Musicians request release of song titles

It sounds like a tired joke: Music used as a torture tactic to get terrorism suspects to talk.

But that tactic is exactly what the recently formed National Campaign to Close Guantanamo is citing to draw attention to its cause and force the government to release playlists.

A group of musicians, including Trent Reznor, Jackson Browne, the Roots, R.E.M., Pearl Jam and Billy Bragg are among those who are demanding the release of records to show what music was played as part of interrogation tactics at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere.

The org has enlisted the National Security Archive to file Freedom of Information Act requests seeking documents on the specific role that music has been used in interrogations of detainees, and how that music was chosen.

Previously released documents from a 2005 Army investigation show that the works of Metallica, Britney Spears and some rap artists were used as a “futility technique” with uncooperative detainees.

The new request seeks documents that reference music played, as the groups behind the request suspect that interrogators used music from more than two dozen acts, ranging from Bruce Springsteen to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and songs such as the “Barney” theme and the Meow Mix cat food jingle.

Thomas Blanton, the executive director of the archives, charged that at Guantanamo, “the U.S. government turned a jukebox into an instrument of torture.”

The campaign’s director, former Rep. Tom Andrews (D-Maine), charges that music was played at “eardrum-splitting levels for hours and hours and in some cases for days,” and when “combined with other uses of torture broke the detainees down.” He bases it on published government reports and interviews with former detainees.

A CIA spokesman told the Associated Press that music was used for security and “not for punitive purposes — and at levels far below a live rock band.”

The org notes that the United Nations has banned the use of music in torture techniques under the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, although it has not been enforced.

Others backing the sunshine effort include Bonnie Raitt, Steve Earle, T-Bone Burnett and David Byrne.

Their action, however, is likely to trigger further debate as to whether the use of such music constitutes torture or an “enhanced interrogation technique.” Some former members of the Bush administration, chief among them former Vice President Dick Cheney, have argued that interrogation methods used were not torture and that the closure of Guantanamo will put national security at risk.

The Army investigation recommended that specific guidelines be developed on the length of time that a detainee be subjected to “futility music,” although it said the music “was never loud enough to cause any physical injury.”

Andrews hopes that the presence of musicians will help bring the issue in front of a whole new audience, but, meanwhile, recognizes ironies involved in the use of such music. “It is almost out of Ripley’s Believe It or Not,” he says.

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