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October 22, 2009

Today, a group of musicians, including REM, Pearl Jam and The Roots filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to find out whether their music was played at the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay. The request for information stems from former Guantánamo detainees’ testimony and released government documents that document that music has been used as part of interrogations.

The Roots said in a statement, “When we found out that music was being used as part of the torture going on at Guantanamo, 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. Congress needs to shut Guantánamo down.”

Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, another of the artists who initiated the FOIA request, stated, “Guantánamo may be Dick Cheney’s idea of America, but it’s not mine. The fact that music I helped create was used in crimes against humanity sickens me – we need to end torture and close Guantánamo now.”

Documents that the ACLU has uncovered through our five-year-old FOIA request about the abuse and torture of detainees in U.S. custody detail how “torture music” was used. Criminal investigation records, sworn statements by military intelligence personnel and detainees, and other documents detailing the use of music as an interrogation method are searchable on the ACLU’s torture document database, which makes available to the public over 130,000 pages of government records released to the ACLU. Among the records we’ve disclosed through our lawsuit are:

  • A February 12, 2004 memorandum (PDF) that records the use of a “Fear Up approach” involving “disrespect for the Koran,” insulting the detainee, having a room upstairs with spotlights and turning the music on very loud.
  • A June 2004 sworn statement (PDF) of a detainee that describes being placed in a small box where he could not stand for two and a half days. Loud music was played constantly, he was denied food and water until the last day, and slapped by a translator during an interrogation.

The ACLU has also interviewed former Guantánamo detainees about their experiences in U.S. custody. Ruhal Ahmed, a 27-year–old, life-long British resident who spent two-and-a-half years at Guantánamo described the use of heavy metal music in combination with stress positions:

…[T]hroughout our stay in Guantánamo, we was all physically, and psychologically, and sexually abused in many forms… we were put into stress positions for days… sometimes exceed[ing] two days, three days, and at the same time you would have the loud music playing, extremely loud, heavy metal would be the most common one they used to use. Strobe lights which you find in discos, these would be flashing in your eyes constantly for two hours and at the same time someone would come and interrogate you – shout questions. There were dogs coming in barking right by your face.

…the physical abuse is hard to bear…[but] no matter how much physically you are beaten up… even if they break your leg, arm… it always will heal over time… [B]ut when you are in a stress position and have got extremely loud music especially heavy metal playing for two or three days continuous without stopping without giving you a break to think for yourself, it’s hard to actually focus… [W]hen they have something [like heavy metal] to replace your thoughts …it’s extremely hard to concentrate on things and it would make you hallucinate and it would make you see… things that is not there. So I think the psychological abuse is much worse and is much harder to bear rather than the physical. Because as I said before the physical pain can always be cured…over months of time that bruise or the broken leg would always heal. But when a human, a person is pushed past a certain barrier psychologically, once he is pushed over his limit, there is no turning back there is no medicine that will actually bring him back to his sanity, once he loses his mind, that’s it. And it was the case for a few of the detainees that we seen who went through this same treatment that we went through.

(Emphasis added.)

The more we learn about the inhumane methods used on detainees in the Bush administration’s “War on Terror,” the greater the need for meaningful accountability for the torture and abuse of detainees in America’s name. To read the documents and take action demanding accountability for torture toady, head on over to our Accountability for Torture site.

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