Artists protest the use of their songs as torture by U.S. military

Music or torture? Brian Johnson, lead singer of AC/DC, is shown live at Madison Square Garden. AC/DC tops the list of songs used at Guantanamo Bay to “break” detainees. Photo credit: WENN.

Pop artists and other musicians are banding together in protest of long-standing U.S. military techniques in which loud music is used to condition prisoners for interrogation purposes. This technique was seen in the Francis Ford Coppola classic, “Apocalypse Now,” in a scene where the classical piece “The Ride of the Valkyries” is blasted over loudspeakers while soldiers shoot at Vietnamese villagers from a plane. It’s also detailed in the cult classic “The Men Who Stare at Goats.” Reports that modern rap, rock and pop music are used at Guantanamo Bay and other places where prisoners were being detained have been trickling to the media for a few years now. But the artists responsible for the music say they don’t want their songs used in this manner, and they’re asking the military to stop.

Musicians and pop stars are joining forces with British human rights activists to stop U.S. military interrogators from using their songs to torture detainees.

The campaign has brought together groups including Massive Attack and musicians such as Tom Morello, who played with Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave.

It will feature minutes of silence during concerts and festivals, said Chloe Davies of the law group Reprieve, which represents dozens of Guantanamo Bay detainees.

Military contractor Donald Vance told how he was subjected to blaring rock music for 20 hours a day when he was held in Iraq.

The auditory assault went on for days, then weeks, then months at the U.S. military detention centre in Baghdad.

At least Vance, who says he was jailed for reporting illegal arms sales, was used to rock music.

For many detainees who grew up in Afghanistan – where music was prohibited under Taliban rule – interrogations by U.S. forces marked their first exposure to the pounding rhythms, played at top volume. The experience was overwhelming for many.

Binyam Mohammed, now a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay, said men held with him at the CIA’s ‘Dark Prison’ in Afghanistan wound up screaming and smashing their heads against walls, unable to endure more.

‘There was loud music, (Eminem’s) ‘Slim Shady’ and Dr. Dre for 20 days. I heard this nonstop over and over,’ he told his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith.

‘The CIA worked on people, including me, day and night for the months before I left. Plenty lost their minds.’

Rear Adm. David Thomas, the commander of Guantanamo’s detention centre, said the music treatment is not currently used at Guantanamo but added that he could not rule out its use in the future.

The spokeswoman for Guantanamo’s detention centre, Navy Cmdr Pauline Storum, wouldn’t give details of when and how music has been used at the prison.

FBI agents stationed at Guantanamo Bay reported numerous instances in which music was blasted at detainees, saying they were ‘told such tactics were common there.’

According to an FBI memo, one interrogator at Guantanamo Bay bragged he needed only four days to ‘break’ someone by alternating 16 hours of music and lights with four hours of silence and darkness.

Ruhal Ahmed, a Briton who was captured in Afghanistan, describes excruciating sessions at Guantanamo Bay.

He said his hands were shackled to his feet, which were shackled to the floor, forcing him into a painful squat for periods of up to two days.

‘You’re in agony,’ Ahmed, who was released without charge in 2004, told Reprieve.

He said the agony was compounded when music was introduced, because ‘before you could actually concentrate on something else, try to make yourself focus on some other things in your life that you did before and take that pain away.

‘It makes you feel like you are going mad,’ he said.

Not all of the music is hard rock. Christopher Cerf, who wrote music for ‘Sesame Street,’ said he was horrified to learn songs from the children’s TV show were used in interrogations.

‘I wouldn’t want my music to be a party to that,’ he said.

Bob Singleton, whose song ‘I Love You’ is beloved by legions of Barney fans, wrote in a newspaper opinion column that any music can become unbearable if played loudly for long stretches.

‘It’s absolutely ludicrous,’ he wrote in the Los Angeles Times. ‘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?’

Morello, of Rage Against the Machine, has been especially forceful in denouncing the practice. During a recent concert in San Francisco, he proposed taking revenge on President George W. Bush.

‘I suggest that they level Guantanamo Bay, but they keep one small cell and they put Bush in there … and they blast some Rage Against the Machine,’ he said to whoops and cheers.

