How to play music like a war crime

by twit

Rage Against the Machine

Rage Against the Machine … protesting against Guantanamo Bay at the Reading festival. Photograph: Chiaki Nozu/ Images  (The Guardian)

via Slashdot, from the AP:

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.”

and that’s not all…

Bob Singleton, whose song “I Love You” is beloved by legions of preschool 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.

And from US government officials:

The spokeswoman for Guantanamo’s detention center, 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.

Do we need a lawyer to explain that rendering suspects insane makes it next to impossible to investigate and prosecute them in any kind of reliable manner?  Here’s one that outlines the issue…  and here’s another.   Just in case anyone is wondering why the FBI, a law enforcement agency, is leaking information about these practices.   It would appear that they can’t do their job if torture is part of the protocol.

update: From the New York Times on December 11, 2008:

A report released Thursday by leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee said top Bush administration officials, including Donald H. Rumsfeld, the former defense secretary, bore major responsibility for the abuses committed by American troops in interrogations at Abu Ghraib in Iraq; Guantánamo Bay, Cuba; and other military detention centers.

The report was issued jointly by Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the Democratic chairman of the panel, and Senator John McCain of Arizona, the top Republican.

It represents the most thorough review by Congress to date of the origins of the abuse of prisoners in American military custody, and it explicitly rejects the Bush administration’s contention that tough interrogation methods have helped keep the country and its troops safe.

** update:  The Singleton quote was taken out of context by the AP, as noted in the comments.


2 Responses to How to play music like a war crime

  1. Wes says:

    Your article’s portrayal of Bob Singleton’s comments is extremely misleading. Singleton has openly stated that he doesn’t mind his music being used at Guantanamo Bay; only that he figured there are better song selections for that kind of job.

    Details here:

    Please correct your article to reflect Singleton’s actual opinion.

    Poor Richard

  2. Wes,

    I don’t see anything in what Singleton wrote in the LA Times on July 10, 2008 that suggests he condones torture. The way I read it, he doesn’t feel he has any control over how his music is used.

    Ultimately, the real issue here does not have to do with the morality of the music being played but with the morality of the people who are playing it. And there’s not a thing that I or any other composer or songwriter can do about that.

    However, the AP took liberties with the quote attributed to Singleton, and the full text suggests a different meaning than what was conveyed by the AP:

    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?,0,285252.story

    From my perspective, the guy is trying to defend his song as not being inherently tortuous to listen to.

    As to his position on the use of torture, he seems mostly callous and indifferent to the suffering of others, and he seems almost intentionally indifferent to the threat that the use of torture represents to the American system of justice.

    I’ve read your post, and I see that you claim to have a reply from Singleton that was sent directly to you, and it contains this quote “I looked it up on the Fox website. Actually they got it wrong; I said (in an Op Ed piece for the LA Times) that musicians shouldn’t get so shook up about their music being used for that. I’m fine with it.” I can’t assess the authenticity of this quote, but if it is true, then it does appear that Singleton is willfully ignorant about how dangerous the use of torture is to the safety and security of America.

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