Torture Methods With Sound: How Pure Noise Can Be Used To Break You Psychologically

The Hill

Torture Methods With Sound: How Pure Noise Can Be Used To Break You Psychologically

speaker system
Heavy metal, among other genres of music, has been used to torture prisoners. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Have you ever got a song stuck in your head that you just can’t seem to shake? That catchy piece of music on a recurrent loop in your brain, also known as an earworm, may seem torturous but pales in comparison to actual sound torture employed for military purposes. Sound torture is a type of psychological warfare used to break the will of prisoners using loud music or white noise. While many of us use music to escape or even center ourselves, it can also be used as an instrument of torture under the right conditions.

Sound Torture During The Iraqi War

After details emerged regarding the U.S. military’s use of torture during the Iraqi War, common methods of physical torture, including “waterboarding,” hooding, and physical abuse, came under immense national and global scrutiny. The use of torture remains a widely debated issue when it comes to the treatment of military detainees. Music torture is currently banned by the United National Convention Against Torture, but it is still permitted under U.S. law. The United National Convention Against Torture defines torture as:

any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him, or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.

Errol Morris’s 2008 documentary “Standard Operating Procedure” focused on abuse and torture of prisoners at the Abu Gharib prison in 2003 by U.S. soldiers. A clip from the film features a U.S. soldier explaining the use of deafening music to have a psychological impact on prisoners of war.

So-called “no touch” torture is by many considered more humane compared to waterboarding or hooding, but it’s just as effective when it comes to coaxing information out of military prisoners. Other forms of “no touch” torture that are combined with sound torture include sleep deprivation, controlling the temperature of interrogation rooms, and violating the prisoner’s religious or cultural beliefs. Even though the prisoner is not harmed physically, human rights activists still find these techniques to be a violation of basic human rights.

How Sound Torture Works

Certain interrogation reports highlight the use of loud music reaching upward of 79 decibels for weeks and even months. Heavy metal music, such as Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name Of,” and Deicide’s “Fuck Your God,” often ends up on the CIA’s “torture playlist.” However, the most popular song used to torture prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and other detention centers in Iraq or Afghanistan was “I Love You” by Barney the Purple Dinosaur.

In addition to the ear-splitting decibel level, the music’s content is often chosen to offend the prisoner’s cultural beliefs. Sergeant Mark Hadsell from the U.S. Psychological Operations Company (Psy Ops) toldNewsweek:

“These people haven’t heard heavy metal. 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.”

Although it may illicit the desired psychological effect of weakening the mental state of detainees, vice president of the Psy Ops Veterans Association Rick Hoffman said the interrogation technique has no long-term effect on the prisoner. Still, soldiers who are required to undergo sound torture for 45 minutes as a part of training would rather not do it again.

No matter how loud the music is or what its lyrics are about, the result is the same: the incessant use of music to cause discomfort among prisoners. Music used to break down the resistance of an enemy during interrogation is described as “futility music.” Professor Suzanne Cusick from NYU studied the effect of music torture in her 2009 paper, “‘You are in a place that is out of the world. . .’: Music in the Detention Camps of the ‘Global War on Terror.'” She describes futility music as a technique used to persuade a detainee that resistance to interrogation is futile.

History of Sound Torture

Sound torture is nothing new. In fact, using sound to psychologically attack an enemy has roots in the ancient Aztec culture. The Aztec “Death Whistle” served a variety of purposes from human sacrifice rituals to warfare. During a siege on enemy territory, the Aztecs warriors would sound the “Death Whistle” in an effort to cause their enemies psychological discomfort before the impending battle. The skull-shaped tool produces a terrifying screech that has to be heard to be believed:

The U.S. has also employed sound torture outside of the Iraqi War. In December 1989, Panama’s military dictator Manual Noriega took refuge in the Vatican Embassy a few days after President George Bush launched Operation Just Cause, an invasion of Panama aimed toward overthrowing Noriega. The U.S. military broadcasted a playlist that included Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Guns N’ Roses, and Van Halen’s “Panama” over a military radio station.

While General James D. Thurman said music acted as a “sound barrier” that would prevent journalists from listening in on negotiations with Noriega supporters, none could dismiss the psychological pressure it put on both the Vatican Embassy and Noriega. Noriega surrendered to the U.S. military on Jan. 3, 1990, after 10 days of listening to the hard rock playlist.

Between Feb. 28 and April 19, 1993, federal and state military and law enforcement in Texas executed what is now known as the Waco siege. The siege took place at the Mount Carmel Center that housed the Branch Davidians, a religious group led by David Koresh. Over the course of seven weeks, the FBI used an unconventional playlist that included Tibetan chants, Christmas carols, and Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” to weaken the will of besieged Koresh followers. In the end, a fire allegedly started by sect members killed 76 people, including Koresh.

Musicians Against Sound Torture

How do the musicians whose music is used for sound torture feel about this interrogation technique? Musicians whose songs have been featured on military “torture playlists,” including Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails and Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine, have been outspoken over the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, especially when considering their music is used in the torture.

Reprieve, a British legal action charity that provides legal representation for Guantanamo Bay prisoners, launched the Zero dB (against music torture) initiative in 2008 to persuade musicians into standing up against the U.S. military and central intelligence agencies (CIA) use of their music as a torture device.

