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Music in psychological operations

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Music in psychological operations
  • Psychological warfare
  • torture
  • United States
  • Iraq
  • Greece
  • Israel
  • South Korea
  • Sensory deprivation
  • sleep deprivation
  • food and drink deprivation, and stress positions

Music can be used as a tool of psychological warfare. The term "music torture" is sometimes used to describe the practice.[citation needed] While it is acknowledged by United States interrogation experts to cause discomfort, it has also been characterized as having no "long-term effects".[1]

Music and sound have been usually used as part of a combination of interrogation methods, today recognized by international bodies as amounting to torture.[2] Attacking all senses without leaving any visible traces, they have formed the basis of the widely discussed torture in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. They were, however, devised much earlier in the 1950s and early 1960s, as a way to counter so-called Soviet "brainwashing".[3] Methods of "noise torture" or "sound torture", which include the continuous playing of music or noise, have been paired with sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, food and drink deprivation, and stress positions.

Instances of use[edit]

United States[edit]

  • Claimed to being used by the United States 361st Psychological Operations Company by[1] Sergeant Mark Hadsell:

"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."[1]

"W[itness] observed sleep deprivation interviews w/strobe lights and loud music. Interrogator said it would take 4 days to break someone doing an interrogation 16 hrs w/lights and music on and 4 hrs off. Handwritten note next to typed synopsis says "ok under DoD policy".

"Rumors that interrogator bragged about doing lap dance on d[etainee], another about making d[etainee] listen to satanic black metal music for hours then dressing as a Priest and baptizing d[etainee] to save him - handwritten note says 'yes'."

"W[itness] saw d[etainee] in interview room sitting on floor w/Israeli flag draped around him, loud music and strobe lights. W suspects this practice is used by DOD DHS based on who he saw in the hallway."

"The physical tactics noted by the Red Cross included placing detainees in extremely cold rooms with loud music blaring, and forcing them to kneel for long periods of time, the source familiar with the report said."

  • The Hill, reporting on the #OccupyLafayettePark protests, wrote:[13]

"A former adviser to Hillary Clinton hired a Mariachi band to play outside of the White House in an effort to disrupt President Trump's sleep on Wednesday night."


According to Amnesty International:[14]

"Detainees have reported being routinely subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment during arrest and detention. Many have told Amnesty International that they were tortured and ill-treated by US and UK troops during interrogation. Methods often reported include prolonged sleep deprivation; beatings; prolonged restraint in painful positions, sometimes combined with exposure to loud music; prolonged hooding; and exposure to bright lights. Virtually none of the allegations of torture or ill-treatment has been adequately investigated by the authorities."


On 12 January 1998 the Supreme Court of Israel declined to ban the use of loud music as an interrogation technique.[15]


According to recent research, the Greek military Junta (1967–1974) used the above-mentioned combination of interrogation techniques, including music. This took place in the headquarters of the Special Interrogation Unit of Greek Military Police (EAT/ESA), Athens. New interviews with survivors, held there in 1973, talk about the use of songs, popular hits of the time: these were played loudly and repeatedly from loudspeakers as the detainee had to stand without rest, food, drink or sleep.[16]

South Korea[edit]

South Korea has broadcast K-pop music across the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) into North Korea using loudspeakers. These operations were halted in 2018 following a thaw in inter-Korean relations.[17]

New Zealand[edit]

During 2022 Wellington protest, the Speaker House Trevor Mallard's used the Parliament speakers to play music such as Macarena by Los Del Rio and Barry Manilow's back catalogue.[18]

Royalty payments[edit]

The Guardian reported that the US military may owe royalty payments to the artists whose works were played to the captives.[19][20]

Musicians' protests[edit]

On 9 December 2008 the Associated Press reported that various musicians were coordinating their objections to the use of their music as a technique for softening up captives through an initiative called Zero dB.[21][22] Zero dB is an initiative against music torture set up by legal charity Reprieve, which represents over thirty prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. Zero dB aims to stop torture music by encouraging widespread condemnation of the practice and by calling on governments and the UN to uphold and enforce the Convention Against Torture and other relevant treaties. The initiative is backed by the Musicians Union which is calling on British musicians to voice their outrage against the use of music to torture.

Musicians and the wider public are making their own silent protests against music torture which are being shown on Zero dB. A series of silent protests and actions were planned through 2009. Participating musicians will include minutes of silence in their concerts to draw their audience's attention to the USA's use of deafening music against captives.

According to the Associated Press FBI agents stationed at Guantanamo Bay reported that the use of deafening music was common.[22] According to the Associated Press Guantanamo Bay spokesmen Commander Pauline Storum:

...wouldn't give details of when and how music has been used at the prison, but said it isn't used today. She didn't respond when asked whether music might be used in the future.[22]

Among the musicians united in their objections were Christopher Cerf, a composer for the children's show Sesame Street, and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave.[22] Others include Massive Attack,[23] R.E.M., The Roots, Rise Against, Rosanne Cash, Pearl Jam, Bonnie Raitt, Trent Reznor, Billy Bragg, Michelle Branch, Jackson Browne, T-Bone Burnett, David Byrne, Marc Cohn, Steve Earle, Limp Bizkit, System of a Down, Disturbed, the Entrance Band, Skinny Puppy[24] and Joe Henry.[25]

