Another example of the government using rock music to torture detainees was reported last week. But it appears the only television or broadcast news program to cover and report on this further was TMZ.
Journalist Jason Leopold wrote a story for Al Jazeera that was published on April 9 on the contents of the Senate intelligence committee’s report on CIA torture. He reported, “One former interrogator briefed about Abu Zubaydah’s interrogations from May to July 2002 told Al Jazeera that the music used to batter the detainee’s senses was by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.”
Three days later, TMZ posted a video with Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith. They caught up with him in a Malibu parking lot on Saturday and asked him if he was surprised to learn that the CIA “used Red Hot Chili Peppers’ songs to torture detainees.”
Smith didn’t quite know how to react. He had not heard of this news. He then expressed surprise because he had heard interrogators used industrial music or metal, not the style of music his band plays.
When asked if he approved of it, he said, “Of course not,” and, “Our music’s supposed to make people feel good.” He looked like he was nauseous and needed some time to process what he had been told.
During “TMZ Live” on April 15, the clip of Smith was shown. Harvey Levin and Charles Latibeaudiere, both executive producers of the show, discussed how Smith had reacted and appropriately wondered if he was upset because the CIA considered his music to be tortuous for people or if he really was mad at the government for using the music to torture.
They eventually determined that he had expressed disgust with the government for just plain using music for torture. And then a band member from the rock group Saliva appeared on the show to express his negative opinion on this because his band’s music had also been used on detainees.
If one looked for coverage of this news on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News or any network news program on ABC, CBS or NBC, they would not find any news segments, or even reported as a headline. This important issue of the CIA using rock music to torture detainees simply did not make the major news programs at all.
Many music websites picked up the report from TMZ, however. But the TMZ clip apparently never aired on any cable or network news shows.
Leopold told Firedoglake that the traction this piece of his story received was a result of the public’s fascination with the fact that the “government has some sort of mixtape that they’ve used” in interrogations. It was great that music magazines “found a part of the story relevant to their readers” and then exposed this issue to an audience that might not normally read about CIA torture. Yet, he was disappointed that more important parts of his story, like far more gruesome details on the brutal torture of Zubaydah, had not been covered by US media.
He also shared that an interrogator he spoke to informed him an FBI special agent had said to his then-fiancee that he was playing a Red Hot Chili Peppers song during torture sessions. Apparently, one of the songs played during these sessions was also a song that reminded him of her.
It had previously been reported that loud music was used against detainees. Artists like AC/DC, Aerosmith, Britney Spears, Don Mclean Drowning Pool, Eminem, Marilyn Manson, Metallica, Neil Diamond, Nine Inch Nails, Pink, Prince, Queen, Rage Against the Machine, Tupac Shakur and even the composer of the Sesame Street theme, Christopher Cerf, have had their music reportedly used for torture.
Red Hot Chili Peppers have been mentioned in declassified and published reports or in interviews with former detainees or guards, but Smith did not seem to know this.
Neither did the band’s bassist, Flea, who said it was “absolutely heartbreaking” to hear the band’s music had been used by the CIA for torture. “Anything we can do to stop that we will.”
In Octoboer 2009, the National Security Archive filed Freedom of Information Act requests on behalf of a coalition of musicians, which sought information from the “CIA, US Special Operations Command, and the FBI, among other agencies, requesting all documentation pertaining to how the music was chosen and the specific role it played in interrogations of detainees at the Guantanamo base.”
Government agencies, however, have apparently not provided any responsive documents to the musicians so they can learn more about how the military and intelligence agencies used their music for torture.
But the government has not been able to maintain complete and total secrecy. A few documents, particularly from investigations, are publicly available and confirm or provide additional details.
One Army investigation describes the playing of music as part of a “futility technique.”
A Senate Armed Services Committee inquiry found Mohammed al-Qahtani had “been deprived of adequate sleep for weeks on end, stripped naked, subjected to loud music, and made to wear a leash and perform dog tricks.” Another prisoner, Mohammad al-Sliha, was “exposed” at Guantanamo to “variable light patterns and rock music, to the tune” of Drowning Pool’s “Bodies.”
The lack of interest in musicians being outraged that their music was used for torture fits in with the general lack of interest in the contents of the Senate torture report itself. The twenty findings in the report were leaked to McClatchy Newspapers last week, yet not a single Sunday morning news program spent any time discussing what the report’s findings further confirmed.
Photo screen shot from TMZ report featuring Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith