A History of Music Torture in the 'War on Terror'

There's an ambiguous undercurrent to the catchy pop smash that introduced a pigtailed Britney Spears to the world in 1999 – so much so that Jive Records changed the song's title to "… Baby One More Time" after executives feared that it would be perceived as condoning domestic violence.

It's a safe bet, however, that neither Britney nor songwriter Max Martin ever anticipated that this undercurrent would be picked up on by U.S. military personnel, when they were ordered to keep prisoners awake by blasting ear-splittingly loud music at them – for days, weeks, or even months on end – at prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay.

The message, as released Guantánamo prisoner Ruhal Ahmed explained in an interview earlier this year, was less significant than the relentless, inescapable noise. Describing how he experienced music torture "on many occasions," Ahmed said, "I can bear being beaten up, it's not a problem. Once you accept that you're going to go into the interrogation room and be beaten up, it's fine. You can prepare yourself mentally. But when you're being psychologically tortured, you can't." He added, however, that "from the end of 2003 they introduced the music, and it became even worse. Before that, you could try and focus on something else. It makes you feel like you are going mad. You lose the plot, and it's very scary to think that you might go crazy because of all the music, because of the loud noise, and because after a while you don't hear the lyrics at all, all you hear is heavy banging."

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