This is why the CIA used Westlife to interrogate prisoners

Westlife

"So I say a little prayer, and hope my dreams will take me there, where the skies are blue to see you once again, my love."

That's the chorus of Westlife's 2000 single My Love from their album Coast to Coast.

You might well enjoy hearing the ballad a few times in a day. But full volume continuously for days on end?

For Suleiman Abdullah, a Tanzanian captured by the CIA, it was used in interrogation.

In a report called "Out of the Darkness", the American Civil Liberties Union claims the track formed part of "enhanced interrogation techniques", otherwise known as torture. It was played on repeat to try and break Abdullah down.

"His interrogators would intersperse a syrupy song called My Love with heavy metal, played on repeat at ear-splitting volume," explains the report.

"They told Suleiman, a newly-wed fisherman, that they were playing the love song especially for him."

Westlife

For more than a month, Suleiman was subjected to techniques designed to psychologically destroy him.

The report claims his torturers doused him with ice-cold water, beat him and slammed him into walls.

They interrogated him about what he was doing in Somalia, where he was captured and the names of people, all but one of whom he had never heard of.

"The music pounded constantly as part of a scheme to assault prisoners' senses," says the report.

"It stopped only when a CD skipped or needed changing. When that happened, prisoners would call to one another in a desperate attempt to find out who was being held alongside them."

The brain is not able to cope

It's not the first time we have heard about music being used in torture.

Back in 2005, a Human Rights Watch report claimed Eminem and Dr Dre tracks were used and last year a Red Hot Chili Peppers song was reportedly played at high volume to inmates being held at Guantánamo Bay.

It's a highly effective method of torture when relaxing or softer music like a Westlife ballad is combined with the use of hard rock, explains psychologist Phillip Johnson.

"What they could be seeking to achieve is to lull someone into a false sense of security and then give the sharp contrast of heavy metal to shock them," he says.

It becomes not just uncomfortable but distressing to a point where the brain is not able to cope and becomes frazzled
Phillip Johnson
Psychologist

"It becomes not just uncomfortable, but distressing to a point where the brain is not able to cope and becomes frazzled."

And using music as torture can have long-lasting effects: "The thing about trauma is that the brain remembers the experience," he goes on.

"For someone to be subjected to this constant intervention for such a long period is very, very damaging."

And, that's true for Suleiman. When he was released, the report says, he faced constant flashbacks which took him back to his time being held by the CIA.

He is now one of a group of survivors suing the psychologists who helped the CIA design their interrogation programme after the 9/11 attacks.

Coldplay
Image caption The voice of Coldplay's Chris Martin can be "inspiring" to some, says Johnson

But just as music has the power to be psychologically damaging, it also has the power to heal and inspire people.

"I know athletes listen to U2, to Coldplay and to Queen - particularly tracks to do with performance and winning which are inspirational to them," says Phillip Johnson.

"Rock music can be calming and stimulating, while we also know that if you play very soft classical music to babies in the womb it can have a calming impact on the mother and the baby."

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