A Reprieve project: Zero dB musicians lead silent protest against music torture

December 10, 2008

Image of a spotlight in a dark room

On the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights musicians are uniting against the use of music to torture by joining Zero dB. The Zero dB project (zero decibels = silence) was launched today by legal charity Reprieve which represents over 30 prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. Many of Reprieve’s clients – and hundreds more held in US secret prisons across the world – have been subjected to deafening music played for hours, days and often months on end in order to ‘break’ them.

Zero dB aims to stop torture music by encouraging widespread condemnation of the practice and by calling on governments and the UN to uphold and enforce the Convention Against Torture and other relevant treaties.

Zero dB is backed by the Musicians Union which is calling on British musicians to voice their outrage against the use of music to torture.

The UN and the European Court of Human Rights have banned the use of loud music in interrogations, but it is still being widely used. Prisoners describe the experience as harder to bear even than physical torture.

Reprieve’s client Binyam Mohamed from North London – still held in Guantanamo Bay – suffered 18 months of torture in a Moroccan secret prison. During this time his penis was routinely slashed with razor blades, yet he describes the sensation of feeling his sanity slip during psychological torture as even more horrific. He spoke to Reprieve Director Clive Stafford Smith, his lawyer, in Guantánamo Bay:

“They hung me up. I was allowed a few hours of sleep on the second day, then hung up again, this time for two days. My legs had swollen. My wrists and hands had gone numb…. There was loud music, [Eminem’s] ‘Slim Shady’ and Dr. Dre for 20 days…. The CIA worked on people, including me, day and night…. Plenty lost their minds. I could hear people knocking their heads against the walls and the doors, screaming their heads off.”

Ever increasing support for Zero dB

There is a long and growing list of supporters who are outraged by the use of music to torture: James Lavelle of UNKLE, Matthew Herbert, Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine, Massive Attack, The Magic Numbers, Elbow and Bill Bailey have so far pledged their support of the initiative and made statements against the use of music to torture.

Musicians and the wider public are making their own silent protests against music torture which are being shown on zerodb.org. A series of silent protests and actions are planned through 2009.

Matthew Herbert, Musician said: “The use of music as torture is a deplorable new twist in a world that seems deliberately deaf to the effects and injustices of abuse in captivity. This is why, along with others, I support Zero db.”

David Gray, Musician said: “What we’re talking about here is people in a darkened room, physically inhibited by handcuffs, bags over their heads and music blaring at them. That is torture, That is nothing but torture. It doesn’t matter what the music is – it could be Tchaikovsky’s finest or it could be Barney the Dinosaur. It really doesn’t matter, it’s going to drive you completely nuts.”

Clive Stafford Smith, Director of Reprieve said:

“The Bush Administration likes to paint this as harmless, like a prisoner being given an I-Pod. But Binyam Mohamed put it best when I spoke with him in Guantánamo Bay: ‘Imagine you are given a choice,’ he said. ‘To lose your sight or lose your mind. While having your eyes gouged out would be horrendous, there is little doubt which you would choose.’”

Zero dB Manifesto

Ear-splitting music played for days and months on end: this is modern torture. While leaving no physical marks on the body, the devastation wrecked on the mind can last a lifetime.The UN and European Court of Human Rights have banned music torture, but to this day its use in secret prisons around the world is widespread: all in the name of the ‘War on Terror’.Zero dB aims to stop torture music by encouraging widespread condemnation of the practice and by calling on governments and the UN to uphold their obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture and other relevant treaties.

I condemn the use of music to torture and call on governments and the UN to take a stand against it and uphold their obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture and relevant treaties.


Notes to the Editor

     The Musicians’ Union was established in 1893 and represents over 30,000 musicians working in all genres of music. As well as negotiating on behalf of its members with all the major employers in the industry, the MU offers a range of services tailored for the self-employed by providing assistance for professional and student musicians of all ages. More info: www.musiciansunion.org.uk
     Reprieve currently represents 33 prisoners held in Guantánamo Bay, many of whom have been subjected to torture and other forms of cruel and inhuman treatment. Reprieve also seems to reunite people in other secret prisons around the world with their rights. Reprieve became concerned by the frequent mention of music torture whilst interviewing clients. It became clear that music is being used as part of brutal psychological torture in the so called ‘war on terror’. Reprieve decided to launch zero dB in order to draw attention to and put a end to this practice.
     Reprieve is a legal action charity, founded by Clive Stafford Smith in 1999. Reprieve uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. We investigate, litigate and educate. Working on the frontline, we provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves, promoting the rule of law around the world, and securing each person’s right to a fair trial. In doing so, we save lives.

For further information about Reprieve, and the Zero dB project, please contact Chloe Davies on 020 7427 1093 or email: chloe@reprieve.org.uk

PO Box 52742

Tel: 020 7353 4640
Fax: 020 7353 4641
Email: info@reprieve.org.uk
Website: www.reprieve.org.uk

Reprieve is a charitable company limited by guaranteeRegistered Charity No. 1114900 Registered Company No. 5777831 (England)Registered Office 2-6 Cannon Street London EC4M 6YHPatrons: Alan Bennett, Martha Lane Fox, Sir John Mortimer, Gordon Roddick, Jon Snow, Marina Warner