It’s pretty insulting to tell a musician that their music is an instrument of torture. Not that many musicians seem to care. Metallica (crappy band, of old-Napster-destroying memory) are quite unconcerned that their music was a Gitmo standby.
Unfortunately, some artists are not offended by their work being used to torture. “If the Iraqis aren’t used to freedom, then I’m glad to be part of their exposure,” James Hetfield, co-founder of Metallica, has said. As for his music being torture, he laughed: “We’ve been punishing our parents, our wives, our loved ones with this music for ever. Why should the Iraqis be any different?”(from Clive Clifford Smith in the Guardian 19th June 2008)
So respect is due to David Gray for speaking out about the use of his “Babylon” track. He, at least, doesn’t find what the US call “torture lite” particularly amusing:
“That is torture,” the singer-songwriter told Radio Four’s World Tonight programme……
..”No-one wants to even think about it or discuss the fact that we’ve gone above and beyond all legal process and we’re torturing people,” he added.
The Guardian piece had a few words from someone on the receiving end of torture-lite. (Is that almost the most chilling phrase you’ve ever heard)
Despite this, to date, the Pentagon’s semanticists have achieved their purpose, and many people think that torture by music is little more than a rather irritating enforced encounter with someone else’s iPod. Binyam Mohamed, the British resident who is still held in Guantánamo Bay, knows a bit about such torture. The CIA rendered him to Morocco, where his torturers repeatedly took a razor blade to his penis throughout an 18-month ordeal.
When I later sat across from him in the cell, he described how psyops methods were worse than this. He could anticipate physical pain, he said, and know that it would eventually end. But the experience of slipping into madness as a result of torture by music was something quite different.
“Imagine you are given a choice,” he said. “Lose your sight or lose your mind.”
David Gray pointed out that there might be legal implications in using music tracks without permission:
The singer wonders whether governments who use music as a torture technique without asking permission from the artists involved could face legal action. “In order to play something publicly, you have to have legal permission and you have to apply for that.(Guardian)
Just saying… VirginMedia have responded to pressure from the BPI by sending out threatening letters to customers suspected of sharing music illegally. Shouldn’t these copyright protection agencies be suing the US government, instead, if it turns out that they haven’t applied for permission, or paid for the rights, to broadcast music in their Gitmo free concerts?
Also on the endlessly enraging topic of torture, immense respect is also due to Christopher Hitchens for undergoing the euphemistically named “waterboarding” and reporting on how bad it was, even for a volunteer who knew he wouldn’t die and could go home at the end of the experience. (Hat tip to Quintessential Rambling for the link to this story.)
“Waterboarding” sounds so much like a fun new extreme sport, whereas those old-fashioned words like torture sound so cold and depressing. “Torture-lite” sounds so ironic and post modern, as if it’s not really torture at all. Something like being stuck in traffic on a really hot day. It seems that Newspeak can change anything from “morally abhorrent” to “familiar and acceptable.”
(There’s a good thought-provoking video of Stephen Pinker’s talk at the RSA, about how we use language – including the uses of euphemism.)