It’s difficult for me to imagine anything more profoundly insulting, demeaning and enraging than discovering music you’ve put your heart and soul into creating has been used for purposes of torture,” Reznor said in a blog post dated December 11, 2008. “If there are any legal options that can be realistically taken they will be aggressively pursued, with any potential monetary gains donated to human rights charities. Thank GOD this country has appeared to side with reason and we can put the Bush administration’s reign of power, greed, lawlessness and madness behind us.

Other musicians whose music has been used in this interrogation process don’t find it all that offensive. James Hetfield, co-founder of Metallica, whose music frequently pops up on reported “torture playlists,” is even proud that his music has been used by military personnel in the past.

We’ve been punishing our parents, our wives, our loved ones with this music forever. Why should the Iraqis be any different?” Hetfield said in a radio interview. “It’s the relentlessness of the music. It’s completely relentless. If I listened to a death metal band for 12 hours in a row, I’d go insane, too. I’d tell you anything you wanted to know.

Don’t Want a Smart Meter? Get a Doctor’s Note

Don’t Want a Smart Meter? Get a Doctor’s Note

North Carolina’s Duke Energy is giving customers a unique way to opt out of smart utility meters, but it requires getting a doctor to diagnose them with electrosensitivity.


(TNS) — North Carolina will start offering an unusual escape clause for the thousands of North Carolina residents who complain that Duke Energy’s two-way communication utility meters give them headaches, ear-ringing and a case of the “brain fog.”

Residents who say they suffer from acute sensitivity to radio-frequency waves can say no to Duke’s smart meters — as long as they have a notarized doctor’s note to attest to their rare condition.

The N.C. Utilities Commission, which sets utility rates and rules, created the new standard on Friday, possibly making North Carolina the first state to limit the smart meter technology revolution by means of a medical opinion. It took the Utilities Commission two years to resolve the dispute — longer than it takes to review a complicated rate increase or to issue a permit to build a coal-burning power plant — after considering the warnings and denials of conflicting studies and feuding experts.

Charlotte-based Duke had proposed charging customers extra if they refused a smart meter. Duke wanted to charge an initial fee of $150 plus $11.75 a month to cover the expense of sending someone out to that customer’s house to take a monthly meter reading. But the Utilities Commission opted to give the benefit of the doubt to customers with smart meter health issues until the Federal Communications Commission determines the health risks of the devices.

“This is a huge step in the right direction,” said Andrew McAfee, a former music professor at UNC Chapel Hill and one-time principal horn for the N.C. Symphony Orchestra for 15 years who says proximity to cellphone towers, WiFi signals and wireless utility meters causes a burning sensation on his skin, gives him the sweats and makes him agitated.

“The removal of Duke’s opt-out fees stops that added insult to injury for many who suffer debilitating electrosensitivity conditions and their associated health costs,” McAfee said. “Most importantly, the NCUC order recognizes our medical doctor’s proper role in determining what is healthy, not the FCC.”

Duke Energy’s two North Carolina utility subsidiaries are in the midst of switching its 3.4 million North Carolina customers to smart meters, which record electricity usage patterns in minute detail, rather than just showing the total amount of power used in a month. The granular data can be used to develop and coordinate energy efficiency strategies and to better manage the power grid during heat waves and other times of high energy demand.

And smart meters automatically transmit customer usage data to the utility company for analysis and billing.

Duke Energy Carolinas has installed more than 1.5 million smart meters so far. Duke Energy Progress, which plans to install 1.4 million, has installed 34,560 since May, said Duke spokesman Jeff Brooks.

About 6,000 Duke customers have expressed concerns about smart meters, Brooks said. The ones who do complain about it can be very persistent.

“More than a dozen individuals, including a physician, stated that they have personally experienced debilitating health impacts from the cumulative impact of RF emissions,” the Utilities Commission said in its ruling. “A few went so far as to assert that RF emissions from smart meters contribute to violence and homicides.”

The commission received a statement from the director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University of Albany in New York, co-signed by four other scientists and doctors. The letter said the greatest risk of radio frequency wave exposure is cancer, but symptoms include memory loss and fatigue.

Duke submitted a review by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services concluding there is insufficient evidence to link radio frequency exposure to health problems. DHHS based its conclusions on research and statements from the American Cancer Society, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences.

After endless pleas and living in four different homes in the Triangle, McAfee reached a truce with Duke and for the past several years has been served on a landline utility meter, not a wireless meter. It is costing him $5 a month, and he expects the Utilities Commission’s ruling will exempt him from the monthly fee.

It remains to be seen whether all doctors lend their name and professional reputation to affirming a highly disputed medical condition. But McAfee, who now runs a business to detect electromagnetic frequency waves, predicted those who experience the symptoms are determined to keep their bodies and brains from getting bombarded by wireless signals.

“People are motivated and will find a way,” McAfee said. “I have already heard of one person today bringing one to their doctor’s office.”

Duke won’t be obligated to provide a landline meter to all customers. The Utilities Commission said Duke can install a smart meter and turn off the wireless transmissions so that the computerized device works like an old-fashioned meter.

Duke had submitted information that 33 states have opt-out fees for customers; Vermont forbids utilities from charging opt-out fees to customers, while Pennsylvania doesn’t allow customers to opt out.

©2018 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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