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NY Times details torture methods
January 1, 2005 11:25 AM   Subscribe

Is this really the best idea the military can think of? Today's NY Times provides details on some methods used to extract the truth from Iraqi prisoners, including (I'm not making this up) audio tapes played loudly with "songs by Lil' Kim and Rage Against the Machine and rap performances by Eminem played loudly," and "a mix of babies crying and the television commercial for Meow Mix in which the jingle consists of repetition of the word 'meow'." Wouldn't sodium pentathol or some other chemical persuasion be more effective, while providing less fodder for Leno and Letterman?
posted by centerpunch (49 comments total)

 
Look, let's just set the travesty of posting a single NYT link aside for a minute. Can we all agree that metafilter is not the place for a discussion of optimal torture techniques?

Christ.
posted by metaculpa at 11:30 AM on January 1, 2005


The Men Who Stare at Goats may interest you.
posted by mwhybark at 11:31 AM on January 1, 2005


from the article:

In addition, some may have been forcibly given enemas as punishment.

Rumsfeld's Pentagon never ceases to amaze me: they actually pay people to browse alt.sex.enemas and find new ways to torture those husky infidels
posted by matteo at 11:36 AM on January 1, 2005


"The Men Who Stare at Goats may interest you."

As well as the funniest joke in the world.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:37 AM on January 1, 2005


mwhybark: Yes! Exactly what I thought of. Here's an excerpt (from this article) about that book:

Jon Ronson is forced to begin his book with an extraordinary disclaimer: 'This,' he writes, with some authentic shock and awe, 'is a true story.'

As you read on, it is hard to shift the impact of those five small words from your mind. It would be far, far better for all of us, you can't help thinking, if it turned out that Jon Ronson had actually made up his entire, wonderful investigation into 'psychological warfare' techniques used by America's elite Special Forces.

If he had not, for example, discovered that there was a Major General Albert Stubblebine III directing operations from Arlington, Virginia, who firmly believes he can walk through walls. Or if the existence of a secret unit in which psyops personnel stared at goats for hours on end with the aim of killing them was actually a figment of a warped author's imagination. Or that the Pentagon's playlist of torture music for use at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib was, in reality, a juvenile attempt at satire. Terrifyingly, however, all this - and much more - is shown, as he says, to be true.


You have to hope that Jon Ronson is some kind of crackpot, but every time I hear about this "music torture", I come a little closer to believing it. *Shudder*
posted by rkent at 11:42 AM on January 1, 2005


Back when the USA wasn't the kind of country to officially condone torture, I remember reading in more than one place that The kind of torture we see in the Abu Ghraib photos seems designed more for the enjoyment of the torturers than to have any particular effect on the POWs.
posted by hattifattener at 11:43 AM on January 1, 2005


Meow meow meow-meow; Meow meow meow-meow; Meow meow meow-meow; Meow meow meow-meow; Meow meow meow-meow; Meow meow meow-meow; Meow meow meow-meow; Meow meow meow-meow.
posted by ba at 11:43 AM on January 1, 2005


Meow meow meow-meow; Meow meow meow-meow; Meow meow meow-meow; Meow meow meow-meow; Meow meow meow-meow; Meow meow meow-meow; Meow meow meow-meow; Meow meow meow-meow.
posted by Bugbread at 11:46 AM on January 1, 2005


Can we all agree that metafilter is not the place for a discussion of optimal torture techniques?

I understand that torture offends decent people. But there's some interesting theory and practice behind why this works, and AFAIAC it's certainly better than leading them where you want the evidence to go.

Anyway, interrogation as it's being practiced in the "war on terror" is basically just bondage fetishism in the guise of national security. With the exception of a very few high-value subjects, hardly anything that they're doing at Gitmo is producing anything of value. Think about it: They're interrogating guys who've been away from the action for a year, two years, or more, now; the turnover in their home organization could well be approaching 100% by now. It's really all about providing symbolic release for the violated.
posted by lodurr at 11:48 AM on January 1, 2005


the television commercial for Meow Mix

THANKS a FUCKING LOT.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:49 AM on January 1, 2005


Why stop with Lil' Kim, Eminem, and Meow Mix? Why not force them to watch Britney Spears videos all day? The full first season of Cop Rock? A looped recording of "Tiptoe Through the Tulips"? I mean, if the military is aiming to truly torture people, can't they get someone in the Army with some appreciation for true awfulness?

