Musicians (Finally) Say No To Music Torture

23.10.09

Well, that took a while. Nearly a year after George W. Bush’s Republican party was voted out of office, and at least five years after reports first surfaced that music was being used in “War on Terror” facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo as part of a package of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” — which, in any world other than the reality-defying one inhabited by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, would have been defined as torture — several noted musicians have spoken out to condemn the practice.

As was reported widely yesterday, REM, Pearl Jam, Trent Reznor, Tom Morello, and other artists including Jackson Browne, Billy Bragg, Michelle Branch, T-Bone Burnett, David Byrne, Rosanne Cash, Marc Cohn, Steve Earle, the Entrance Band, Joe Henry, Bonnie Raitt, Rise Against, and The Roots launched a formal protest against the use of music as torture.

In a statement, Tom Morello said, “Guantánamo is known around the world as one of the places where human beings have been tortured — from water boarding, to stripping, hooding and forcing detainees into humiliating sexual acts — playing music for 72 hours in a row at volumes just below that to shatter the eardrums. Guantánamo may be Dick Cheney’s idea of America, but it’s not mine. The fact that music I helped create was used as a tactic against humanity sickens me — we need to end torture and close Guantánamo now.”

REM added, “We signed onto the campaign in complete support of President Obama and the military leaders who have called for an end to torture and to close Guantánamo. As long as Guantánamo stays open, America’s legacy around the world will continue to be the torture that went on there. We have spent the past 30 years supporting causes related to peace and justice — to now learn that some of our friends’ music may have been used as part of the torture tactics without their consent or knowledge, is horrific. It’s anti-American, period.”

In a phone call, Rosanne Cash told the Washington Post, “I think every musician should be involved. It seems so obvious. Music should never be used as torture.” Cash said she reacted with “absolute disgust” when she heard about it, adding, “It’s beyond the pale. It’s hard to even think about.”

The protest was timed to coincide with a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the National Security Archive, an independent research institute in Washington D.C., which is seeking the declassification of all records related to the use of music in interrogation practices. It also coincided with a recent call by veterans and retired Army generals to shut Guantánamo, and TV and radio ads, which were launched this week by the National Campaign to Close Guantánamo, led by Tom Andrews, a former congressman from Maine.

Nevertheless, with the exception of Tom Morello (of Rage Against The Machine), whose music was used for torture, and who has been complaining about it since 2004, and Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails), whose music was also used, and who expressed his outrage last year when he first heard about it, few musicians have taken the issue on board before now.

Last July, when David Gray spoke out about his disgust that his music was used for torture, and the British-based legal charity Reprieve began campaigning about it, there was little interest. Christopher Cerf, who wrote the music for Sesame Street, (a music torture favorite) complained, but last December, when I wrote a detailed article about it, “A History of Music Torture in the ‘War on Terror,’” I surveyed a generally indifferent industry, in which some of those whose music had been used were indifferent (Bob Singleton, for example, who wrote the theme tune to Barney the Purple Dinosaur, another music torture favorite), others (Metallica) were ambivalent, and others (Drowning Pool, for example) were positively gleeful about it.

From many others (including AC/DC, Aerosmith, Christina Aguilera, the Bee Gees, Neil Diamond, Don McLean, James Taylor, Limp Bizkit, Marilyn Manson, Meatloaf, Pink, Prince, Queen, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Britney Spears and Bruce Springsteen) there came nothing but an inappropriate silence, and even Eminem, whose anti-Bush credentials were clear from his songs “Mosh” and “White America,” remained quiet, even though, as the British torture victim Binyam Mohamed explained about his time in the CIA’s “Dark Prison” in Kabul in early 2004:

It was pitch black, and no lights on in the rooms for most of the time … They hung me up for two days. My legs had swollen. My wrists and hands had gone numb … There was loud music, Slim Shady and Dr. Dre for 20 days. I heard this non-stop over and over, I memorized the music, all of it, when they changed the sounds to horrible ghost laughter and Halloween sounds.  It got really spooky in this black hole … Interrogation was right from the start, and went on until the day I left there. The CIA worked on people, including me, day and night. Plenty lost their minds. I could hear people knocking their heads against the walls and the doors, screaming their heads off … Throughout my time I had all kinds of music, and irritating sounds, mentally disturbing. I call it brainwashing.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s good that so many diverse groups and individuals are now making their voices heard, as part of a push to close Guantánamo as soon as possible (and to try to hold President Obama to his promise to close the prison by January 22, 2010), but it would have had more impact before last November, when the torturers were still in the White House.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009, details about my film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Cross-posted on Common Dreams, The Public Record and uruknet.

