Commentary: Music may be cruelest torture method

For the past 30 years, Cy Young has made his living playing music people want to hear.

Young, operations manager for Foxy 107.1 FM, programs that urban contemporary station's music, and it consistently rates among the highest in that genre. He had never, he said, thought of using music as an instrument of torture.

Until I asked him.

After reading about our government's use of music as an interrogation tool at Guantanamo Bay, I called and asked Young what tunes he'd play if he were trying to break someone.

Diplomatically declining to name specific artists, Young said, "If I were trying to torture someone who was hateful and mean, I'd play gospel music. Really loud. If it was a white racist, I'd make them listen to hard-core gangsta rap. For black racists, I'd play unending country music.

Inasmuch as music charms the savage breast, he said, "it can be used to enrage as well."

Yikes. The last thing any of us wants is to encounter an already angry person who's just been subjected to nonstop Hank Williams Jr. or Young Jeezy.

According to The Associated Press, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, then the U.S. military commander in Iraq, authorized blaring music in 2003 "to create fear, disorient ... and prolong capture shock."

His tactic has frightened, disoriented and shocked not only the inmates, many of whom haven't been charged with a crime, but us as well. It has also shamed some us to learn that America countenances such a diabolical, Third Reich-like form of punishment.

It may sound goofy, funny even, to think that music would be used as torture, but when you hear of prisoners who said they would've killed themselves to escape the incessant wailing, drumbeat and synthesizers if they'd had a chance, you realize that there is nothing innocuous about it.

Clive Stafford Smith knows there isn't. Stafford Smith is a British lawyer who represents an Iraqi prisoner being held at Guantanamo Bay.

Some of you might remember Stafford Smith. He was a Morehead Scholar at UNC-Chapel Hill, class of '81, before going to law school, becoming a lawyer and representing death row inmates throughout the South. He fights the kind of fights and lives the kind of life that make you re-examine your own.

E-mail messages and calls to his London office were unreturned, but when a man who has dedicated 25 years to fighting for the rights of death row inmates directs his indignation to this contemptible form of punishment – well, that tells me all I need to know.

Xenophobes among you will contend that all is fair in war and that information gleaned from prisoners who've been tortured by Prince's "Raspberry Beret" – an actual song on the Interrogators Evil Playlist – could be invaluable in the war on terror.

Bull. Any information you get from someone who's been forced to endure 20 hours of anything is going to be suspect.

Even good music can be torture if you listen to it enough. If you doubt that, try driving from here to Indiana with an eight-track player that's stuck on track three. I did, and even Al Green will have you yanking at your own eyeballs after the 100th uninterrupted listen.

I've joked about my contempt for the pseudo-musical stylings of Kenny G. and Michael Bolton, but if you subjected me to 20 hours of that stuff, I'd tell where the slaves are hiding or confess to killing Lincoln.

Or liking Dick Cheney.