Skip to content

Music as Torture

February 16, 2009

This article by Terry Teachout speaks to the power of music. Evidently the U. S. Government used various musical selections to torture the Guantanamo Bay detainees. Teachout concludes,

I nevertheless find it significant — and not a little comforting — that the titles on Reprieve’s list of Music to Confess By include “Hell’s Bells” and Nine Inch Nails’¬†“March of the Pigs” rather than, say, “Voi, che sapete” or “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning.” Nor is this coincidental. As an interrogator for the U.S. Army’s 361st Psychological Operations Company explained to Newsweek: “These people haven’t heard heavy metal. They can’t take it. 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.” The day anyone feels moved to say such things about “The Marriage of Figaro” is the day I’ll apply for early retirement.

One may quibble over the examples Teachout chose. Yet one’s mind immediately wanders to the fact that some professing believers use this kind of music–music very similar to that which was being used to torture detainees–in the worship of the true and living God. And they get ghastly offended if you even question them on this point.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. Mark S. permalink
    February 16, 2009 11:34 am


    I noticed that the theme songs to “Sesame Street” and “Barney and Friends” were also used–certainly not high music, by any means, but not heavy metal, either.

    My question–do you think its strictly music’s moral qualities that are in view or could some of the effect be chalked up to simple repitition, volume, and other “annoyance” factors? It would seem to me that even the best of music, if it is loud enough and repetitive enough, could eventually have a similar effect.

    Not trying to negate what is being said here, just musing out loud that the effects don’t necessarily point to a single cause.


  2. February 16, 2009 5:30 pm


    I appreciate and take your point. It is quite likely that any music (with the possible exception of the Brandenburg Concerti), played loudly and incessantly, could have been used by the U. S. Government to produce the desired affect (namely, torture).

    Yet I believe that on an anecdotal level, the list of “music” they chose should tell us something. While any music may have worked, some music was purposefully chosen, and chosen for a reason.

    And, I should add that my censure (i.e., the music I would prohibit from public worship) is not limited to heavy metal or rock or SGM (or whatever you call the other genres they listed). I am also against the use of annoying music in worship.


  1. Matt Olmstead » Music as Torture?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: