11 Sep 2013

Julio Iglesias and George Harrison on ‘torturer’s playlist’

40 years after Chile’s military coup, a study says songs by the Spanish crooner and the ex-Beatle were used by General Pinochet’s jailers to “inflict psychological and physical damage” on prisoners.

Julio Iglesias (Reuters)

Harrison’s My Sweet Lord, various Iglesias songs and the soundtrack to Stanley Kubrick’s film A Clockwork Orange were played at high volume for days on end to torment political opponents of the Chilean dictator.

The “torture soundtrack” was revealed when University of Manchester researcher Dr Katia Chornik interviewed people who had been locked up in concentration camps and prisons after Pinochet seized power in 1973.

One former prisoner told how her jailers would sing the Italian pop hit Gigi l’Amoroso to her as they were taking her to the interrogation room, and carry on whilst they were torturing her with the recording on in the background.

Another prisoner told how his tormenter sang as if to make the torture seem more normal.

But other inmates said they used music to help pluck up courage while waiting to be interrogated.

Protests following the military junta in 1973

Two ex-prisoners recalled listening on a pocket radio to Harry Nilsson’s Without You, Alone Again by Gilbert O’ Sullivan and Morning Has Broken by Cat Stevens.

Many prisoners sang, sometimes in secret, and in the less violent camps they were able to play musical instruments and put on shows, said the Chilean researcher.

Dr Chornik said: “Music brought prisoners together because it was a way to deal with their terrible suffering.

“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.”

General Pinochet with Mrs Thatcher

After overthrowing Chile’s socialist government in a military coup in 1973, Pinochet ruled Chile until 1990. He was awaiting trial for criminal charges including human rights violations at the time of his death in 2006.

A report into the crimes of the regime concluded that more than 30,000 people were tortured.

Margaret Thatcher met the dictator several times and thanked him for helping Britain during the Falklands War against Argentina.