There seems to be a bit of kerfluffle going about the fact that music may have been used as an instrument of torture at Guantanamo Bay and other American detention camps. According to the Washington Post,

A high-profile coalition of artists — including the members of Pearl Jam, R.E.M. and the Roots — demanded last week that the government release the names of all the songs that, since 2002, were blasted at prisoners for hours, even days, on end, to try to coerce cooperation or as a method of punishment.

Certainly one can understand why an artist would not want their work either classified as torture or used for that purpose, although James Hetfield of Metallica seems to take it as a perverse sort of compliment: “We’ve been punishing our parents, our wives, our loved ones with this music for ever. Why should the Iraqis be any different?”

The article goes on to say:

The request asks for documents that include but are not limited to references to these performers or songs:



“Barney” theme song (by Bob Singleton)

Bee Gees

Britney Spears

Bruce Springsteen

Christina Aguilera

David Gray


Don McLean


Dr. Dre

Drowning Pool


Hed P.E.

James Taylor

Limp Bizkit

Marilyn Manson

Matchbox Twenty

Meat Loaf

Meow Mix jingle


Neil Diamond

Nine Inch Nails




Rage Against the Machine

Red Hot Chili Peppers



“Sesame Street” theme (by Christopher Cerf)

Stanley Brothers

“The Star-Spangled Banner”

Tupac Shakur

And, wow, that is just such a rich vein of material that I scarcely know where to start. A few thoughts:

  • The juxtaposition of James Taylor and Limp Bizkit is a provocative one, because although these are very different styles of music, I would consider both to be torture on general principles. (I don’t want to get too much into personal preferences here, lest I someday run afoul of unprincipled persons with Internet access, but I will say that when I think about music and torture, the first words that come to mind are “Yoko” and “Ono.”)
  • I can certainly imagine how the Barney or Sesame Street themes or the Meow Mix jingle played over and over and over at extremely high volumes would wreak havoc on your mental health. It must have taken a particularly twisted type of mind to come up with these. Can you say “war crime”?
  • It’s interesting that the Bee Gees made the list but not Abba. If you’re going to hit people with 36 straight hours of “Night Fever,” why not go ahead and nail them with “Dancing Queen,” too? This reminds me of my favorite ever quote from a movie review, which is from Anthony Lane of the New Yorker regarding Mamma Mia!:

The legal definition of torture has been much aired in recent years, and I take “Mamma Mia!” to be a useful contribution to that debate.

  • If Don McLean’s on there, “American Pie” must have been used to illegally torment America’s enemies, which is pretty on the nose, isn’t it?

So bye-bye, Miss American Pie.
Drove my chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
And them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
Singin’, “this’ll be the day that I die.”
“this’ll be the day that I die.”

The truth, I guess, is that anything can be torture; all that is necessary is the will to use it as such. Which is not how we used to roll, here in the land of the free and the home of the brave. I wonder would Dr. Thompson would have said? Something about pimps and thieves running free, no doubt, and good men dying like dogs. And so it goes.