Rage Against Musical Torture

On Tuesday, I reported a new campaign to close Gitmo (the campaign website is now live). Today, a bunch of musicians are the joining the National Campaign against Torture to FOIA information on how music was used in the government’s torture program.

Pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), I hereby request the following:

All documents, including but not limited to intelligence reports, briefings, transcripts, talking points, meeting minutes, memoranda, cables, audio/visual recordings and emails produced by the Central Intelligence Agency concerning the use of loud music as a technique to interrogate detainees at U.S.-operated prison facilities at Guantanamo, Iraq and Afghanistan during 2002-the present.

The documents we seek include but are not limited to records that contain explicit references to the following bands or songs, among any other bands or songs mentioned:



Barney theme song (By Bob Singleton)

The Bee Gees

Britney Spears

Bruce Springsteen

Christina Aguilera

David Gray


Don McClean


Dr. Dre

Drowning Pool


Hed P.E.

James Taylor

Limp Bizkit

Marilyn Manson

Matchbox Twenty


Meow mix jingle


Neil Diamond

Nine Inch Nails




Rage against the Machine

Red Hot Chili Peppers



Sesame street theme music (By Christopher Cerf)

Stanley Brothers

The Star Spangled Banner

Tupac Shakur

If you regard any of this material as potentially exempt from the FOIA’s disclosure requirements, I request that you nonetheless exercise your discretion to disclose them.  As you know, President Barack Obama has called upon all agencies to “adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government.” As the FOIA requires, please release all reasonably segregable, nonexempt portions of documents.  To permit me to reach an intelligent and informed decision whether or not to file an administrative appeal of any denied material, please describe any withheld records (or portions thereof) and explain the basis for your exemption claims.

Among the musicians joining the campaign are Trent Reznor and Tom Morello whose music is among those used in the government’s torture program. As Morello says, “The fact that music I helped create was used in crimes against humanity sickens me – we need to end torture and close Guantanamo now.” And Jackson Browne–fresh off his victory against McCain and the Republican party for stealing his music–is also joining the campaign.

Me, I hope we can recruit Barney and Big Bird to join the campaign.

This part of the campaign is a great way to show how our nation’s practice of torture perverts our everyday culture.

34 replies
  1. tjbs says:

    If I’m dick cheney,War Criminal Extraordinare, it might be time to squeeze in some Duck hunting.
    If he goes to his grave other than being reviled and punished for his vision, change his name to Houdini. May this noose not go loose.( figuratively not literally )

    May history remember, E.W.,who was the point of the spear to pop the torturer’s/ murderer’s fairy tail balloon.

  2. posaune says:

    Geez, EW! 5:15 CDT?
    And you just packed and moved your Mom? Unbelievable.

    I think you just reset the Milbank/EW ratio!

  3. WilliamOckham says:

    I hope we can recruit Barney and Big Bird to join the campaign

    I can help with one of those. True story, the voice of Baby Bop is my ex-sister-in-law (my brother’s ex-wife). My wife, my brother, Baby Bop and I all attended the same small liberal arts college. The future Baby Bop even used to cut my hair when I was in college. I’m going to ask her to contact Barney (who I once met) about this.

    • phred says:

      WO, you are a man of many talents and surprising connections — good luck recruiting Barney!

      Thanks for this post EW, this seems like a great way to get some of our less politically inclined citizens to think about torture in a way that would resonate with them. I have several friends who would consider simply listening to some of the artists listed here as torture.

      I think the use of loud uncontrollable (from the prisoners point of view) sound would be incredibly maddening. How many of us as teenagers had adults yell at us to “turn that racket down”? They weren’t kidding either, loud unpleasant (in the ear of the beholder) sound is intensely irritating. Couple that with sleep deprivation and I imagine PapaDick could have driven everyone right around the bend without ever having to go all medieval on them as well.

      I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that the musicians are successful in their request. I would bet PapaDick himself picked Barney’s theme song. He strikes me as the sort who would recoil from all things related to PBS.