And, I'm sorry, the Meow Mix commercial isn't awful, it's just good advertising. A quarter of a century later, and we all know EXACTLY what they're talking about: the cat mix cats ask for by name.
posted by mrkinla at 11:52 AM on January 1, 2005


You dare to mock the power of meow!
posted by pinkkitty at 11:52 AM on January 1, 2005


Hey! It's 'miaow', don't you know.
posted by apocalypse miaow at 11:54 AM on January 1, 2005


# torture isn't really all that useful, since the prisoner will tell you anything they think you want to hear


"When it comes to torture to obtain a confession, Beccaria had very strong words against this practice. He believes that torture to obtain a confession makes an innocent man suffer a punishment he did not deserve or was yet proved . Torture also makes a weak person more likely to confess to a crime than a strong person, without consideration of guilt. The confessions from torture should not be valid since an innocent man might confess just to stop torture, and a person might implicate innocent accomplices. Confessions obtained with torture might make an weak, innocent individual suffer punishment he did not deserve, and it might make a strong, guilty man by not confessing be reward for committing a crime."

but then, Beccaria's fans were pansy-asses like Thomas Jefferson. real men like Rumsfeld do seem to know better
posted by matteo at 11:54 AM on January 1, 2005


Rumsfeld's Pentagon never ceases to amaze me: they actually pay people to browse alt.sex.enemas and find new ways to torture those husky infidels

well, if they keep up with the enemas, they won't be husky for long.
posted by jonmc at 12:07 PM on January 1, 2005


I, too, am against the use of torture for non-entertainment purposes.
posted by wobh at 12:14 PM on January 1, 2005


Fraternity pledges everywhere acknowledge the horrific power of loud, repetitive music.
posted by Kwantsar at 12:17 PM on January 1, 2005


rap performances by Eminem played loudly

Did they play Mosh?
posted by homunculus at 12:34 PM on January 1, 2005


Manny Noriega.
posted by fixedgear at 12:42 PM on January 1, 2005


The Dark of Interrogation [pdf] by Mark Bowden. From the Atlantic Monthly, October 2003
posted by aerify at 12:57 PM on January 1, 2005


We had a very similar post in May 2003, which linked to a BBC article about using Sesame Street, Drowning Pool, and Metallica for torture.

I find it ironic they're using RATM, for what it's worth.
posted by Remy at 1:02 PM on January 1, 2005


Sleep deprivation is serious torture and not allowed by Geneva conventions.

I wonder if they put any subliminal messages in those songs?
posted by xammerboy at 1:11 PM on January 1, 2005


Have anyone here been on the receiving end of Noriega-style pyschological warfare?

I attended the Waco Re-Enactment outside London late last year; it was more art project than anything else, but nonetheless the extreme bass did play havoc with my bowels for about a week afterwards...
posted by runkelfinker at 1:11 PM on January 1, 2005


Interestingly, one would think prisoners don't understand english... do they ? So why should they be offended by words they can understand ? Guess the trick is pretty simple : if you play anything 24h without interruption it's torture, provided the "volume" is high enough.

The irony is that the same shit they play to torture them is the shit some people runs to BUY ! :D
posted by elpapacito at 1:16 PM on January 1, 2005


I'm wondering if the songs aren't just picked based on how much they annoy the officer in charge, i.e. "My kid plays this stuff all day and it annoys the hell out of me. It'd probably be torture to listen to it on high volume for 24 hours straight."

After all, if they really, really wanted to go with audio torture, there would be more Waco style rabbit slaughter tapes and a hell of a lot more Masonna and Merzbow.
posted by Bugbread at 1:25 PM on January 1, 2005


matteo: "When it comes to torture to obtain a confession..."

