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Final Chorus: Torture Chamber Music

Rosanne Cash

The restorative powers of music are being increasingly documented—as, for instance, in the Louis Armstrong Music Therapy program at New York’s Beth Israel Medical Center. But music can be used to torture, as I’ve discovered in my day job, reporting on the CIA’s “enhanced interrogations” in its allegedly closed secret prisons and during its “renditions.” The latter violations of international laws and our own involve kidnapping terrorism suspects and storing them in foreign prisons specializing in torture. There, music played incessantly at unremittingly high volume can “break” any prisoner.

I’ve written a number of syndicated columns about British citizen Binyam Mohamed who, finally released after years without charges, recalls his CIA experiences in our own overseas prison in Kabul, Afghanistan, and during “renditions”: “It was pitch black. … They hung me up for two days. My legs had swollen. My wrists and hands had gone numb. … There was loud music [by] Slim Shady and Dr. Dre for 29 days. … It got really spooky in this black hole.”

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Originally Published
Nat Hentoff

Nat Hentoff

Over more than 60 years, Nat Hentoff (1925-2017) wrote about music, politics, and many other subjects for a variety of publications, including DownBeat (which he edited from 1953 to 1957), the Village Voice (where he was a weekly columnist from 1958 to 2009), the Wall Street Journal, and JazzTimes, to which he regularly contributed the Final Chorus column from 1998 to 2012. Of the 32 books that he wrote, co-wrote, or edited, 10 focus on jazz. In 2004, Hentoff became the first recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts’ Jazz Masters award for jazz advocacy.