Music as Torture: The Bush Years

Music as torture. Culture as weapon.

The Obama administration says the practice stopped early in the new president's term, but, as the Washington Post reports today, music was used as a tool for torture in Guantanamo and other detention camps as punishment or to coerce cooperation. And a coalition of musicians is pressing the U.S. government to release the names of songs used.

"Dozens of musicians endorsed a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the National Security Archive, a Washington-based independent research institute, seeking the declassification of all records related to the use of music in interrogation practices," the Post reports.

Among the musicians are members of Pearl Jam, R.E.M., the Roots and Roseanne Cash.

An NYU music professor "has interviewed a number of former detainees about their experiences and says the music they most often described hearing was heavy metal, rap and country. Specific songs mentioned include Queen's We Are the Champions and March of the Pigs by industrial rockers Nine Inch Nails," says the Post.

Also possibly used as an assault: the sunny theme song from Sesame Street.

Leave aside for a moment the concerns of rockers whose music has been hijacked for a use they never intended, or even the Geneva Convention. Think for a moment of the message this sends to the rest of the world about what we consider to be the value and purpose of culture. Bush & Co. could have whacked prisoners with baseball bats. Or gagged them with hamburgers. But no other American icon would do. Instead, they chose culture, a tool that carries special significance, whether those at the other end of the volume nob knew it or not.

A form of human achievement meant to induce pleasure, evoke memory and underline truth was twisted up into a jagged blade and pressed up against the flesh of other humans. And we - the U.S. - are responsible for it. Think about how damaging this sort of thing is to one of our most prized messages to the rest of the world - that artistic freedom, both for the musician and the listener, is connected at the core to being human.

There's another extremely troubling aspect to this. Inherent in the act of using art as warfare is the idea that America can shove its culture down the throats of the rest of the world. The Bush administration, once again, has done us no favors.

Can you tell me how to get, how to get to the moral high ground?