The Associated Press reported that Stevie Benton of the group Drowning Pool commented: "I take it as an honor to think that perhaps our song could be used to quell another 9/11 attack or something like that." Benton later issued an apology, stating his comment had been "taken out of context".[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Sesame Street breaks Iraqi POWs". BBC. 23 May 2003. Archived from the original on 14 October 2007. Retrieved 27 November 2007.
  2. ^ UN Committee Against Torture 1997 "Concluding observations: Israel. 09/05/1997." "CAT/C/SR.297/Add.1 of 9 May 1997". Archived from the original on 28 July 2014. Retrieved 20 July 2014.
  3. ^ McCoy, Alfred W (2006). A Question of Torture. CIA Interrogation. From the Cold War to the War on Terror. New York: Henry Holt and Co.pp.
  4. ^ A.L. Bardach, Jac Chebatoris (19 May 2003). "Periscope". Newsweek. Archived from the original on 17 December 2008. Retrieved 27 November 2007.
  5. ^ "The Love's not mutual". Newsweek. 26 May 2003. Archived from the original on 15 December 2007. Retrieved 27 November 2007.
  6. ^ Tom Barnes (22 April 2014). "11 Popular Songs the CIA Used to Torture Prisoners in the War on Terror". Archived from the original on 29 June 2016. Retrieved 31 May 2016.
  7. ^ "When van Halen was used to drive General Noriega out of Vatican protection". 30 April 2010. Archived from the original on 9 March 2011. Retrieved 6 May 2011.
  8. ^ "Ret. Lt. Gen. Marc Cisneros to Discuss Capture of Former Panamanian Dictator with A&M-Corpus Christi Students". Texas A&M University. 19 September 2007. Retrieved 27 November 2007.[dead link]
  9. ^ Ronald H. Cole (Winter 1998–1999). "Grenada, Panama, and Haiti: Joint Operational Reform" (PDF). United States Department of Defense. Archived from the original (PDF) on 11 December 2011. Retrieved 27 November 2007.
  10. ^ "Guantanamo Bay Inquiry (released under FOIA)". Federal Bureau of Investigation. Archived from the original on 4 December 2007. Retrieved 27 November 2007.
  11. ^ Dan Eggen, R. Jeffrey Smith (21 December 2004). "FBI Agents Allege Abuse of Detainees at Guantanamo Bay". Washington Post. pp. Page A01. Archived from the original on 16 January 2010. Retrieved 27 November 2007.
  12. ^ Josh White, John Mintz (1 December 2004). "Red Cross Cites 'Inhumane' Treatment at Guantanamo". Washington Post. pp. Page A10. Archived from the original on 8 October 2010. Retrieved 27 November 2007.
  13. ^ Morgan Gstalter (19 July 2018). "Former Clinton adviser hires mariachi band to play at anti-Trump protests outside White House". The Hill. Archived from the original on 19 July 2018. Retrieved 19 July 2018.
  14. ^ "Iraq: Torture not isolated -- independent investigations vital". Amnesty International. 30 April 2004. Archived from the original on 22 November 2018. Retrieved 27 November 2007.
  15. ^ Gwen Ackerman (12 January 1998). "Israel refuses to ban loud music torture". Birminghan Post. Retrieved 27 November 2007.
  16. ^ Papaeti Anna (2013). “Music, Torture, Testimony: Reopening the Case of the Greek Military Junta (1967–74).” the world of music (special issue): Music and Torture | Music and Punishment 2:1(2013), guest edited by M. J. Grant and Anna Papaeti, pp. 73–80.
  17. ^ Bacon, John (23 April 2018). "South Korea stops blasting K-pop at North Korea across the DMZ ahead of nuclear talks". USA TODAY. Retrieved 14 January 2021.
  18. ^ Treisman, Rachel (14 February 2022). "New Zealand hopes Barry Manilow, James Blunt and the Macarena can disperse protesters". NPR. Retrieved 24 October 2022.
  19. ^ "Gitmo's Greatest Hits". Light Reading. 21 July 2008. Archived from the original on 19 May 2011. Retrieved 21 July 2008.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  20. ^ Sean Michaels (9 July 2008). "Music as torture may incur royalty fees". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 23 July 2008. Retrieved 21 July 2008.
  21. ^ "Zero dB web site". Archived from the original on 9 September 2009. Retrieved 29 October 2009.
  22. ^ a b c d Andrew Selsky (9 December 2008). "Musicians protest use of songs by US jailers". Associated Press. Archived from the original on 12 December 2008. Retrieved 9 December 2008.
  23. ^ "You Tube video". YouTube. Archived from the original on 6 August 2016. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  24. ^ "Industrial band Skinny Puppy demand payment after music is used in Guantánamo torture | Music | the Guardian". TheGuardian.com. 7 February 2014. Archived from the original on 15 August 2017. Retrieved 15 December 2016.
  25. ^ "Musicians Standing Against Torture". New Security Action. Archived from the original on 26 October 2009. Retrieved 29 October 2009.
  26. ^ "Drowning Pool official MySpace blog (Stevie Bentons Apology)". Blogs.myspace.com. 14 December 2008. Archived from the original on 7 February 2009. Retrieved 21 October 2011.

Further reading[edit]