We’ve all heard tales of celebrities and their diva-ish behaviour, and so a news story about a contestant on Celebrity Big Brother who claimed this morning that he’d been “tortured” is likely to be greeted with scepticism. When it becomes clear that this torture amounted to listening to some music, albeit for quite a long time, that scepticism would reach dizzying heights.
Parents of teenagers may be more sympathetic – as would someone who had been a guest of the US Government in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Or perhaps in Bagram Airbase, in Afghanistan, or any number of unknown prisons across the world. Anyone who had been detained by the US Government for any length of time during the War on Terror, would understand the true horror that torture through music can inflict upon a person. A Guantanamo detainee would not scoff at Jonas Altberg’s claim that he had been tortured.
The Swedish DJ, known as Basshunter, was forced to listen to one of his own songs continuously for over six hours, along with rapper Lady Sovereign, as a punishment for failing to perform a task. From 9.20pm to 4am, Big Brother played his hit All I Ever Wanted on a continuous loop, sounding a loud alarm if it appeared either of the two were falling asleep.
According to the Press Association, Jonas exclaimed: "Punishment is one thing, but torture is another".
While the use of so-called “enchanced interrogation techniques” by US-employed contactors and security officials has been widely documented – and widely condemned – the use of music torture has not received the same attention. Although most people will have at some point suffered the irritation of neighbours or “that boy on the bus” listening to the wrong music at the wrong time at the wrong volume, it is hard to comprehend the impact of listening to one piece of music for hours on end at ear-splitting volume. It is much easier to comprehend the torture of being suspended by one’s wrists or being waterboarded.
Binyam Mohammed, held in the CIA-run “Dark Prison” in Afghanistan, was subjected to 20 days of Eminem’s Slim Shady and Dr Dre. “Plenty lost their minds,” he said afterwards. “I could hear people knocking their heads against the walls and the doors, screaming their heads off."
Responding to studies that show extremely loud noises and constant repetitive music can cause severe mental distress and even trigger psychosis, the United Nations and the European Court of Human Rights have outlawed this practice. However, the US government refuse to classify as torture any activity which does not cause permanent physical harm. Even Barack Obama, when he promised to end the use of torture by American officials or American-employed contractors, did not include “non-touch” torture in his directive.
Legal action charity Reprieve’s current campaign against music torture entitled zero dB, aims to raise awareness of the problem of music torture and bring an end to its use across the world. In a striking ‘petition of silent protests’, zero dB supporters are each filmed standing in silence; each clip is added to a long and powerful video petition.
President Obama is set to review the Army Field Manual in the near future. We have a perfect opportunity now to encourage the outlawing of the practice during this review. The more supporters Zero dB has, the more likely that this will succeed. It is safe to say that Jonas Altberg is now sympathetic to the cause. www.zerodb.org should be the destination for all those who agree with him.
Written by death penalty volunteer Laura Vignoles