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Bleeding Ears

Listening to one song over and over for a prolonged period of time—especially music that's intentionally harmful and not from someone's culture—is a form of inflicting pain.
Κείμενο Amie Barrodale

Photo by Patrick Andrade

It's clearly cool to rock out. Sometimes I like to listen to music naked in my room. I also like to listen to music with my friends. And I found out that they do both of these things in the army all the time! Except they call it "torture lite" and "psyops." Sometimes I go on a "song jag" where I listen to the same song ALL WEEK on my iPod. Do you do that? I think everyone does. But Dr. Vincent Iacopino, senior medical consultant for Physicians for Human Rights, told me, "Listening to one song over and over for a prolonged period of time—especially music that's intentionally harmful and not from someone's culture—is a form of inflicting pain. It's a common method of torture—like manipulation of temperature or diet." WTF is going on here? I looked into it a little more and it just seems like soldiers are trying to show other soldiers how we do it. After all, music is the universal language. PANAMA
In 1989, Manuel Noriega lost the elections and declared himself first the dictator and then the supreme ruler of Panama. He was also using US planes to traffic cocaine. The US had some troops in Panama, but they sent more and took control of the country by securing key locations and using loudspeakers to explain what was going on—at earsplitting volume. Noriega took refuge from US troops in the Papal Nunciature, declaring religious asylum, so US troops surrounded the area, set up a ton of their killer speakers, and played music 24 hours a day for several days. There are pedants who say the music was just there to drown out reporters' parabolic microphones, but there's no way. Manuel was treated to tunes like: "No More Mr. Nice Guy," "Danger Zone" by Kenny Logins, "Paranoid," and "You Shook Me All Night Long." Good stuff! GUANTANAMO BAY
At GTMO they mostly like rock, but there's a little bit of rap flava too. An email dated August 2, 2004, from a redacted FBI email address to a redacted FBI email address, says one prisoner guy was partying "shackled at his feet so he could not leave the room…the lights had been turned off and a strobe was flickering on and off, and loud rock music was being played. I estimate that this went on for 30 to 60 minutes." An email sent Friday, July 30, 2004, at 1:56 PM reads: "I looked inside an adjacent interview room. I saw another detainee sitting on the floor of the interview room with an Israeli flag draped around him, loud music being played and a strobe light flashing." And yet another redacted email sent on Monday, August 2, 2004 at 10:46 AM reads in part, "Not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor." (I started doing the cabbage patch when I typed that.) IRAQ
The army released about a hundred CID reports December of last year and January of this year. One thing that is clear from these is that dudes in Mosul are way into retro stuff. In one report, the detention center there is called "the disco," and if you look at a couple photos, you'll see that all Mosul POWs dress like they're in Blue Lagoon.
A CID investigation dated July 28, 2004, dealt with allegations made by a prisoner who said he hung out at Mosul, where interrogators bent his thumb backward, kicked him, and hit him in the back of his neck with the butt of a weapon. For seven days, he listened to loud music and was doused with cold water, given limited amounts of food, and beaten so severely he was sent to the hospital. When he was ready to leave the hospital, his former interrogators picked him up and "[he] had the same ways of previous torturing, as well as pouring hot liquid on [his] back, and sitting [him] close to fire." According to different reports, soldiers in Iraq are rocking with Metallica, AC/DC, and—just for a laugh—that "I Love You" song by Barney the dinosaur. Does that sound so bad? They behead us on al-Jazeera and we play them "Hell's Bells." Who's worse? WACO
The whole loudspeaker thing started on March 22, in the evening of the 23rd day of the siege, when the FBI played very rockin' tunes and Tibetan chants over their public address system. According to the Department of Justice report, FBI agents played the chants "because they were annoying." Compound members repeatedly asked negotiators to turn the music off, and David Koresh complained about the music a lot—the chants in particular—threatening to cut off contact with negotiators if it didn't stop. By March 24, floodlights were directed at the compound, and Christmas music, rock songs, shrieks, dentist's drills, seagulls, helicopter blades, industrial noise, laughter, and the sounds of rabbits being killed had been added to the playlist. According to Branch Davidian Clive Doyle, interviewed by Jon Ronson in the book Men Who Stare at Goats, it was a little like Mosul, with some people inside acting like they were in a disco. But they had trouble doing that because "[the DJ] distorted the music by slowing it down or speeding it up." The loudspeaker thing went on and on until the siege ended on April 9, when—well, everyone inside died, basically. There's a long and storied history of those fuckers getting on the radio during wartimes and trying to fuck with our boys' morale. Here are some of the biggest perps. Tokyo Rose, a.k.a. Iva Ikugo Toguri.
American-born host of anti-U.S. propaganda show The Zero Hour. She played American music and said stuff like, "This is your No. 1 enemy, your favorite playmate Orphan Anne of Radio Tokyo. The little sunbeam whose throat you'd like to cut." She was pro-US but stranded in Japan, so she did her best to sabotage the broadcasts by reading them in a girlish voice. After the war, she was charged with treason and spent six years in jail before she was pardoned. [So is she good or bad? I don't get it.—Ed.] Axis Sally
Axis Sally was Mildred Gillars. She moved to Germany in 1935 because she couldn't make it in the theater, and she ended up hosting Home Sweet Home, an anti-US propaganda program on Radio Berlin. She did the same kind of teasing stuff Tokyo Rose did. She'd also get the names, serial numbers, and hometowns of captured GIs and read them on air. After the war, she went to jail for treason. Lord Haw-Haw
Lord Haw-Haw was Julius Streicher, editor and speaker for the German transmitters for Europe. His broadcasts were directed at British citizens and were supposed to sow doubt and fear. He did things like "how to treat your own bomb wounds." At 40, he was apprehended by British officers, charged with high treason, and executed. His last public message was, "In death as in life, I defy the Jews who caused this last war, and I defy the powers of darkness they represent." Hanoi Hanna
Hanoi Hanna was the nickname soldiers in Vietnam gave her. That and "little cunt face." She played American rock, reported AP and UPI newswire items, and said stuff like: "You are new here and we don't expect you to believe us when we tell you how bad it is. It is a flat, scary jungle. You can get killed here. Get out while you are still alive." Asked after the war what her goals were, she said, "that GIs should go AWOL and…some frigging, or that is fragging?" Fragging is when you team up and kill your officer, usually with a grenade. Baghdad Betty
Baghdad Betty began broadcasting in English to troops in Saudi Arabi in 1990, mostly playing Top 40 and oldies. There was a story that she taunted American soldiers by saying, "While you are here, your wives and girlfriends are having sex with Burt Reynolds and Bart Simpson," but it was actually just a joke on the Tonight Show. Strangely, some GIs swear they heard the broadcast. Shrug.