Friday, August 23, 2013

Controlling Sound: Musical Torture from the Shoah to Guantánamo

“Sustained Anger,” “Explosive Anger,” “Greed,” and “Fear,” by the synesthetic artist Annie Besant, 1901.  

“Sustained Anger,” “Explosive Anger,” “Greed,” and “Fear,”

“Purely physical torture is losing importance,” observed the psychologist Gustav Keller in 1981. “Psychological and psychiatric findings and methods are taking its place, planned and sometimes administered by white-collar torturers.” This statement, though prescient, is debatable: plenty of purely physical torture has been reported by former prisoners of Guantánamo and Bagram. The implication, however, is one of progress: that torture has been civilized, professionalized, in some way stripped of its teeth.

After the news broke that American soldiers were torturing detainees in secret prisons like Guantánamo, the idea spread that so-called “no touch” torture is more humane than more conventional methods involving violence to the body. No-touch torture utilizes methods like sleep deprivation, temperature regulation, violation of cultural and religious taboos, the playing of loud music, and psychological manipulation while interrogating prisoners. These methods, though often brutal, frequently don’t leave physical marks, thus nebulizing the concept of torture and leaving the act more open to interpretation.

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