The Gitmo Music Awards
Was the theme to "Sesame Street" really played to torture prisoners held at Guantanamo and other detention camps? What about Don McLean's "American Pie"? Or the Meow Mix jingle? Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A."?
A high-profile coalition of artists -- including the members of Pearl Jam, R.E.M. and the Roots -- demanded Thursday that the government release the names of all the songs that were blasted since 2002 at prisoners for hours, even days, on end, to try to coerce cooperation or as a method of punishment.
Dozens of musicians endorsed a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the National Security Archive, a Washington-based independent research institute, seeking the declassification of all records related to the use of music in interrogation practices. The artists also launched a formal protest of the use of music in conjunction with torture.
"I think every musician should be involved," said Rosanne Cash in a telephone interview Wednesday. "It seems so obvious. Music should never be used as torture." The singer-songwriter (and daughter of Johnny Cash) said she reacted with "absolute disgust" when she heard of the practice. "It's beyond the pale. It's hard to even think about."
Other musicians, including Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails and Tom Morello, formerly of the band Rage Against the Machine, also expressed outrage.
"The fact that music I helped create was used in crimes against humanity sickens me," Morello said in a statement. "We need to end torture and close Guantanamo now."
I agree Morello's music is sickening. But do these moralizers understand what real torture is? And that Guantanamo today is the world's most humane detention facility, thanks in no small part to their efforts in making it the most heavily scrutinized?
Admittedly, in its early days, Guantanamo had its share of problems. But that doesn't hold true, today; nor has it been the case for quite some time, thanks to media sensationalism and world opinion outrage that did shed some light on some problems; and put the facility under a microscope.
Cusick, the NYU music professor, has interviewed a number of former detainees about their experiences and says the music they most often described hearing was heavy metal, rap and country. Specific songs mentioned include Queen's "We Are the Champions" and "March of the Pigs" by industrial rockers Nine Inch Nails.
Another former prisoner, Binyam Mohamed, told Human Rights Watch that he had been forced to listen to the rapper Eminem's song "The Real Slim Shady" for 20 days.
Joining in the call for the release of information were dozens of musicians, including David Byrne, Billy Bragg, Steve Earle, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt and T-Bone Burnett.
For now, the artists are trying to find out what songs were played. They say they will explore legal options once the songs are known. It is unclear what, if any, recourse they may have.
Cross-posted at Flopping Aces