Musicians (Finally) Say No To Music Torture

Rage Against the Machine protesting Guantanamo Bay at the Reading festival. Photo: Chiaki Nozu/ Images

Rage Against the Machine protesting Guantanamo Bay at the Reading festival. Photo: Chiaki Nozu/ Images

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 technique,” — 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

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, a regular contributor to The Public Record, is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison and the definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009. He maintains a blog at

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4 Responses for “Musicians (Finally) Say No To Music Torture”

  1. MARCY BRUNO says:

    No wonder the evidence has been destroyed. Such abuse must be investigated and those guilty of torture, must stand trial. This is the best list yet of those standing for justice in the world of entertainment. Thank you.

  2. Social comments and analytics for this post…

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  3. Who? are these crazy flea bags that you get these crazy comments from. If you nuts like the talaban and the crazy muslims so much why don’t you live with them. Why are still in this country. They should shoot all the prisoners in Guantanamo and use their manure for your breakfast. It is hard to believe that your nuts would come up with such sleaze. Your lamentations for these killers is totally irrational.
    The Cheny’s and Bush’s are honorable people who tried to protect this country. wait until Black Assed Obams gets a bunch of Americans killed and we’ll see how you lament then. You People should all be put in a nut factory.

  4. PJBurke says:

    @marvin lauver:

    Cheney and Bush… “honorable people?” WTF??? The heinous infamy of Cheney and Bush will rank them amongst the very worst mass-murdering war criminals in world history: at least 1 million innocent Iraqi civilians murdered in a war based on knowing, willful lies, and in excess of 4 million innocent civilians displaced. Several hundred (perhaps thousands) brutally tortured, by policy from the top… including the rape of little children (boys and girls) in front of their mothers. Some three dozen never-charged, defenseless and likely innocent detainees are known — documented — to have been tortured to death…. murdered by torture. Some beaten to death, some frozen to death, some raped to death, some suffocated to death, some just disappeared without a trace.

    These are people for whom there is no existing evidence anywhere — we never asked for any evidence before paying out the cash bounties — that that they were ever connected to any terrorist organization.

    “They should shoot all the prisoners in Guantanamo…”

    Your profound, willful ignorance is appalling.

    Very senior Bush officials — Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, particularly, who was Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff — acknowledges that it was well-known all the way to the top of the Bush Administration that 90+ percent of those at Guantanamo were completely innocent… INNOCENT! They were just warm bodies sold to the U.S. military for the hefty cash bounties that we were throwing around.

    That is not speculation, but confirmed fact… fact which you are completely unaware of — probably — because you watch the America-Hating Ignorazzi on Faux Noise.

    Yet you would shoot them all… regardless of innocence.

    So utterly typical of the ignorant — and evil to the core — authoritarian Rethuglican. In the 1930’s and 40’s, you would have been one of those “good, obedient Germans,” throwing your very own neighbors into ovens… after you’d yanked out their gold fillings for the Fatherland.

    Those who’ve worn the uniform — for a career — know what you do not… and never will. You are a Ring-in-Nose Sheeple Putz.

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