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Sesame Street Composer Examines How His Music was Reportedly Used to Torture Gitmo Prisoners


"To put somebody in an almost vegetative state where they are simply ready to say anything."

An award-winning music composer of the children's show "Sesame Street" is speaking out about his songs reportedly being used to torture prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

A new documentary aired Wednesday on Al Jazeera details Christopher Cern's discovery into how his music -- more commonly paired with Big Bird or Bert and Ernie -- ended up associated with torture.

"My first reaction was this can't possibly be true, this is just too crazy," Cern said in the 47-minute "Songs of War." "Of course I didn't really like the idea that I was helping break down prisoners, but it was much worse when I heard later that they were actually using the music in Guantanamo to actually do deep, long-term interrogations and obviously to inflict enough pain on prisoners so they would talk."

It's not the first time reports have surfaced about music -- including children's but also Metallica and other heavy metal bands -- being used against prisoners; the documentary delves into how precisely it was deployed against detainees.

Thomas Keenan of the Human Rights Project said prisoners were strapped into chairs with headphones placed on their heads and music blaring.

"The music for very long periods of time, sometimes hours and days on end, listening to repeated loud music," Keenan said.

Chris Arendt, a former Guantanamo Bay guard, said in other cases music would just "blast" out of a room.

"It's like they had a whole concert, " Arendt said. "It was like a dance club-style music system that they had....Sometimes it was two songs playing against each other, completely off-tempo just like, blaring this rock music with like, a Johnny Cash song against each other.”

Moazzam Begg, a former detainee at Guantanamo Bay, described the effects of the music torture: "The music was so loud that everybody in the block could hear it, none of us could was probably some of the worst torture that they faced."

Begg, a British citizen who had moved to Pakistan with his family before being detained, tried to dispel the notion of whether being subjected to music was really torturous.

"It's not just music...they are in addition to being tied, being shackled, being beaten and tortured and confined," he said.

"If you can't hear yourself think, you can't think. If you can't think, you have no control of your senses, if you have no control of your senses, you are for all intents and purposes a completely vegetated person and that's the point: to put somebody in an almost vegetative state where they are simply ready to say anything, comply with anything, only so that the music will be turned off," Begg said.

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