          • bmaz says:

            No, I had it right, it was Bob Singleton, the producer and arranger of Barney’s “I Love You” song. From an op-ed Singleton wrote in the LA Times:

            After hearing that news earlier this year, I put the issue aside. But last week, the story came up again when the British newspaper the Guardian, in a follow-up article, quoted some musicians and songwriters saying they were upset about the morality of using their art for torture. “It’s shocking that there isn’t more of an outcry,” said British singer-songwriter David Gray, whose song “Babylon” was apparently played over and over to a detainee at Abu Ghraib at a volume so loud he “feared his head would burst.”

            Well, I’m sorry, but I’m not terribly upset about the use of “I Love You.” I’m amused and slightly perplexed, but I frankly don’t believe that any artist or composer can really have much of a say about what happens to his songs after they leave his hands. Songs take on a life of their own once they hit the public consciousness, and we composers and songwriters just get to go along for the ride.

            When I heard that “I Love You” had been used at Abu Ghraib to break the will of terror suspects, I just laughed. It’s absolutely ludicrous. 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?

            However, Singleton did have a profound objection to strippers using his little ditty. Glad to see he has got his priorities straight.

            • phred says:

              Wow. Just wow. What on earth is such a completely amoral person doing working on children’s programming? I bet he would fit right in with Yoo et al. …

              When I heard that “I Love You” had been used at Abu Ghraib to break the will of terror suspects, I just laughed.

              I can honestly say I have never laughed about any aspect of torture. Never. The mind boggles. The guy who wrote “I Love You” hasn’t the faintest comprehension of the definition of love. Unbelievable.

  4. Jim White says:

    That is a very interesting mix of musicians. I commend whoever put the group together, as they have gotten participation from musicians who appeal over almost the entire spectrum of musical tastes and American demographics, with one major exception. For some strange reason, I see no country musicians. And speaking from the experience of being exposed to far more of that dreck than I care to hear, it is not a good experience.
    [Of course, the Dixie Chicks’ experience explains quickly why no country groups would join in, but still…]

    • WilliamOckham says:

      Roseanne Cash is on the list, as is Steve Earle. Although neither is really a ‘pure’ country artist, both have been important in country music in the past. Earle, in particular, is probably not considered a country musician strictly based on his political views.

      [Actually, I now see you were probably refering to the list of musicians whose music was used as torture, rather than ones who signed on to oppose its use as torture]

      • Jim White says:

        It was my usual misreading. I was going by the list in the post, which I now see is the list of music used in torture. I find it encouraging that Roseanne Cash and Steve Earle signed. Thanks for straightening me out.

    • Peterr says:

      I think this list of musicians could easily be used to say “We didn’t torture anyone with music at Gitmo. If that’s what we were trying to do, where’s Yanni? How about John Tesh? What about . . .”

  5. BoxTurtle says:

    No disco?!? And we have the nerve to call ourselves PROFESSIONAL torturers?

    Boxturtle (Stayin’ Alive would be a particularly sick choice)

    • BoxTurtle says:

      I need to learn to read. The Bee Gee’s were on the list.

      Boxturtle (Attn Cheney: William Shatner has a rap CD out there.)

  6. JohnnyTable70 says:

    Thanks for nothing musicians. And just like musicians, you show up — in this case, about six to eight years — too late. Why?

    This is not a new tactic. It was used against Noriega when he sought sanctuary in a Vatican owned property in Panama. It was parodied on South Park during the episode where Mr. Mackey has an eclipse party and ATF agents decide to blast Cher to torture the partiers, only for Mr. Mackey and Mr. Garrison to actually turn up the same song inside the house.

    This is nothing more than Colin Powell-esque guilt by musicians who sat by for years and allowed their work to be used as torture. I’m half-expecting Steeler Wheels to protest Quintin Tarrantino’s gratuitous use of “Stuck in the Middle with you” from Reservoir Dogs — about 18 years too late.

  7. prostratedragon says:

    This is good, using FOIA to try to get the critters to expose themselves and their cultural misdeeds. Nice ratchet up from the more usual forms of speaking out that artists use.

  8. TarheelDem says:

    What!? No Toby Keith? No Pat Boone? No Donna Fargo? I thought we had red-blooded ‘murkins running these camps.

    One thing about the Bushes, pere and fils, is they are consistent. And show off their knowledge and taste in music. Yeah, Cheney ran the camps–but Bush picked the music.

    • LabDancer says:

      The case of Toby Keith presents a exceptionally nuanced picture — with a convenient & simple out from this legal action.

      The complexity comes from:

      1. his being a registered Democrat,

      2. his having endorsed a Democrat for Congress,

      3. the fact that the only candidate for Congress he’s ever endorsed was & is as Blue a Dog as it’s possible to be without being actually Republican,

      4. his having spoken in favor of supporting President GWB in his war on Iraq, clearly, unreservedly, repeatedly, and at several points for months on end,

      5. his more recent post Surge position of consistently denial that he was ever actually in favor of any war on Iraq,

      6. his several appearances on The Colbert Report, during which, in a feat that IMO is at least rare & quite possibly unique among all guests on that show, he has been able consistently to stake out & maintain a position to the right of the cartoonishly-exaggerated right-cliff-hanging position assumed by the host [bearing in mind that early on its history, certainly prior to the 2006 Press Corps dinner, the show was still able to secure a number of movement conservative guests],

      7. his consistently [shall we say] less than entirely supportive comments on the positions taken by the Dixie Chicks on the Iraq War & GWB,

      8. his being named, within a day of the announcement by the Norwegian Nobel committee, among the very first group of musicians committed to perform at this year’s honoree’s concert.

      [The above list is incomplete, but fairly representative.]

      The out comes from the fact that there’s no actual suggestion that the McCain-Palin campaign even tried to commandeer any of his excessively wordy lyrics & non-catchy melodies.

  9. TheraP says:

    What a brilliant campaign! I hope they decide to sue bush and cheney for abuse of copyright privileges!

    • BoxTurtle says:

      I’ve been thinking the same thing myself, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how the copyright owners could form a case. Armed Forces Radio certainly has rights to broadcast those songs and the copyright doesn’t cover volume.

      A more interesting case could be made for defamation. The use of the tunes for torture certainly damaged the reputation of the artists amongst the victims and may have hurt future sales.

      Boxturtle (Perhaps the artists could withdraw Armed Forces Radio’s rights to the music)

      • cinnamonape says:

        I seriously doubt that these were broadcast on Armed Forces Radio and then simply amped-up in the cells. C’mon…the Barney Song? My understanding was that these were played repeatedly, over-and-over again. In a not-for-broadcast setting. I doubt the AFR license covers that. It would be more like a radio station setting up a DJ-service. That might require a subsidiary license for a different type of “public-performance”. Subsidiary licenses often require tracking specific songs played for royalties.

        So did they apply for a license to repeatedly play these songs and specify the function? Did they pay royalties on the songs repeatedly played ad nauseum?

  10. klynn says:

    Hey, no Disney? It’s A Small World After All.

    BTW, saw this bumper sticker yesterday and laughed so much I had to pull the car over:

    I love you America
    But I think we should see other people.

    Question, if a private contractor was involved, and they were making a profit from the government contract, would this violate any fair use issues with the music…That they were using it for profit?


    As Morello says, “The fact that music I helped create was used in crimes against humanity sickens me – we need to end torture and close Guantanamo now.”

    would the “sickening” and thought of “crimes against humanity” qualify for a lawsuit involving duress in regards to the musicians and songwriters?

    (Plus BoxTurtle’s question @ 21)

    • kindGSL says:

      It would be quite the story to have the rule of law in the US saved by art and culture.