That may all be true, but the primary objective at Guantanamo is not to obtain confessions, but to obtain information from the prisoners (not that they are terribly successful at doing that).
Also, what does Beccaria say about the not-so-hypothetical case when a kidnapper is interrogated about the whereabouts of a kidnapped child that lies hidden in the woods somewhere and is about to die from dehydration or similar. Is torture also deemed to be ineffective in such circumstances? Is it appropriate?
posted by sour cream at 1:36 PM on January 1, 2005


sour: In the kidnapping case, the confession's truth-value can and will be tested. The information is either accurate, or not. In the counsels of intelligence operations, such truth-testing is seldom feasible (or even possible). We do know that the information gathering tactics used on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq were likely to produce bad information, and we know in advance that we'd have a really hard time judging the quality of information, so doesn't it make sense to use tactics that are less likely to produce bad results?

When Miller has talked about "gaining the confidence" of prisoners, he does that for a reason: Journalists and observers who are knowledgeable about interrogation technique know that's the only kind of technique that's liable to really work. As an Israeli interrogator put it to Reuters (sorry, the link I had to this is expired): "Under questioning, a terrorist should be made to yield. Sexual abuse goes too far by breaking him, so it's not an option.... A broken man will say anything. That information is worthless."

In any case, I believe that we often must make a decision to do something "wrong", to effect a certain change in the world. But I also believe it's mistaken to then argue that the "wrong" act is now somehow "right". There's a subtle but profound distinction to be drawn between something being "right" and something being "justified", and losing track of that distinction can be our downfall. I don't want human rights violations to be "made legal", in other words. If they have to be committed, then let them be, and let the people who commit them be prosecuted and even convicted; if we (as a society, as a coporate/military hierarchy, or as the imperial executive) don't want them to suffer for that choice, then we commute the sentence. We do not pardon. The deed was done, and we should not try to see it "un"-done in the sense of being ignored or "made right."
posted by lodurr at 2:03 PM on January 1, 2005


i just read the men who stare at goats, and i can't help but hope that it's all made up.

somehow i can't shake the fact that it might be true though.... apparently there was a british muslim held in guantanamo who suffered this torture, someone came in, put on a cd and left. it played for 1 song, at normal volume.


it was matchbox twenty.... the horror, the horror.
posted by knapah at 2:22 PM on January 1, 2005


lodurr: doesn't it make sense to use tactics that are less likely to produce bad results?

This sounds like a justification of torture for those cases in which it promises the best results. However, the issue here is not the testability of results, but rather that it is fundamentally wrong to torture people, including enemy combatants. It does shed an interesting light on the U.S.'s commitment to international treaties, though.

Most civilised nations on earth (including the U.S.) recognized this and came up with the Geneva Convention, which serves as a guide on how far you can go and how well you have to treat your POWs. Thus, taking prisoners to a place where the Geneva Convention doesn't apply and then sheepishly arguing "We can torture all we want, because the Geneva Convention doesn't apply here!" doesn't make it any less wrong.

So in short, the whole "torture is bad because it's ineffective" idea seems to be missing the point a little. I suspect that it is effective (it would probably work on me) and that the reason why it doesn't work well on the prisoners in Guantanamo (although we don't even know how well it works there; all we have is hearsay) is because the interrogators are asking for information that the prisoners don't have combined with a huge language and culture barrier.
posted by sour cream at 2:28 PM on January 1, 2005


i read once that they discovered after various trials of cock-rock metal, rap etc, that *bluegrass* was the music that really sent the iraqis up the wall (i think it was in abu ghraib): "man, they *hate* that twangy banjo sound!"

(imagines american hostages subjected to umm kulthum, or similar)
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:29 PM on January 1, 2005


So in short, the whole "torture is bad because it's ineffective" idea seems to be missing the point a little.

Point taken. And by discussing that idea, I didn't mean to excuse torture -- or, really, even to "justify" it. FWIW, I actually think just about everything that we've done after deciding to clean al Qaeda out of Afghanistan was pretty profoundly mistaken, but here we are. "It is what it is," as they say (ad nauseum) in the company I worked for until midnight last night...
posted by lodurr at 2:35 PM on January 1, 2005


I suspect that it is effective (it would probably work on me)

It would probably work on me as well, but what if neither of us had any useful information? We'd tell our torturers whatever they wanted, thus rendering it, for the most part ineffective.

