The Sounds of Torture


The United States has long been the world leader in musical influence, pouring forth the revolutionary sounds of blues, jazz, rock and roll, country and western and hip hop in a seemingly endless parade of creativity and forward-thinking innovation. As the first decade of the new millennium nears its end, it would seem our national leaders have had the foresight to add yet another ground breaking development to that list — the art of musical torture.

 Various media outlets recently broke stories regarding the American militaries use of music to induce sleep deprivation, prolong capture shock and disorient detainees during interrogations of enemy combatants in Iraq. While the militaries use of high-volume noise as a tool of harassment is nothing new, playing music in order to break the will of detainees while attempting to gain information is an entirely unprecedented technique.

 As troubling as this revelation may be on its surface, the list of songs the military has deemed torture worthy is not only disconcerting but almost mind-bendingly surreal. That list, as printed in “Mother Jones” magazine, includes in no particular order: “Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen; “White America” and “Kim” by Eminem; the “Barney” theme song; the “Meow Mix” TV commercial song; the “Sesame Street” theme song; “Stayin’ Alive” by The Bee Gees; “All Eyes on Me” by Tupac; “Dirrty” by Christina Aguilera; “America” by  Neil Diamond; “Bulls on Parade” by  Rage Against the Machine;  “American Pie” by  Don McLean; “Raspberry Beret” by Prince  and a little ditty called “F***  Your God” by Deicide.

 While any of these songs, played at sufficient volume, would be enough to keep a prisoner awake for extended periods, the emphasis on tracks containing lyrics deemed culturally offensive to Muslims and patriotically supportive of the United States points out a few glaring ironies inherent in these choices.

Taking the Springsteen and Rage Against the Machine tracks as examples, one can only surmise that the military geniuses behind this plan never actually took the time to listen to the lyrics to these songs which, in the case of the former, uses the words of a struggling war veteran to criticize U.S. involvement in Vietnam,  while the later bemoans the greed and callousness of profiteers who use war as a means to line their own pockets. As Ronald Reagan found out during his ’84 presidential run, when he attempted to co-op “Born in The USA” as his campaign song, it helps to actually be familiar with a song’s lyrical content before attempting to put it to extracurricular use.

 Even Reagan wouldn’t have been obtuse enough to use the Eminem track “White America,”  which takes the nation-gone-wrong theme to an almost absurd level. With lyrics that include everything from urinating on the White House lawn to a description of America as a “democracy of hypocrisy,” you’d be hard pressed to dig up a more blatantly unpatriotic song if you tried. Using music like this to terrorize a U.S. hating enemy combatant is the equivalent of using hard-core rap to break down a gang-banger.

 Not only do these song choices play into the terrorists hatred of America, but several of them give voice to their views of women as untrustworthy, subservient beasts of burden whose lives are of little value ( “Kim”) as well as their fanatical intolerance of any faith that worships a god other than their own (the cartoonishly satanic “F*** Your God.”) And while I can only guess that Neil Diamond and Don McLean were added simply because their songs include the word America, the use of the theme songs to “Barney” and “Sesame Street” are just downright bizarre. And for the love of God, can someone please explain the inclusion of “Raspberry Beret.” Frankly, the only choice that makes any sense to me at all is the “Meow Mix” jingle, which I’ve often found excruciatingly irritating even in short doses.

 That particular song is one of the few on the list that doesn’t rely on lyrics that the military would deem culturally offensive to the enemy.  Which brings up yet another ridiculous lapse in reason: In order for these detainees to be disturbed by a song’s lyrical content they would have to actually be able to understand the lyrics in question. As I’m assuming that the vast majority of the detainees have a somewhat limited grasp of the English language, the only possible reason for choosing these songs is for the gratification of the interrogators themselves. If you can picture a group of uniform clad, women hating, unpatriotic Satanists who have a secret fetish for TV shows that feature prepubescent children frolicking with adults in animal costumes, well, perhaps you have a fairly accurate image of the kind of people who came up with this scheme.

 All humor aside, and apart from any questions about whether these methods violate either the law or the spirit of the Geneva Convention, these juvenile tactics disgrace not only the instigators and the artists whose work they’ve involved, but everyone who considers themselves an American.

 Lets hope the rest of the world doesn’t follow our lead and seek to imitate this shameful chapter in our nations history as eagerly as they’ve clamored to assimilate the life affirming sounds and creative exploits of our past — and greatest — musical exports.


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