Saturday, October 24, 2009


"We've only done one of the five basic torture groups. We've done blunt, but that still leaves sharp, hot, cold, and loud."
Faith, Angel
Ever since former vice president Dick Cheney said we needed to work the dark side in our fight against terrorism, torture has gotten a lot of press. Specifically, various methods of torture and whether they count as torture.

The latest "enhanced interrogation technique" to make the news? Apparently people in charge of such things at Guantanamo Bay blasted music at earthshattering decibels for hours or days to coerce and punish the prisoners. From the Washington Post:
“Sound at a certain level creates sensory overload and breaks down subjectivity and can (bring about) a regression to infantile behavior,” said Suzanne Cusick, a music professor at New York University who has studied, lectured about and written extensively on the use of music as torture in the current wars. “Its effectiveness depends on the constancy of the sound, not the qualities of the music.”

Played at a certain volume, she said, “it simply prevents people from thinking.”
Pretty sickening if you believe in things like due process, rule of law, and, you know, not torturing people. But beyond the obvious human rights issues, there's an interesting twist. A coalition of musicians has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request. They demand to know which songs the Guantanamo staff used. Once they find out, their next move will be to "explore legal options."

OK. I get these artists not wanting their music to be used for crimes against humanity. I applaud their efforts to make it stop (though the Obama administration claims it already has). What I don't understand is how it will help to know if their own works were on the playlist. I'm no expert on copyright law, but I'd bet good money that they don't have the rights to determine how someone uses their music once they buy it.

I've scanned other articles on the subject since reading the Washington Post's, and I haven't found anything that answers my question. The closest I've come is this side note from a piece by Harry Shearer on HuffPo:
[I]f the musicians really want to get at the government on the use of music for torture, why not get ASCAP and BMI on the case? Where are the royalties for the semi-public (over PA systems) use of their songs?
Hadn't thought of that. Along those lines, maybe we could convince the Recording Industry Association of America to get involved. Forget a congressional investigation. If the RIAA finds out those guys illegally downloaded the songs they used to torture people, they're in BIG trouble.


Pris said...

You've gotta love that last paragraph. Congress will never do anything but the music industry surely will mobilize on an issue like this.:-)

cinderkeys said...

Well, you know. Priorities. :)