Eminem, Elmo, Britney Spears

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What's with these rock artists complaining about their songs being used to faze Gitmo detainees? How can a Britney Spears song be called "torture"?
—April, Texas

Dear Person Who Has Never Heard a Britney Spears Song: There is much we must discuss.

But yes, musicians—Pearl Jam, R.E.M. and Trent Reznor among them—are reacting this week to word that music may have been used in conjunction with detainee torture at Guantanamo Bay. "The fact that music I helped create was used in crimes against humanity sickens me," is how Tom Morello put it this week.

For the record, experts tell me that "torture" may be too strong a term for the techniques in question, so, from this point on, we'll won't use "torture." We'll say "make detainees want to drive to Britney's house, park outside and swallow a glassful of lye."

So just how could folks like Britney, Eminem, Christina Aguilera—even Elmo and his pals on Sesame Street, apparently—be used as unwitting participants in Gitmo interrogations?


...loudly, for one.

According to one torture law expert I spoke with, Gitmo interrogations often involved a boom box being placed near a prisoner's cell and turned up very loudly—somewhere between elevator Muzak and a Nine Inch Nails concert.

And, yes, Nine Inch Nails is listed as one of the musical acts used by interrogators, according to a 2008 report in Mother Jones. So, reportedly, was the theme song from Barney, Sesame Street songs and lots and lots of rap music. Neil Diamond's patriotic "America" also reportedly has been used, along with the metal staple "Enter Sandman" by Metallica.

Once the song is chosen, often by the interrogator himself or whatever soldier is operating the boom box, the music might go on for hours, or according to Jordan Sekulow, the Director of International Operations for the American Center for Law & Justice, up to 72 hours nonstop.

Technically, the playing of the music is filed under a "futility technique"—wearing the prisoner down and convincing him that, to borrow a Star Trek term, resistance is futile.

In solitary confinement, Sekulow tells me, "time can stand still, and when a song is playing over and over, it can get to you."

Particularly if that song is offensive to you and your particular culture.

"They put you in a room they play music that will throw you off balance," says Jeff Addicott, director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary's University in San Antonio. "If you're an Islamic fundamentalist, you don't want to hear patriotic songs about America, that would make you upset."

As would, presumably, a sexually charged song by a nubile Lolita like Britney or Christina, or an absurd children's song. If that doesn't do it, being told by James Hetfield to "sleep with one eye open" can't possibly prove much of a comfort.


Britney + fashion = real torture? Check out her Fashion Spotlight gallery and decide for yourself!

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