t Gimme No Lip – Pearl Jam
Somewhat Damaged – Nine Inch Nails
Enter Sandman – Metallica
Bodies – Drowning Pool
Shoot to Thrill – AC/DC
Hell’s Bells – AC/DC
White America – Eminem
Theme song to Sesame Street

Any more?

Posted: 17th, September 2013 | In: Music Comment | TrackBack | Permalink