Arts, Culture & Media

Global Hit

Finally today, we're going to play bits of a few songs, and your job is to guess how they're connected. You're hearing music from the Meow mix commercial, and before that "Kim" by Eminem; the theme song to the kid's show "Barney"; and Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA."
All right, so what do they have in common? The World's Marco Werman has the answer.

All of the tracks you heard have been used during interrogations of detainees, either in Iraq or in US detention facilities around the globe.

That's according to a so-called "Torture Playlist" in the current issue of Mother Jones magazine. The list was reportedly culled from a leaked interrogation log, accounts of soldiers and detainees, and news reports.

Don't go thinking though that there's a special office at the Pentagon that draws up playlists from an approved Defense Department music library.

Journalist David Peisner wrote a story for Spin magazine titled "War Is Loud." It dealt with the use of music during interrogations. Peisner wrote it in 2006.

�At that point, the Defense Department, while they were admitting that it had been used sort of by rogue interrogators, it was not an approved technique for Defense Department interrogators.�

The idea is that by using music -- often loud music -- interrogators can disorient detainees. The practice has a history. Peisner says Israeli interrogators have used it. And the Brits forced IRA detainees to listen to loud music and white noise.

Peisner says that for American fighting forces, the power of music was first tapped during the Vietnam war through a sonic-mix known as the Wandering Soul tape.

�It was played on boats going down rivers in the jungle, and it was like a Vietnamese fable, backed by these weird atonal sounds that they would blast into the jungle and it was basically supposed to frighten the Vietcong. And occasionally because they had these sound systems on the boats they would end up playing the Rolling Stones or something else, just because they were soldiers, bored, going down the river in the middle of the jungle in Vietnam.�

That foreshadowed part of the current problem.
The Army Field Manual -- which was updated last month -- states that interrogators can use environmental manipulation to prolong the shock of capture, and get more cooperation from detainees. But it never said anything about music or specifically about soldiers choosing their own songs.
And one former interrogator told me that it doesn't work anyway. Tony Lagouranis was a US Army interrogator from 2001 to 2005. He didn't want to record an interview. But in an email to me Lagouranis said:

�This is a very stupid interrogation method. It irritates the detainee, but doesn't make them inclined to talk.�

When I asked Lagouranis, by phone, why not, he replied: "What incentive do you have to talk to someone who is trying to disorient you?"

David Peisner who has reported on this subject says the most surprising find in his research was the breakdown in the military chain of command.

�If you're going to be really cold and hard about this and say 'let's get information from these guys anyway we can,' even if you're going to take that morally neutral stance, wouldn't you want it being done in the most effective fashion? And I can't imagine the most effective fashion would be a bunch of guys sitting around and leafing through their CDs and figuring out which they think would be funniest to play.�

For Tony Lagouranis, the Army interrogator I spoke with, the selections were death metal and James Taylor. I played James Taylor said Lagouranis only because I would get sick of hearing the more grating stuff. So how much loud music is being force-played to detainees today?

Journalist David Peisner says it's hard to say. He believes that these kind of practices have probably abated since 2006 when new limits on interrogations were ushered in. But Peisner says when it comes to the practices of US intelligence services, all bets are off.

For The World, I'm Marco Werman.