[From The Daily Mail]

In a list obtained by The Mail from the U.S. military, the top songs used for torture at Guantanamo Bay included “Hell’s Bells” and “Shoot to Thrill” by AC/DC, “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees, “Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen, “Dirrty” by Christina Aguilera and anything by Britney Spears, Aerosmith and Lil Kim. I can concur that a 24/7 diet of most of those songs would make me crack. As far as torture goes, though, this type of technique seems a lot less harmful to me than some of the things we’ve seen in videotapes made by Taliban soliders. Think about it: we play Britney Spears; they behead people.

Quick informal poll: Whose songs would you consider your own personal form of torture?

Artists whose songs are used as forms of torture: Britney Spears (Photo credit: Bauergriffin), Bruce Springsteen, Eminem, Tom Morello. (Photo credits: WENN).

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30 Responses to “Artists protest the use of their songs as torture by U.S. military”

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  1. Annicka says:

    Any rap would be the way to drive me completely out of my mind. I love AC/DC and Aerosmith, so that wouldn’t work on me. But rap? Hip hop? I’d lose it after ten minutes and start screaming.

  2. manda says:

    fraternities at my school used to do that, lock all the pledges in a room and I think they had to finish a keg or something, while “girls just want to have fun” or “wannabe” is blasting. I would think they’d be able to tune it out after a while, like in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”

  3. elisha says:

    Heidi Montag. Tila Tequila. Jessica Simpson. Beyonce. John Mayer. Coldplay. The list goes on.

  4. geronimo says:

    No wonder they’re protesting. What thinking artist would possibly want their music to be associated with torture or Guantanamo Bay? That people are even kept prisoner there, in the first place, is sickening enough.

    Repeated exposure to Coldplay or James Blunt would have me slitting my wrists.

  5. Jann says:

    Anything by Shania Twat, er, I mean Twain

  6. Bellatrix says:

    The problem I have with this article is plainly the “torture” part. I cannot bear the idea that people – how bad their alleged crime is – should suffer from such interrogation techniques. It is simply not human.

    Of course, there is a funny twist to it (although I find it highly insulting to compare Audioslave, Massive Attack or AC/DC to Britney and Xtina).
    However, continuously playing the same music is definitely very wrong (as is having no sunlight): its only purpose is indeed to drive people mad, make them feel completely lost (as they have no more sensible idea of the time that is passing and start to imagine they are trapped in this forever).

    In the end, ANY song would be horrible to hear for twenty days along. Any, really. You just don’t live anymore. You’re stuck in this repeat mode, having most probably no light, almost no food, no human contact.
    Let alone the loudness factor of it all…

  7. Ling says:

    Shouldn’t the artists have the benefit of being asked permission beforehand?

    I agree with the I Love You and Sesame Street writers. It’s absolutely sick. You’d expect this out of a Stephen King novel.

  8. Kaiser says:

    Not to help the government torture people or anything, but I have a music suggestion. Portishead. I swear, just listening to Portishead gives me acid flashbacks and makes me want to confide in whoever is closest. 8O

  9. brianne says:

    Country music makes me want to tear my ears off most of the time, the rest of it I could handle.

  10. ER says:

    How about a repeat loop of a baby crying, or hearing people scream repeatedly? That way artists wouldn’t have to be incensed and the government could accomplish their mission of breaking people down.

  11. daisy424 says:

    I think making the detainees read one of CB’s AJ threads with the haters comments would do it. They would be spilling their secrets in a flash….

    OI, AC/DC :wink:

  12. what is ever. says:

    True torture can only come from one song, and that is “This is the song that never ends…”, from Lambchop. All others pale in comparison, I’ve seriously had this song stuck in my head, off and on for the past 15 years, and for those of you that know what I’m talking about, I apologize for reminding you of this song since it now undoubtedly stuck on loop.

    A close second would be every last one of the commercials, especially the one where he just repeatedly spells it… I want to swallow a gun when that shit comes on.

  13. Persistent Cat says:

    Anything by Shania Twain, most of Aerosmith, any country and my most hated song in the entire world, “Tempted” by Squeeze.

  14. Soho Kitty says:

    You Light Up My Life by Debbie Boone.


  15. Susie says:

    Well why don’t we just hand out cupcakes and ask prisoners what they would not want to hear, and then play that? I’m sure all this was, as usual, George W. Bush’s sole idea, the meanie. :roll:

    How bout Guns & Roses? Bleurgh!

