I Believe It: ‘Sesame Street’ Songs Used To Torture Guantanamo Detainees
Let’s first all agree that torture is wrong. It’s extremely wrong. Blaring loud music in someone’s ears for hours on end to try to break their will and rattle their brain is wrong. I’m not sure how else I can get across that I am very against torture.
That being said, when I read that Sesame Street’s music was being used to torture inmates in Guantanamo and Abu Graib, my very first thought was, “Yea, I can believe that…”
I can’t be the only parent alive who is silently going, “I told people that those crappy songs were torturous. No wonder I get so irritated when my child asks to watch Barney for the hundredth time.”
Is that an insensitive reaction? Quite possibly. I know that we shouldn’t make light of what had to be a truly horrible experience. Â Thomas Keenan, director of the Human Rightâ€™s Project at Bard College, described it like this:
â€œPrisoners were forced to put on headphones. They were attached to chairs, headphones were attached to their heads, and they were left alone just with the music for very long periods of time. Sometimes hours, even days on end, listening to repeated loud music.â€
Understandably, the man who created the music for Big Bird and his pals is upset to hear about his work’s use in such a horrible practice. Christopher Cerf responded to this news by saying,Â Â â€œIn Guantanamo they actually used music to break prisoners. So the idea that my music had a role in that is kind of outrageous. This is fascinating to me both because of the horror of music being perverted to serve evil purposes if you like, but Iâ€™m also interested in how thatâ€™s done. What is it about music that would make it work for that purpose?â€
But I think most parents who have heard those songs over and over again can kind of imagine how it’s done. Those songs are difficult enough to sit through at a normal volume level for less than hour. Blaring and on repeat for days at a time, I have no doubt that the effect was horrible for the detainees who were forced to suffer through that awful treatment.