For a sequence of articles dealing with the use of torture by the CIA, on “high-value detainees,” and in the secret prisons, see: Guantánamo’s tangled web: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Majid Khan, dubious US convictions, and a dying man (July 2007), Jane Mayer on the CIA’s “black sites,” condemnation by the Red Cross, and Guantánamo’s “high-value” detainees (including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) (August 2007), Waterboarding: two questions for Michael Hayden about three “high-value” detainees now in Guantánamo (February 2008), Six in Guantánamo Charged with 9/11 Murders: Why Now? And What About the Torture? (February 2008), The Insignificance and Insanity of Abu Zubaydah: Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Confirms FBI’s Doubts (April 2008), Guantánamo Trials: Another Torture Victim Charged (Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri, July 2008), Secret Prison on Diego Garcia Confirmed: Six “High-Value” Guantánamo Prisoners Held, Plus “Ghost Prisoner” Mustafa Setmariam Nasar (August 2008), Will the Bush administration be held accountable for war crimes? (December 2008), The Ten Lies of Dick Cheney (Part One) and The Ten Lies of Dick Cheney (Part Two) (December 2008), Prosecuting the Bush Administration’s Torturers (March 2009), Abu Zubaydah: The Futility Of Torture and A Trail of Broken Lives (March 2009), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part One), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part Two), 9/11 Commission Director Philip Zelikow Condemns Bush Torture Program, Who Authorized The Torture of Abu Zubaydah?, CIA Torture Began In Afghanistan 8 Months before DoJ Approval, Even In Cheney’s Bleak World, The Al-Qaeda-Iraq Torture Story Is A New Low (all April 2009), Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi Has Died In A Libyan Prison , Dick Cheney And The Death Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, The “Suicide” Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi: Why The Media Silence?, Two Experts Cast Doubt On Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi’s “Suicide”, Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney On Use Of Torture To Invade Iraq, In the Guardian: Death in Libya, betrayal by the West (in the Guardian here), Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney’s Iraq Lies Again (And Rumsfeld And The CIA) (all May 2009) and WORLD EXCLUSIVE: New Revelations About The Torture Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (June 2009). Also see the extensive archive of articles about the Military Commissions.

For other stories discussing the use of torture in secret prisons, see: An unreported story from Guantánamo: the tale of Sanad al-Kazimi (August 2007), Rendered to Egypt for torture, Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni is released from Guantánamo (September 2008), A History of Music Torture in the “War on Terror” (December 2008), Seven Years of Torture: Binyam Mohamed Tells His Story (March 2009), and also see the extensive Binyam Mohamed archive. And for other stories discussing torture at Guantánamo and/or in “conventional” US prisons in Afghanistan, see: The testimony of Guantánamo detainee Omar Deghayes: includes allegations of previously unreported murders in the US prison at Bagram airbase (August 2007), Guantánamo Transcripts: “Ghost” Prisoners Speak After Five And A Half Years, And “9/11 hijacker” Recants His Tortured Confession (September 2007), The Trials of Omar Khadr, Guantánamo’s “child soldier” (November 2007), Former US interrogator Damien Corsetti recalls the torture of prisoners in Bagram and Abu Ghraib (December 2007), Guantánamo’s shambolic trials (February 2008), Torture allegations dog Guantánamo trials (March 2008), Sami al-Haj: the banned torture pictures of a journalist in Guantánamo (April 2008), Former Guantánamo Prosecutor Condemns “Chaotic” Trials in Case of Teenage Torture Victim (Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld on Mohamed Jawad, January 2009), Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo’s Forgotten Child (Mohammed El-Gharani, January 2009), Bush Era Ends With Guantánamo Trial Chief’s Torture Confession (Susan Crawford on Mohammed al-Qahtani, January 2009), Forgotten in Guantánamo: British Resident Shaker Aamer (March 2009), A Child At Guantánamo: The Unending Torment of Mohamed Jawad (June 2009) and the extensive archive of articles about the Military Commissions.

3 Responses

  1. David Mery says...

    Has any musician tried to sue the US government for breach of copyright?

    Among the reactions to what I wrote up about the excellent exposure by Reprieve of this form of torture, were legal discussion as to whether such use of music can be considered fair use, whether it is a public performance, and a suggestion that the US army buys a music label! I mentioned these at http://gizmonaut.net/blog/uk/fighting_torture_with_copyright_and_socpa_with_mld.html

    Also on the list of those who condemn such use early on are the Musician Unions (who supported the ZeroDb initiative) and the Society for Ethnomusicology.

    Mother Jones created a playlist at http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2008/02/torture-playlist and I’ve posted the list of songs that was included at the launch of ZeroDb at http://gizmonaut.net/blog/uk/2008/12/the_sound_of_music_torture.html

    (And the lyrics of Reprieve’s ‘Bring Binyam Home’ song are to be found at http://gizmonaut.net/blog/uk/fighting_torture_with_copyright_redux.html )

  2. Musicians (Finally) Say No To Music Torture by Andy Worthington + The Divine Comedy: Guantanamo « Dandelion Salad says...

    […] Andy Worthington Featured Writer Dandelion Salad http://www.andyworthington.co.uk 22 October […]

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, David, for the excellent links. I think the copyright angle is particularly interesting, and am surprised that Metallica didn’t follow up on it, given their anti-piracy history.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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