Earlier this week, the US government opened up its files on how various agencies have used torture to excise information from prisoners. Sleep deprivation, waterboarding, humiliation techniques–they’re all there. And so is the use of sound. And music.
Loud music. It’s the harsh background noise of the US war on terror. The phrase itself—”loud music”—appears 17 times in the recently declassified executive summary of a still-classified CIA “torture report.” But while it’s been no secret that the US deployed music across an archipelago of detention centers, black sites, and prisons, to disorient and break the will of detainees, what even is “loud”? And how loud is loud enough?
According to a footnote in a 2005 US interrogation program memo, the CIA keeps “detention conditions” at every one of its detention facilities, where detainees are subjected to “white noise/loud sounds (not to exceed 79 decibels)” during portions of interrogations. The 2005 memo also notes that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration figures “no risk of permanent hearing loss from continuous 24-hour-per-day exposure to noise of up to 82 decibels.”