Cheery pop songs and film soundtracks were played during torture. One prisoner said torturers would sing to make brutality seem normal. But others used their favourite songs to keep their spirits up. By Daily Mail. 11 September 2013
Pinochet regime used George Harrison and Julio Iglesias to torment prisoners while they were being tortured
Prisoners of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet were subjected to a non-stop ‘torture soundtrack’ featuring pop classics by singers such as Julio Iglesias and George Harrison, it has emerged. Playing music at high volume during torture sessions increased the psychological suffering endured by political opponents who were jailed after he seized power in 1973, according to new research.
One prisoner said that his jailers also sang jauntily while they tormented him, which made the degrading treatment to which he was subjected seem normal. However, other detainees used their favourite pop songs to give them the strength they needed to endure torture sessions. University of Manchester researcher Katia Chornik has investigated the use of music in Pinochet’s notorious torture houses, concentration camps and prisons.
According to former prisoners, Harrison’s My Sweet Lord, the soundtrack to Stanley Kubrick’s film A Clockwork Orange and songs by Spanish crooner Iglesias were played for days at a time. One ex-prisoner said that her jailers would sing the Italian pop hit Gigi l’Amoroso as they were taking her to the interrogation room, and carry on whilst they were torturing her with the recording on in the background.
Two other former inmates, by contrast, used a pocket radio to listen to Harry Nilsson’s Without You, Alone Again by Gilbert O’Sullivan and Morning Has Broken by Cat Stevens, which helped them pluck up courage in jail.
Dr Chornik said that many prisoners sang – sometimes in secret – and in the less violent camps they were able to play musical instruments and put on shows. Her research also investigated of a choir formed in Tres Alamos, Santiago, one of the largest camps for political prisoners.
The camp’s authorities gambled that the effort would improve its image, particularly as they were expecting an inspection of the Organisation of American States’ human rights commission, she said. ‘Music brought prisoners together because it was a way to deal with their terrible suffering,’ Dr Chornik said. ‘But music was also a form of testimony. Many prisoners did not officially exist, so many were to disappear without trace and songs were a way of remembering who they were and what they believed in.
‘Pinochet’s system also used music to indoctrinate detainees, as a form of punishment and a soundtrack to torture. ‘Played at intensely high volumes for days on end, the otherwise popular songs were used to inflict psychological and physical damage.’ Dr Chornik is conducting a project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, called Sounds Of Memory: Music And Political Captivity In Pinochet’s Chile.
The dictator came to power in a coup d’état 40 years ago today, and ruled Chile until 1990. He managed to avoid facing justice for his brutality for years until 2004, when he was arrested and ordered to stand trial, but he died in 2006 with criminal charges still pending.