Music in psychological operations

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 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 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 useEdit

United StatesEdit

"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 January 12, 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 KoreaEdit

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]

Royalty paymentsEdit

The Guardian reported that the US military may owe royalty payments to the artists whose works were played to the captives.[18][19]

Musicians' protestsEdit

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.[20][21] 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 are 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.[21] 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."[21]

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.[21] Others include Massive Attack,[22] 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[23] and Joe Henry.[24]

The Associated Press reported that Stevie Benton of the group Drowning Pool commented:[21]

"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."[21]

On December 13, 2008, Benton issued an apology on the band's MySpace page about his comment on musical torture, stating his comment had been "taken out of context".[25]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d "Sesame Street breaks Iraqi POWs". BBC. May 23, 2003. Archived from the original on October 14, 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-27.
  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 2014-07-28. Retrieved 2014-07-20.
  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 (May 19, 2003). "Periscope". Newsweek. Archived from the original on December 17, 2008. Retrieved 2007-11-27.
  5. ^ "The Love's not mutual". Newsweek. May 26, 2003. Archived from the original on December 15, 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-27.
  6. ^ Tom Barnes (April 22, 2014). "11 Popular Songs the CIA Used to Torture Prisoners in the War on Terror". Archived from the original on June 29, 2016. Retrieved May 31, 2016.
  7. ^ "When van Halen was used to drive General Noriega out of Vatican protection". 2010-04-30. Archived from the original on 2011-03-09. Retrieved 2011-05-06.
  8. ^ "Ret. Lt. Gen. Marc Cisneros to Discuss Capture of Former Panamanian Dictator with A&M-Corpus Christi Students". Texas A&M University. September 19, 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-27.[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 2011-12-11. Retrieved 2007-11-27.
  10. ^ "Guantanamo Bay Inquiry (released under FOIA)". Federal Bureau of Investigation. Archived from the original on 2007-12-04. Retrieved 2007-11-27.
  11. ^ Dan Eggen, R. Jeffrey Smith (December 21, 2004). "FBI Agents Allege Abuse of Detainees at Guantanamo Bay". Washington Post. pp. Page A01. Archived from the original on January 16, 2010. Retrieved 2007-11-27.
  12. ^ Josh White, John Mintz (December 1, 2004). "Red Cross Cites 'Inhumane' Treatment at Guantanamo". Washington Post. pp. Page A10. Archived from the original on October 8, 2010. Retrieved 2007-11-27.
  13. ^ Morgan Gstalter (July 19, 2018). "Former Clinton adviser hires mariachi band to play at anti-Trump protests outside White House". The Hill. Archived from the original on July 19, 2018. Retrieved 2018-07-19.
  14. ^ "Iraq: Torture not isolated -- independent investigations vital". Amnesty International. April 30, 2004. Archived from the original on November 22, 2018. Retrieved 2007-11-27.
  15. ^ Gwen Ackerman (January 12, 1998). "Israel refuses to ban loud music torture". Birminghan Post. Retrieved 2007-11-27.
  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. ^ "Gitmo's Greatest Hits". Light Reading. 2008-07-21. Archived from the original on 2011-05-19. Retrieved 2008-07-21.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  19. ^ Sean Michaels (2008-07-09). "Music as torture may incur royalty fees". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 2008-07-23. Retrieved 2008-07-21.
  20. ^ "Zero dB web site". Archived from the original on 2009-09-09. Retrieved 2009-10-29.
  21. ^ a b c d e f Andrew Selsky (2008-12-09). "Musicians protest use of songs by US jailers". Associated Press. Archived from the original on 2008-12-12. Retrieved 2008-12-09.
  22. ^ "You Tube video". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2016-08-06. Retrieved 2016-12-01.
  23. ^ "Industrial band Skinny Puppy demand payment after music is used in Guantánamo torture | Music | the Guardian". Archived from the original on 2017-08-15. Retrieved 2016-12-15.
  24. ^ "Musicians Standing Against Torture". New Security Action. Archived from the original on 2009-10-26. Retrieved 2009-10-29.
  25. ^ "Drowning Pool official MySpace blog (Stevie Bentons Apology)". December 14, 2008. Archived from the original on February 7, 2009. Retrieved October 21, 2011.

Further readingEdit