Will listening to hours of Britney Spears, Nine Inch Nails, or even the Meow Mix jingle make you lose your mind? That’s exactly what military officials were hoping for when they blasted hours of loud music to prisoners detained at Guantánamo Bay and in Iraq and Afghanistan prisons. The National Security Archive, an independent research institute that works to publish declassified information, submitted a Freedom of Information Act request on October 22 to a variety of government agencies including the Department of the Army, U.S. Central Command, Defense Intelligence Agency and the CIA, seeking all intelligence reports, briefings and recordings of loud music used during the detention and interrogation of detainees.
The request for information relied on 20 declassified documents, all of which refer to the use of “loud” music as a way to control Guantánamo detainees. One detainee claims he was subjected to hours of deafening music by Eminem and Metallica as a form of sleep deprivation. According to the FOIA request other artists possibly used include Aerosmith, James Taylor, and Tupac Shakur.
Predictably, several of the artists on the list were not pleased to see their music used as part of enhanced interrogation techniques that have been debated as possible torture. Former Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello was shocked. “Guantánamo may be Dick Cheney’s idea of America, but it’s not mine," says Morello in a statement. "The fact that music I helped create was used in crimes against humanity sickens me." Alternative hip hop band The Roots echoed: “When we found out that music was being used as part of the torture going on at Guantánamo, shackling and beating people—we were angry. Just as we wouldn’t be caught dead allowing Dick Cheney to use our music for his campaigns, you can be damn sure, we wouldn’t allow him to use it to torture other human beings.”
The broader question might be how exactly interrogators chose which music to make people go crazy. Kate Doyle, a senior analyst with the National Security Archive who drafted the most recent FOIA request, suspected that military leaders consulted music selections that had already been used for the same purpose. She referred to documents obtained after the 1990 capture of Panama leader Manuel Noriega, who was removed from power by the U.S. Noriega tried to avoid capture by camping out at the Vatican embassy, but U.S. military leaders rolled in loud speakers and hit play on an extensive list of rock and pop music—from Billy Idol to New Kids on the Block—to lure Noriega from hiding. He surrendered after 10 days.
In the wake of the newest revelations, recording artists might be able to make the government pay for its actions. A suit from artists, which some have suggested is already in the works, would seek royalties from the government each time a song was played. Although one lingering question is whether songs played at Guantánamo Bay and other prisons constitutes a private playing or a public performance, the latter of which would signal infringement. Whether U.S. copyright law should even apply to situations abroad in Cuba would also be left up to a judge.
Declassified documents containing detainee and prison-guard testimony helped the National Security Archive create list of artists for its FOIA request. It’s likely that when the government responds, which could take awhile, more recording artists will be revealed. The names of the specific songs used in the interrogation or possible torture techniques will also be unveiled in the response.