This is all secondary to the fact that torturing terrorists lowers us to their level and strips the exercise of any moral authority.
posted by jonmc at 2:39 PM on January 1, 2005


We had a very similar post in May 2003, which linked to a BBC article about using Sesame Street, Drowning Pool, and Metallica for torture.

Sesame Street and Metallica I can get behind, but Drowning Pool? Fuck. Why not just stick bamboo shoots under their finger nails and be done with it?
posted by eyeballkid at 2:49 PM on January 1, 2005


it was matchbox twenty.... the horror, the horror.

I wanna push you a-round, well I will, well I will...
posted by weston at 2:50 PM on January 1, 2005


In the near future at the Wal*Mart computer center 1776 feet beneath the styrofoam Reagan head on Mount Rushmore, the price of Meow Mix is marked down. Later that day, in another secret computer center (a dumb terminal connected to a processing center in Bangalore), American government agents scurry around trying to guess what the increased chatter between US possessions in the Middle East might mean.

"We have traced the center of the traffic to a cat's whisker set in southern Iraq. Exactly here, sir."

"Al Kut? What's got into al Kut?"
posted by pracowity at 2:58 PM on January 1, 2005


"I know you can read my thoughts, boy.....meow meow meow meow; meow meow meow meow..."
posted by graventy at 3:02 PM on January 1, 2005


Is this really the best idea the military can think of?

Yes. We call it by its oxymoronic name, military intelligence.
posted by nofundy at 3:14 PM on January 1, 2005



It would probably work on me as well, but what if neither of us had any useful information? We'd tell our torturers whatever they wanted, thus rendering it, for the most part ineffective.


Yeah, but America hasn't been attacked in over three years--this is a huge victory for freedom! ;)
posted by The God Complex at 3:17 PM on January 1, 2005


First Earth Battalion Operations Manual

Actually I believe I got that from an earlier, pre-login MeFi article...
posted by First Post at 3:32 PM on January 1, 2005


This episode of Millennium comes to mind.

Daaah Daaah Da Da Da Dum...Da Da Da Da Dadadadah Dum...
posted by echolalia67 at 3:45 PM on January 1, 2005


right on, FP. The F. E. B. is what "The Men Who Stare at Goats" is about.

I'm going to go out on a limb and argue that its' presence in webspace may substantiate some of Ronson's stuff. FWIW, I thought the Matchbox 20 story sounded entirely credible, if wholly impenetrable.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some pigeons to stare at.
posted by mwhybark at 3:50 PM on January 1, 2005


meow meow we have ways of making you meow meow talk meow meow you will meow us everything meow meow henrietta pussycat meow or we meow will play the meow meow shaggs meow
posted by pyramid termite at 4:14 PM on January 1, 2005


I was told that the Geneva conventions include the death penalty for torture .how "quaint" is that?
posted by hortense at 4:48 PM on January 1, 2005


hortense: You have obviously been misinformed. But you can look it up yourself.
posted by sour cream at 5:35 PM on January 1, 2005


What torture sounds like: Meow (Re)Mix. (Meow warning, mp3, meow.)
posted by RJ Reynolds at 5:37 PM on January 1, 2005


It's kind of funny when you think about it. The RIAA wants to put people in jail for illegally listening to this music, but at the same time the government is quasi-legally torturing people in jail with it. I guess it depends on your definition of funny...
posted by Arch Stanton at 6:38 PM on January 1, 2005


Amazingly, y'all are still debating about whether the goat-staring thing is real without having remembered that it was discussed before...
posted by lodurr at 10:11 PM on January 1, 2005


When the news serves up its own satire, you need another level.Harry Shearer (streaming RealAudio download link) on the BMI and record company weasel angles.

"You don't wanna be the last detainee harrassment unit on the friggin' planet to get on these, because they are very hard pieces of hip-hop business, very maxed-out beats, very wised-up rhymes."
posted by planetkyoto at 12:29 AM on January 2, 2005


hortense you may be thinking of this statute which was made law in 1994 in the U.S., and provides for the death penalty as a possible consequence of torture resulting in death.
posted by beth at 1:29 PM on January 2, 2005


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