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A History of Music Torture in the War on Terror

From Britney to Barney, any music can drive you mad if it's played enough. And unlike with physical torture, you can't mentally prepare yourself.

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And on Dec. 11, just after the Zero dB initiative was announced, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails posted the following message on his blog:

It's difficult for me to imagine anything more profoundly insulting, demeaning and enraging than discovering music you've put your heart and soul into creating has been used for purposes of torture. If there are any legal options that can be realistically taken they will be aggressively pursued, with any potential monetary gains donated to human rights charities. Thank GOD this country has appeared to side with reason, and we can put the Bush administration's reign of power, greed, lawlessness and madness behind us.

Even James Hetfield of Metallica, who has generally been portrayed as a defender of the U.S. military's use of his band's music, has expressed reservations. In a radio interview in November 2004, he said that he was "proud" that the military had used his music (even though they "hadn't asked his permission or paid him royalties"). "For me, the lyrics are a form of expression, a freedom to express my insanity," he explained, adding, "If the Iraqis aren't used to freedom, then I'm glad to be part of their exposure." Hetfield laughed off claims that music could be used for torture, saying, "We've been punishing our parents, our wives, our loved ones with this music forever. Why should the Iraqis be any different?"

However, he also acknowledged the reason that the military was using his music: "It's the relentlessness of the music. It's completely relentless. If I listened to a death metal band for 12 hours in a row, I'd go insane, too. I'd tell you anything you wanted to know."

While these musicians have at least spoken out, others -- including Eminem, AC/DC, Aerosmith, the Bee Gees, Christina Aguilera, Prince and the Red Hot Chili Peppers -- remain silent about the use of their work. Britney Spears' views are also unknown, but if her comments to CNN in September 2003 are anything to go by, it's unlikely that she would find fault with it. When Tucker Carlson said to her, "A lot of entertainers have come out against the war in Iraq. Have you?" Britney replied, "Honestly, I think we should just trust our president in every decision he makes and should just support that, you know, and be faithful in what happens." Perhaps she should speak to Pamela Anderson, who recently posted a simple message to Barack Obama on her blog: "Please Shut down Guantánamo Bay -- figure it out -- make amends/stop torture -- it's time for peaceful solutions."

Andy Worthington is a writer and historian and author of The Guantánamo Files .

 
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