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19 Feb, 2009 06:15

Speak – or it’s Phil Collins for you!

AC/DC and Bee Gees music used as a torture? Literally. Sounds incredible but the practice has been applied in Guantanamo Bay, Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, musicians are campaigning against the practice.

Can being forced to listen to music really be that painful?

Yes, it can, say some of the former inmates of the world’s most feared prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, who have been subjected to hours of music played at deafening volume.

Former Guantanamo inmate Bisher Al-Rawi says that music can really become the most pervasive aspect of a person’s life there.

“The music was on 24 hours a day – continuous music and sounds that were very, very loud, deafeningly loud and this went on for the duration of my imprisonment, which was three weeks and it went on and on and on it never stopped,”
he said.

Bisher al-Rawi was suspected of links with Al Qaeda and imprisoned by the US government for about four and a half years. After several weeks in the CIA’s “Dark Prison” in Afghanistan, he was moved to Guantanamo.

“People in Guantanamo who were subjected to this come out after a session that was many, many hours where they have the stereos with big speakers very, very close to them and they come out of it and they can barely walk – you see them devastated,” he said.

According to testimonies gathered by the human rights organisation ‘Reprieve’, the choice of music couldn’t have been more eclectic.

It includes everything from AC/DCs “Shoot to Thrill” to Christina Aguilera’s “Dirty” and the Bee Gees “Staying Alive.”

But what is more bizarre is that even songs from children's programmes – such as for example Barney the Purple Dinosaur’s theme tune – were used as tools of coercion.

Chloe Davis, a researcher for ‘Reprieve’, works with prominent musicians, many of whom contributed to Obama’s election campaign, to lobby the new administration.

“It’s definitely important to remember there are at least 27, 000 prisoners around the world still held by the US both in secret prisons and more well-known military prisons, but who need a fair trial and who have been forgotten,” she said. “So we want to remind people that there is a much bigger problem still out there and it’s not going to be easy for Obama to fix that even if he has good intentions.”

Musicians speak out

Not only former detainees and human rights lawyers, but musicians themselves are speaking out against using their music as a weapon.

Only last June ‘Reprieve’ was struggling to get through to the musicians. Today already David Gray, Massive Attack, Elbow, and Rage Against the Machine are among the numerous artists who are in support.

The winter issue of the Musicians’ Union magazine is trying to get support for the campaign among its 30,000 members. The number of signatures on the petition against the practice is growing every day.

Many musicians have already registered their disgust at having their music used in a way they cannot control.

“It is a distortion of what they do. They do it to entertain people,” said John Smith, the general secretary of the Musicians’ Union. “That’s what they are and they see it as morally wrong that their intellectual input should be used in that way and it degrades music as an art form.”

Some hoped the campaign might have proved unnecessary from January when Barack Obama took office and vowed to close Guantanamo as a sad chapter in American history. But with that being just the tip of the iceberg, the campaigners believe they need to continue working to get the message across.

Mass silent protests are planned for live events in 2009 with ‘Reprieve’ believing that the sight of musicians and fans standing in silence will say more than words ever can.

But with music torture reportedly being used not only in Guantanamo, it would take more than this campaign and the closure of one prison to put an end to this cruelty.