10 songs the CIA use to torture prisoners

Imagine being chained up in a cold, dark room with deafening music blasting through earphones you can’t take off for 20 days straight. No sleep. No food. No water. No way out. Ever since the CIA began its Enhanced Interrogation technique program, this is exactly what hundreds of detainees have been through. Designed to “create fear, disorient … and prolong capture shock”, the torment is potentially one of the most harrowing punishments one could suffer and would be enough to break most people out there. Sgt. Mark Hadsell, a member of the U.S. Psychological Operations team, has discussed the efficacy of the torture tactic, saying: “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.”

However, have you ever wondered which songs the CIA uses to inflict torture on their prisoners and force them to share important information? Although you may think that the songs would be obvious, the truth is that the foreign intelligence service of the US government uses songs you would never expect to get their inmates to fess up, and specialises in turning beloved and classic tunes against them. It’s true what they say: music is one of life’s great pleasures – that is, until it’s turned on its head and used as a twisted method of torture.

The Real Slim Shady by Eminem

Can the real Slim Shady please stand up? These were the words detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison came to dread. Apparently, the Eminem classic was played consistently there because the music was so foreign to most prisoners that it made them frantic. Binyam Mohamed, who was detained as a suspected enemy combatant by the US Government in Guantanamo Bay between 2004 and 2009, and was later released without charge, claimed to have heard it for 20 days straight. “I heard this nonstop over and over,” he reportedly told Clive Stafford Smith, his lawyer and the founder and director of Reprieve, a UK based organisation determined to end music torture practices. “The CIA worked on people, including me, day and night for the months before I left. Plenty lost their minds.”

Dirrty by Christina Aguilera

When Mohammed al Qahtani, the alleged 20th hijacker of the 9/11 attacks, was captured, the CIA reportedly decided on a “bad Muslim” music theme in order to get him to confess. Reporter Justine Sharrock told Mother Jones that Aguilera’s overtly sexual song was utilised alongside exposure to female interrogators to “intimidate and upset” the prisoners. In addition, according to reports, many prisoners were forced to go shirtless during interrogations, give forced lap dances and rub red liquids identified as menstrual blood on detainees.

I Love You from Barney

Although you perhaps wouldn’t expect it, according to The Guardian, this all-too-sweet Lee Bernstein-penned 1983 Barney song was “the most overused torture song” at Guantanamo Bay at one stage. It’s no surprise really; any parent out there will recall just how grating the overly sugary song is to listen to on reel. However, the creator of the children’s TV show, Bob Singleton, thoroughly disagrees, telling the British newspaper: “It seemed so ludicrous that something totally innocuous for children could threaten the mental state of an adult. I would rate the annoyance factor to be about equal with hearing my neighbour’s leaf blower. It can set my teeth on edge, but it won’t break me down and make me confess to crimes against humanity.”

Saturday Night Fever by the Bee Gees

Pakistani-Englishman Moazzam Begg, who was arrested by the CIA in 2002 on suspicion of being a member of Al-Qaeda, claimed in his autobiography that when the CIA first played him Saturday Night Fever by the Bee Gees, he thought they were kidding. “Once they even played the Bee Gees’ Saturday Night Fever soundtrack all night long,” he wrote. “‘Hardly,’ I thought,’‘enough to break anyone I knew.’ … ‘We’ll talk. We’ll all talk,’ I said in half-jest when they played it, ‘just turn that crap off please!'”

We Are the Champions by Queen

US Navy veteran, Donald Vance, is an FBI informant who was detained in a US Baghdad-based detention camp back in 2006. When American forces raided his Iraqi security firm, he was treated as a suspect and held for 97 days. During his time there, We Are the Champions by Queen was played consistently in order to keep the men awake; Vance has claimed that he knew if he let the music completely mask his thoughts, he would “never get his mind back again”, so began talking to himself and telling himself jokes in order to keep a rational train of thought going.

Red Hot Chili Peppers

A leaked 2014 classified report revealed that a range of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ songs were played to terrorism suspects in a bid to extract information at Guantanamo Bay. A prime witness to this was detainee Abu Zubaydah, who was apparently consistently blasted with songs by the band. However, when band members heard the news, they were completely disgusted with the CIA’s actions, with drummer Chad Smith saying: “Our music’s positive man. It’s supposed to make people feel good. And that’s very upsetting to me. I don’t like that at all. It’s horrible.”

Baby One More Time by Britney Spears

When Britney Spears burst onto the music scene back in 1998, we all loved her debut single, Baby One More Time. However, it took on a darker meaning when documents released following a Freedom of Information request revealed that the 90s tune was used by the CIA to break detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison. Needless to say, the chorus takes on a more sinister tone when it’s put hand-in-hand with physical violence.

Can You Tell Me How To Get To Sesame Street?

A documentary from Al Jazeera revealed that the Sesame Street theme tune was being used to torture prisoners at Guantanamo Bay for days at a time in 2012. Given the innocent nature of the song, fans of the show were pretty angry. Yet no one was more enraged than Christopher Cerf, writer of much of the Sesame Street music. He stated: ‘’My first reaction was ‘this can’t possibly be true, this is just too crazy’ it was just absurd… I wouldn’t want my music to be a party to that.”

Born in the USA by Bruce Springsteen

Although, upon first listen, Born in the USA may seem like a patriotic American classic, listen a little closer and you’ll see that the Bruce Springsteen tune actually confronts the emptiness of the American Dream and denounces US government policy during the Vietnam War. This makes it all the more ironic that it is apparently played relentlessly to detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

Killing in the Name by Rage Against the Machine

Killing in the Name is probably no great shock to anyone. The Rage Against the Machine tune has all of the qualities you’d expect of a torture song and could blast anyone’s ears off. However, one thing that makes it a little weird is that the 1992 track was, of course, penned as a protest song against police brutality.

Just how soul-destroying would it be to be forced to listen to these songs day in, day out? Other methods reportedly used by the CIA include beating, binding in contorted stress positions, subjection to extreme heat or extreme cold, sexual humiliation and withholding medical care for wounds. If this all sounds too inhumane to be true, visit Amnesty International’s Stop Torture project and ensure your voice is heard.