A History of Music Torture in the War on Terror
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"What we're talking about here is people in a darkened room, physically inhibited by handcuffs, bags over their heads and music blaring at them for 24 hours a day, seven days a week," he said. "That is torture. That is nothing but torture. It doesn't matter what the music is -- it could be Tchaikovsky's finest or it could be Barney the Dinosaur. It really doesn't matter, it's going to drive you completely nuts.
"No-one wants to even think about it or discuss the fact that we've gone above and beyond all legal process and we're torturing people."
Not every musician shared Gray's revulsion. Bob Singleton, who wrote the theme tune to Barney, which has been used extensively in the War on Terror, acknowledged in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times in July that "if you blare the music loud enough for long enough, I guess it can become unbearable," but refused to accept either that songwriters can legitimately have any say about how their music is used, or that there were any circumstances under which playing music relentlessly at prisoners could be considered torture.
"It's absolutely ludicrous," he wrote. "A song that was designed to make little children feel safe and loved was somehow going to threaten the mental state of adults and drive them to the emotional breaking point?
"The idea that repeating a song will drive someone over the brink of emotional stability, or cause them to act counter to their own nature, makes music into something like voodoo, which it is not.”
Singleton was not the only artist to misunderstand how the use of music could indeed constitute torture -- especially when used as part of a package of techniques designed to break prisoners.
Steve Asheim, Deicide's drummer, said: "These guys are not a bunch of high school kids. They are warriors, and they're trained to resist torture. They're expecting to be burned with torches and beaten and have their bones broken. If I was a prisoner at Guantánamo Bay and they blasted a load of music at me, I'd be like, 'Is this all you got? Come on.' I certainly don't believe in torturing people, but I don't believe that playing loud music is torture either."
Furthermore, other musicians have been positively enthusiastic about the use of their music. Stevie Benton of Drowning Pool, which has played to U.S. troops in Iraq, told Spin magazine, "People assume we should be offended that somebody in the military thinks our song is annoying enough that played over and over it can psychologically break someone down. I take it as an honor to think that perhaps our song could be used to quell another 9/11 attack or something like that."
Fortunately, for those who understand that using music as part of a system of torture techniques is no laughing matter, the Zero dB initiative provides the most noticeable attempt to date to call a halt to its continued use. Christopher Cerf, who wrote the music for Sesame Street, was horrified to learn that the show's theme tune had been used in interrogations. "I wouldn't want my music to be a party to that," he said.
Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine has been particularly outspoken in denouncing the use of music for torture. In 2006, he said to Spin magazine: "The fact that our music has been co-opted in this barbaric way is really disgusting. If you're at all familiar with ideological teachings of the band and its support for human rights, that's really hard to stand." On this year's world tour, Rage Against the Machine regularly turned up on stage wearing hoods and orange jumpsuits, and during a recent concert in San Francisco, Morello proposed taking revenge on President Bush: "I suggest that they level Guantánamo Bay, but they keep one small cell, and they put Bush in there ... and they blast some Rage Against the Machine."