The Wall Street Journal has a short article on some of the songs and musicians that the U.S. military has used to "enhance" their interrogations in Afghanistan and Iraq. The number one tune on the WSJ's short list is disheartening.
1. Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA"
It should stand as no surprise that a large majority of the songs used in Guantanamo Bay consisted of seemingly patriotic ditties like Springsteen's most famous American anthem. One Spanish citizen accused of being linked to the terrorist network Al-Qaida claimed his interrogators played this song the majority of the time during his entire two year stay in the Cuban prison. However, Clive Stafford Smith, the legal director of the UK human rights charity Reprieve, noted that it may not have been the most patriotic choice since "the message of the song is harshly critical of American policy, condemning the war in Vietnam and describing a veteran's effort to find work."
Is there any modern pop song with a weirder political life than the Boss's anti-heroic, bitterly pointed tune? When Springsteen originally conceived the tune, it was low-fi, minimalist number that could have easily found it way on Nebraska or Darkness on the Edge of Town. Eventually, Springsteen decided to go for a cognitively dissonant epic feel that would, at once, be both an ironic take on bombastic American triumphalism and a sonic statement that elevated the size of the story to the point it could not be ignored.
At least, he thought it couldn't. The protest tune quickly became a hit and then, with greater irony than Springsteen could conceive, it became the campaign theme song for Ronald Reagan. Springsteen demanded the Reagan campaign stop using his tune, but the damage was done. It's virtually impossible not to hear this clear non-celebratory song and not catch a disagreeable whiff of (thoroughly undeserved) Reagan Era jingoism.
Though even that doesn't beat the irony of the fact that a song about a forgotten veteran of the archetypal American military quagmire has been refashioned for use as a weapon in our latest foreign adventures.
I wonder if the soldiers blasting this music at prisoners ever listen to the lyrics and ponder how they'll be treated when they come back home. Like the vet in the song, they'll be returning from a massively unpopular conflict into an economy that most likely can't reabsorb them. It must be odd, doing this nation's dirtiest work, all to a soundtrack that serves to remind them of how disposable they are.
The article doesn't discuss the efficacy of blasting loud noise at prisoners, but a discussion of prolonged and repetitious exposure to loud noise appears in John Conroy's Ordinary People, Unspeakable Acts: The Dynamics of Torture. In 1971, twelve Irish prisoners were rounded up by the British government as part of an anti-terrorism push called Operation Demetrius. The prisoners formed the test case for the application of the Five Techniques: a torture regimen devised by the British and Irish governments that included wall-standing (rigid standing positions that prisoners kept until their muscles gave out), hooding, subjection to noise, deprivation of sleep, deprivation of food and drink. The combined affect of these techniques is horrific and potentially deadly. Notably, one of the prisoners interviewed stated that, of all the things that were done to him, he could only remember one of techniques clearly: Years, later he still vividly recalled the noises he was exposed to.