  16. Mairead says:

    Have I just missed all the protests at this over the past 5 years? Could be that I don’t tend to listen to much hard rock or heavy metal (mind you, just getting Lars Ulrich to talk to them would get most people agreeing to anything just to shut him up)

    I think they’ve basically two chances of succeeding. There have been protests in supposedly neutral Ireland for years about the airport in Shannon being used for rendition flights. Officially of course these aren’t happening and if they were they would only ever fly over neutral airspace :roll:

    And this must be true because our former Taoiseach asked Dubya who said no. :roll: B-b-b-Bertie asked again, “to be sure to be sure” (actual quote I sh1t you not). Dubya said no. Well that’s all right then. :roll:

    Any loud rhytmic or high pitched noise would be disorientating for long periods, and contrary to what Manda thinks; I mean, how many of us have wanted to get a flamethrower at our neighbours house at about 4am during a party?

    Torture is torture is torture. F*ucking around with the technicalities of the Geneva Convention by not declaring them POWs doesn’t make it any less so.

  17. cally says:

    Crazy frog.

    No way can you listen to that on repeat without kicking something!

  18. someguy says:

    10 minutes of anything where Yoko Ono sings would do it. “Kiss Kiss Kiss” is a prime example.

  19. Vex says:

    Its psychological torture to blast music like that non-stop.

    Danity Kane through might possibly make me go mad.

  20. lanette says:

    britney music non stop would make me have a nervous break down..

  21. gg says:

    I love the shot of M&M with the 3 or 4 hats on. What a tool.

  22. Codzilla says:

    Kaiser: Portishead always had me confused and freaked out at the same time. My friend f*cking loves them, so I’ve spent many an hour listening to that crazy sh*t. Bad, bad, bad.

  23. viper says:

    Crazy frog.

    No way can you listen to that on repeat without kicking something!



  24. lunachick says:

    We must Guantanamo ASAP.

    My heart breaks for the millions of innocent people whose lives have been ruined by Bush’s so-called “War on Terror”…think of the innocent people who’ve been rounded up and continue to be held, abused and even driven mad 6 years later, still with no charge against them…and their poor families.

    This “eye for an eye” approach where we don’t even seem to care if we’re punishing people who had anything to do with the original crime – 9/11 – makes me ill.

    I want to see the 9/11 planners and perpetrators found and brought to justice, in a real court with evidence for all to see. THAT will be a healing moment for America. But let all these people held on dubious charges go.

  25. RCDC says:

    it’s a shame really that, not only is our government torturing people, it’s not even very good at it. seriously, if you’re going to bend your morality enough to allow torture, you ought to at least try to be getting the right victims and good leads. out of courtesy if nothing else.
    ER- while any repetitive noise will do the trick, rock is especially effective here. a good example is a song that was used a lot in Afghanistan, Disturbed’s “down with the sickness.” to us, it’s just more crappy rock. to sheltered afghanis, it was the voice of Shaitan himself. a song to enhance sensory deprivation: .99 on iTunes. an alliance with the devil himself: priceless.

  26. ashley says:

    Well if you buy a CD, i think you can do whatever you want with the music in your own time. If the artist wanted to babysit everyone you played their music they should never have gone mainstream anyway.

  27. Noel says:

    I think it’s torture that Morello and the rest of these lefty’s clowns exist at all.Avoid anyone named Chloe or Zoe and you will live a good life.I’m also going to practice more and I would be honored if the military would use my music one day to annoy the crap out of any kind of criminal/terrorist or any lefty jerks.

  28. Harold says:

    This post is featured at as Best Opinion – We really enjoyed your take on this controversial subject!

  29. gg says:

    ashley makes a point. Doesn’t the method of dispersal of the CD you bought make all the difference as to whether the artist has any leg to stand on in bitching about their music being used for whatever; i.e., broadcast only through speakers, instead of transmitted via radio? If you put out albums and BMI and ASCAP have no issue with someone’s use of same, then shut up, basically. If they want to change tide and take a stand against torture, then they should do that and call it that – but complaining about someone’s use of their purchased CD is unreasonable.

  30. beau says:

    Anything by Usher (I seriously HATE his music) and ZZ Top. I’ve been known to literally dive for the radio to change the channel when either of their music comes on.