Music Matters

Music is perhaps the freest expression of art in an open society. In my travels to more than 50 countries, a sense of pride has always emerged for American culture abroad in the form of music.
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My high school friends and I grew up on R.E.M.'s early albums - Murmur, Reckoning, Fables of the Reconstruction, and Life's Rich Pageant. And who can forget Pearl Jam's debut album Ten and Eddie Vedder's ominous vocals on hits like Jeremy and Alive? I have one particular memory, the first time I heard their follow-up hit Daughter on a raucous Friday night at the Officer's Club during pilot training. The acoustic intro is running through my head even now. And in 2006, I saw Michelle Branch perform live in concert after my return from Iraq. Her soulful performance was a welcome relief from the streets of war.

Music is perhaps the freest expression of art in an open society. In my travels to more than fifty countries, a sense of national pride has always emerged when I've witnessed the popularity of American culture abroad in the form of music. R.E.M. and Pearl Jam are reminders of the strength of America's right to free speech.

Music has long played a role in the culture of the American military. Who hasn't witnessed the depiction of U.S troops in Vietnam jamming to The Doors? When I was flying Special Operations helicopters our gunners blared AC/DC over the intercom system. Flying at night listening to the tolling bells intro to Hell's Bells would send shivers down our spines. In Iraq where I served as an interrogator, hip-hop and heavy metal could be heard throughout our compound. Hell, we had one entire server devoted to music that we could enjoy while we typed our intelligence reports. There's some type of unexplainable link between soldiers and music. In the midst of the violence and uncertainty of war, music brings us comfort. Music, is by nature, intended to bring pleasure.

That is why I'm appalled about the use of music as an instrument of torture and abuse inside American military prisons such as Guantanamo Bay. Sadistic people (I'm not sure how else to explain this behavior) blared loud music non-stop at detainees as a method of punishment and retribution. Some would argue that it's an enabler for interrogation, but I can tell you from experience that such tactics have just the opposite effect. Torture and abuse, in any form, only reaffirm in a prisoner's mind why they picked up arms in the first place.

This extreme tactic of torture and abuse is another of the antiquated methods of detainee operations and interrogations that were authorized and encouraged by the previous administration and that military leaders failed in their duty to prevent. The inhumane treatment of detainees in any form is a direct violation of U.S. law, military regulations, and the Uniformed Code of Military Justice (Article 97 prohibits Cruelty and Maltreatment in addition to Article 133 Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and a Gentlemen). This type of behavior is completely contradictory to our military tradition of humane treatment of prisoners of war dating back to the American Revolution.

I stand together with artists (such as R.E.M., Pearl Jam, and Michelle Branch) who have objected to the use of the music as an instrument of torture and abuse. Music should be a sacred pleasure, not a manipulated art form used to imitate archaic medieval brutality. I'm proud of those artists who have taken a stand and support them and the call for the closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, which continues to be a symbol of lost American moral bearing -- place where unlawful detention and torture became everyday norms, carried out by members of the military whose duty it is to protect against such tyranny.

To join the effort to close Guantanamo Bay or learn more about the artists protesting the use of their music as an instrument of torture, visit the New Security Action blog at

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