“What really bothers us is that they played our songs at an intolerable volume for hours on end”
Industrial band Skinny Puppy is billing the U.S. Justice Department after finding out their tunes were used as a means of torturing detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba.
The band recently invoiced the DoJ for $666,000, requesting royalties be paid for unauthorized use of their music. “We thought we would invoice them properly, so we hit them with the evil numbers of $666,000,” keyboardist and founder CeVin Key told the Tampa Tribune. “We gave them a breakdown of the bill.”
Members of the Canadian experimental electro-industrial group say they’re not only aggravated their music was used without permission, but that they’re also against torture in general.
“We never supported those types of scenarios,” Key said. “Because we make unsettling music, we can see it being used in a weird way. But it doesn’t sit right with us.”
In an interview with the Phoenix New Times last month, Key said the news made him feel “not too good.” “We heard through a reliable grapevine that our music was being used in Guantanamo Bay prison camps to musically stun or torture people,” Key said.
“What really bothers us is that they played our songs at an intolerable volume for hours on end. The guards would ridicule the detainees when they defecated or urinated themselves. How can there be a torture camp there? It’s wrong. We’ve found out all about this over a year ago and it just ticked us off,” Key told the Tribune.
“Music torture,” as it has been dubbed, has long been a favored “non-lethal” method of the U.S. Army, employed to psychologically wear down an enemy. The playing ad nauseum of what victims consider to be “offensive” music for prolonged periods at loud, uncomfortable volumes, the Army argues, provides a safe approach to aid interrogations or break the will of opponents.
During the U.S.-led invasion of Panama in 1989, U.S. forces blasted Van Halen and Metallica in attempts to ferret self-appointed ruler and drug-trafficker Manuel Noriega out of asylum. Ten days later, it worked.
The FBI also played incessantly loud music during the siege on the Davidian compound in 1993, in attempts to frustrate and weaken members of the religious cult.
During the Iraq War, the U.S. military blasted modern heavy metal and rap genre tracks from groups such as Nine Inch Nails, AC/DC, Deicide, Pantera, Drowning Pool, Eminem, and Dr. Dre, as well as melodies from children’s classics like Barney and Sesame Street, to torture Iraqi prisoners in U.S. detention facilities.
“They can’t take it,” Sergeant Mark Hadsell with the U.S. Psychological Operations Company (Psy Ops) told the BBC in 2003. “If you play it for 24 hours, your brain and body functions start to slide, your train of thought slows down and your will is broken. That’s when we come in and talk to them.”
NIN frontman Trent Reznor publicly denounced that his music was used in such a manner. “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,” the multi-talented industrial musician and songwriter said.
However, some artists aren’t offended to learn their music is used this way. Metallica singer James Hetfield, for instance, said he’s actually “glad” to have been part of the torture process. “We’ve been punishing our parents, our wives, our loved ones with this music for ever. Why should the Iraqis be any different?” the singer said. “If the Iraqis aren’t used to freedom, then I’m glad to be part of their exposure.”
Human Rights watchdog Amnesty International has been critical of the unorthodox procedure, stating the sleep deprivation produced by such intense cycles of heavy audio is in itself “cruel, inhuman and degrading.” According to the BBC, at least one Iraqi prisoner complained of being kept awake for four days by loud music. “This is an issue that seriously concerns us. If there is a prolonged period of sleep deprivation, it could well be considered torture,” a spokeswoman with the group told the BBC.
As for Skinny Puppy, they’ve recently embarked on a new tour following up on the release of their 2013 record “Weapon,” an album “conceptually inspired” by their dispute with the DoJ.