The United States has a long and ear-splitting history of using audio torture on detainees and interrogation suspects. Although the use of loud music for interrogative purposes has been banned by the United Nations, the United States reportedly continued to use the technique for a number of years after 2001, claiming it didn’t qualify and only caused discomfort. That is until President Barack Obama banned the practice via executive order in 2009.
That being said, the American intelligence community has supposedly also found ways to use music that goes beyond simply pumping up the volume. These so-called CIA interrogation songs manage to cause suffering just based on their content alone.
Countless US black sites and secret prisons are rumored to be scattered across the globe, and in many of them, detainees reported experiencing aural torture without ever being charged with anything. Whether the music is played at an extreme volume, contains offensive material, or is simply annoying and played on a continuous loop, the method causes genuine psychological distress - just look at these popular torture songs for perspective.
While some may scoff at the idea of music being used for genuine torture, noting that parents often reference the phrase based on repeated plays of Barney’s theme song, the tactics reportedly used by the US government are a far cry from the annoyance caused by an earworm on loop.
Heavy metal music is supposedly some of the most effective when it comes to pulling information out of non-Westerners, as they are unfamiliar with the sheer intensity of the genre. Mark Hadsell, a former Army Reservist with the 361st Psychological Operations Unit, told Spin one song was used from February 2003 until April 2004 to keep detainees from sleeping:
We had key prisoners that had information we knew would be useful... so we [played] Metallica's "Enter Sandman" on repeat for a 24-hour period as sleep deprivation. You wanted to get [the prisoners] emotionally exhausted. Say you're up for 24 hours straight, music pounding in the background - nine times out of 10 you'll just answer a question without thinking.
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