In Afghanistan, Zakim Shah, a 20-year-old Afghan farmer, was forced to stay awake while in American custody by soldiers blasting music and shouting at him. Shah told the New York Times that after enduring the pain of music, "he grew so exhausted...that he vomited." In Guantánamo Bay, Eminem, Britney Spears, Limp Bizkit, Rage Against the Machine, Metallica (again) and Bruce Springsteen ("Born in the USA") have been played at mind-numbing volumes, sometimes for stretches of up to fourteen hours, at detainees. And at Abu Ghraib, Saddam Salah al-Rawi, a 29-year-old Iraqi, told a similar story. For no reason, over a period of four months, he was hooded, beaten, stripped, urinated on and lashed to his cell door by his hands and feet. He also talked about music becoming a weapon. "There was a stereo inside the cell," he said, "with a sound so loud I couldn't sleep. I stayed like that for twenty-three hours."
The mind is another story, and blasting loud music at captives has become part of what has now entered our lexicon as "torture lite." Torture lite is a calculated combination of psychological and physical means of coercion that stop short of causing death and pose little risk that telltale physical marks will be left behind, but that nonetheless can cause extreme psychological trauma. It's designed to deprive the victim of sleep and to cause massive sensory overstimulation, and it has been shown in different situations to be psychologically unbearable.
In a gripping Vanity Fair article, Donovan Webster searched for and found "the man in the hood" from the macabre Abu Ghraib photos. Haj Ali told Webster of being hooded, stripped, handcuffed to his cell and bombarded with a looped sample of David Gray's "Babylon." It was so loud, he said, "I thought my head would burst." Webster then cued up "Babylon" on his iPod and played it for Haj Ali to confirm the song. Ali ripped the earphones off his head, and started crying. "He didn't just well up with tears," Webster later told me. "He broke down sobbing."
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