Readers of these pages may or may not know what the following three songs have in common: "Born in the USA" by Bruce Springsteen, "White America" by Eminem and "Barney the Purple Dinosaur" from the children's television show.
Indeed, these are the Top of the Pops for the CIA when it comes to torturing prisoners in the "War on Terror".
I am writing this on my 21st visit to Guantanamo Bay. One prisoner whom I am visiting is Binyam Mohammed. He is the British resident from Kensington, central London, who was tortured for 18 months in Morocco. The abuses were pretty medieval for the most part, including a razor blade to his genitals, but I was surprised when Binyam told me that the psychological tactics were worse than the physical torture. He explained it well: given the terrible choice between losing your sight or losing your mind, anyone would choose to be blinded over becoming insane.
Music was only one element of the psychological method. It was supplemented by the forcible administration of drugs, sleep deprivation and temperature adjustment, yet it played a terrible part in Binyam's spiralling mental health. In Morocco, he was made to listen to Meat Loaf and Aerosmith, played at full volume for days on end through earphones strapped tightly to his head. And when he was finally flown from Morocco to the CIA's "Dark Prison" in Afghanistan, he discovered that the use of music added a contemporary twist to what was otherwise an ancient dungeon.
The prisoners were held, in the freezing Afghan winter, in total darkness and chained to the walls by their wrists. Binyam told me that in the "Dark Prison", for 20 days straight, Eminem and Dr Dre were pumped into the cells at ear-splitting volume, followed by "horrible ghost laughter and Halloween sounds". As Binyam explained, throughout this period "the CIA worked on people, including me, day and night . . . Plenty lost their minds. I could hear people knocking their heads against the walls and the doors, screaming their heads off."
Later still, in Guantanamo, prisoners were held for days in cells that were unbearably hot or freezing cold, short-shackled in painful stress positions and left alone for so long that they were compelled to soil themselves. At the same time, many were bombarded with music and noise.
We hear a lot these days about music piracy and illegal downloads, which are said to be choking the music industry. I'm no expert on these musicians' political views, but one might think they would show equal concern when it comes to their music being used to choke off human rights. I am certain that none of them thought that their music would be used to torture people who are being held without charge or trial.
However, I am pleased to report that one group is striking back. Massive Attack, the Bristol-based collective, is curating Meltdown 2008 at London's Southbank Centre from 14-22 June. They have long taken an interest in the work of Reprieve, and now Robert Del Naja is keen to discuss how Massive Attack could highlight the plight of prisoners being tortured. Robert is outraged by the use of music for this purpose, and determined to respond.
What? No country?
The musical selection made by the CIA has varied enormously. It has included Christina Aguilera, the Bee Gees, David Gray, Don McLean, Prince and Rage Against the Machine. One reason I'd like to see the US authorities sued over this is to question their choices. Why has country music been used so sparingly? After all, wouldn't most people crack in minutes if subjected to Hank Williams, Jr?
Although the selection of some songs is harder to fathom than others, when it comes to certain numbers, every long-suffering parent will understand. Surely, anyone can agree that "Barney the Purple Dinosaur" should be the lead track on any upcoming CIA compilation album. Now that's what I call Torture.