Pop Culture

Bands crank up volume on Guantanamo debate

A coalition of mega-bands and singers outraged that music — including theirs — was cranked up to help break uncooperative detainees at Guantanamo Bay is joining retired military officers and liberal activists to rally support for President Barack Obama's push to shutter the Navy-run prison for terrorist suspects in Cuba.

Pearl Jam, R.E.M., and Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails are among the musicians who have joined the National Campaign to Close Guantanamo, which launched Tuesday.

On behalf of the campaign, the National Security Archive in Washington is filing a Freedom of Information Act request seeking classified records that detail the use of loud music as an interrogation device.

"At Guantanamo, the U.S. government turned a jukebox into an instrument of torture," said Thomas Blanton, executive director of the archive, an independent, nongovernmental research institute.

Interrogation tool
Based on documents that already have been made public and interviews with former detainees, the archive says the playlist featured cuts from AC/DC, Britney Spears, the Bee Gees, Marilyn Manson and many other groups. The Meow mix cat food jingle, the Barney theme song and an assortment of Sesame Street tunes also were pumped into detainee cells.

A November 2008 report by the Senate Armed Services Committee into the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody makes several references to the use of loud music as an interrogation tool.

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In one case interrogators played music to "stress" Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a citizen of Mauritania who has been at Guantanamo for more than seven years, because he believed music is forbidden, the report says.

Over a 10-day period in July 2003, Slahi was questioned by an interrogator called "Mr. X" while being "exposed to variable lighting patterns" and repeated playing of a song called "Let the Bodies Hit the Floor" by the band Drowning Pool, according to the committee's report.

Maj. Diana Haynie, a spokeswoman for Joint Task Force Guantanamo, said loud music has not been used with detainees since the fall of 2003.

Jayne Huckerby, research director at New York University's Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, said high-decibel music was also used against detainees at clandestine prisons run by the CIA.

No ‘benign security tool’As part of an earlier FOIA request for information about these "black sites," Huckerby received a top secret CIA document dated December 2005 in which the agency explains that the use of loud music or white noise is needed "to mask sound and prevent communication among detainees."

If decibel levels are kept at 79 or lower — roughly equivalent to a garbage disposal — detainee hearing won't be damaged, the agency said.

Huckerby says that music was not used as a "benign security tool," but as a way "to humiliate, terrify, punish, disorient and deprive detainees of sleep, in violation of international law."

CIA spokesman George Little said the CIA used music only for security, "not for punitive purposes — and at levels far below a live rock band."

Founders launched National Campaign to Close Guantanamo with ads on cable television urging Congress to reject the "failed Bush-Cheney policies."

Obama pledged to close the jail by January, but logistical snags and Republican opposition on Capitol Hill have made fulfilling that promise less likely. Former Vice President Dick Cheney, who warns that closing the prison would endanger national security, has fueled the resistance.

A group opposing the closure of the prison, Keep America Safe, said in a statement Tuesday that those held at Guantanamo are dedicated to killing Americans.

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