      I made a coup stick for Cheney, if that helps.

  11. cregan says:

    We have to listen to them, so why not people from the Middle East? I must confess, my daughter turns the radio in the car to this each morning, and it is a bit of torture.

    So, I certainly side with the detainees and sympathize with them.

  12. orionATL says:


    taking action!!!

    as a beginning, this is great news.

    some of the pictures showing americans torturing their little brown brothers

    might make quite a statement up on one of those giant screens at a concert or two.

    i wonder who or what is behind this sudden burst of anti-torture activism.

    • Nell says:

      who or what is behind this sudden burst of anti-torture activism

      That’s what the ‘about’ feature of the website is for.

      There’s nothing mysterious or out-of-nowhere about this campaign, nor is it unprecedented, though it has the potential to broaden the base for action via TV ads and the involvement of musicians. There has been a coalition of former military working within a coalition of anti-torture organizations for years.

      The launch of this campaign now was made necessary by the administration’s handling of the Guantanamo issue (and its stance on detention issues generally). But the people involved, particularly Tom Andrews, are inclined to put all the the heat on the Republicans and right-wingers who’ve framed the debate, and not on the “liberal” Democrats who’ve allowed that to happen.

  13. spinelessjellyfish says:

    I wonder if the RIAA is aware of this.
    Public exhibition of recording. Did they use legally bought songs, or downloaded off the internets. I see serious potential for a lawsuit, or an investigation of one.

    If they can sue college students, they can sue torturers.

  14. Nell says:

    The jokey reaction in this thread, where I know that almost all commenters are sincerely opposed to torture, makes clear how easily the idea of music as torture is trivialized and brushed off (a la Singleton). [Clarification: I’m not saying anyone here who’s made jokes is brushing it off as not torture, but it does show how much harder it is to get across the fact of music as torture compared with the physical torture that most people imagine when they hear the word. This is exactly why the CIA has put so much effort and research into developing its “touchless” torture paradigm.]

    And it’s spreading, getting increasingly normalized, as torture always does. Between midnight and 6 am yesterday, the Honduran military continuously bombarded the Brazilian embassy (where Manuel Zelaya, the legitimate president of the country, has been staying since returning to the country on Sept. 21) with music, pig grunts, jungle animal sounds, and church bells. They used the U.S.-manufactured LRAD to do this for hours on at least two previous occasions, Sept. 22 and 25. The American Technology Company, manufacturer of the device, says it causes damage to humans in the path of its highly focused, directional beam (capable of putting out 150dB) within 300 feet. The device was placed within ten feet of the building last night.

    Reporters and photographers in the embassy said that no one had been able to get any sleep. Only their testimony kept other reporters from making light of the matter; as it was, at least one felt it necessary to use scare quotes when characterizing it as “torture”.

    The Brazilian government was able to call it what it was, and the Organization of American States denounced the assault on the embassy and its residents yesterday in language that underlines the effects:

    The Permanent Council denounces and strongly condemns the hostile action by the de facto regime against the embassy of Brazil in Tegucigalpa and the harassment of its occupants through deliberate actions that affect them physically and psychologically and violate their human rights. [my emphasis]

    Although the U.S. representative joined in the OAS’ unanimous statement, our government is unlikely to want to focus too heavily on this particular incident given that our own military pioneered this hideous technique against the Vatican Embassy in 1989 where Noriega had taken refuge. Given the timing, coinciding with this excellent campaign by the musicians, it also risks highlighting our use of music torture at Guantanamo and in Afghanistan (where Binyam Mohamed said it was the worst of the tortures he underwent, which is pretty remarkable if you remember what was done to him in Morocco).

    There is no evidence that the LRAD was used in Guantanamo, although it’s been used as a weapon in Iraq since March 2004 and the Navy has had access to the LRAD since May 2003. I assume that the delivery method in Guantanamo was simply speakers cranked up all the way, playing the same thing over and over.

Comments are closed.