Jul 20, 2009
| By Mary Shaw |
Online Journal Contributing Writer
A few years ago, British attorney Clive Stafford Smith spoke at an Amnesty International conference that I attended. Smith represents some Guantanamo prisoners, and he shared their horrible stories with us.
One chilling example is the story of his client, Binyam Mohem, a Londoner who has since been released from Guantanamo:
“They hung me up. I was allowed a few hours of sleep on the second day, then hung up again, this time for two days. My legs had swollen. My wrists and hands had gone numb. . . . There was loud music, [Eminem’s] ‘Slim Shady’ and Dr. Dre for 20 days. . . . 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.”
That’s our tax dollars at work, people.
In further discussing how loud music is played for hours, days, and months on end to “break” the prisoners, Smith half-jokingly pondered the possibility of suing the military for unpaid broadcast license fees on behalf of the musicians whose music was misused in this way.
While Smith has yet to go that far (that I am aware of), it appears that a step has been made in the right direction.
Smith’s organization, Reprieve, recently worked with legendary musician and human rights activist Peter Gabriel and other musicians to prepare a letter to President Obama asking him to ban the use of music by U.S. military interrogators. The letter, dated July 16, 2009, is co-signed by the Musicians’ Union and UK Music, and supported by several prominent musical artists.
An excerpt from the letter:
“We are, of course, against all forms of torture, but as musicians we are particularly concerned about the misuse of music and that this practice may slip under the radar unless you explicitly condemn it.
“The practice is an abuse of our rights as well as, of course, those of the prisoners who are subjected to it.
“We ask you to send a clear message and explicitly outlaw the use of music to ‘break’ and interrogate prisoners.”
In announcing the letter, Smith made the following statement:
“Blasting prisoners with ear-splitting music 24/7 is a form of modern torture. Yet because this technique leaves no visible scars, there is a real chance that President Obama will consider it harmless. It is not. It causes severe psychiatric problems, the devastating effects of which can last a lifetime.
“It is a clear violation of the Geneva Conventions, and an affront to musicians everywhere.
“Reprieve joins Peter Gabriel and the music industry in urging President Obama to explicitly ban the use of ‘torture music’ in the new Army Field Manual, thereby sending a clear message to military and CIA operatives that this technique is officially illegal.”
The United Nations and the European Court of Human Rights have banned the use of loud music in interrogations, but we are apparently still using it. Prisoners have said that the experience is harder to bear than even physical torture.
I hope that President Obama will see the light and immediately ban this practice.
Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views appear regularly in a variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites. Note that the ideas expressed here are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Amnesty International or any other organization with which she may be associated. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org