Raging against the Machine

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This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

Don't you find it alarming that music is used as a psychological warfare weapon against tens of thousands of suspected terrorists in facilities like Guantánamo Bay? Songs by American pop-culture icons, played at ear-splitting levels, are employed to break the will of prisoners there.

Music from bands like Rage against the Machine, Eminem, AC/DC, the BeeGees, Nine Inch Nails, Britney Spears and yes, even the theme song from Barney, have all been used as part of the American military-torture arsenal.

On the 60th anniversary of the United Nations' Declaration of Human Rights, a British human rights organization, called Reprieve, along with the UK Musicians Union, organized an initiative against music torture, called Zero dB. Zero dB is intended to educate people throughout the world about this form of debilitating human torture in US-run detainment facilities. It seems to be working. Only two weeks old, Zero dB features thousands of protestors from around the world silently objecting to the use of music as torture. You can witness the protest at www.ZeroDB.org.

To some, music at high decibels may seem like a soft form of torture compared to water-boarding, or electric shock. But to prisoners who have endured this type of torture, at deafening levels for days or months without a break, this is no joke. Detainees describe the experience as harder to bear than physical torture.

Artists like Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails are horrified that their music is used as a force for evil. Trent said, "It's difficult for me to imagine anything more profoundly insulting, demeaning and enraging than discovering music you've put your heart and soul into creating has been used for purposes of torture. If there are any legal options that can be realistically taken they will be aggressively pursued, with any potential monetary gains donated to human rights charities."

Technically, there may be an opportunity for BMI and ASCAP, if they chose to pursue claims that these interrogations violate copyright laws, since they don't distribute music to military bases. But it's doubtful performing rights societies would ever employ such a tactic.

High-decibel music has been used for years as a military psychological operative maneuver. The Department of Defense has experimented with several models of acoustic devices designed to disable hostage-takers. At the 1989 invasion of Panama, the military used booming music to drive out Noriega. They also employed a similar tactic in Waco Texas during that hostage crisis.

While some artists publicly condemn the practice, other's endorse the practice. James Hetfield has said regarding the use of Metallica's music, "If the Iraqis aren't used to freedom, then I'm glad to be part of their exposure," And Stevie Benton, of Drowning Pool whose song, "Bodies" is one of the interrogators' favorites, says, "I take it as an honor to think that perhaps our song could be used to quell another 9/11 attack or something like that."

Come on guys, this is not about America's freedom. It's about torture. Let's bring this brutal practice to an end.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.