The commander of the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo learned in advance that the band hired to entertain troops on the Fourth of July had a notorious link to his base’s terror prison and went ahead for morale reasons to have Drowning Pool play as a prelude to a “heart-pounding fireworks” show.
Moreover, a statement issued on behalf of Guantánamo commander Navy Capt. Dave Culpepper said the base never notified the U.S. Southern Command, which oversees the 1,500-staff detention center currently holding 41 captives, about the coming, controversial concert. “They are not a decision-maker in the process,” Master Chief Monique Meeks said in a statement from the base this week.
The base responded to an inquiry about the choice of the Texas-based post-grunge, alt heavy metal band after the online Gizmodo Media Group published emails between civilians and Navy personnel alerting Culpepper to the band’s history 50 days before the show. The names of those in the exchange were blacked out in the emails received through the Freedom of Information Act.
At the time of the concert, Southcom’s military spokeswoman said the base was likely unaware of the choice of a band whose song “Bodies” was blasted to break a captive at Guantánamo in 2003. The band reprised the song in an Independence Day concert at the Tiki Bar, the site of Guantánamo’s July 4 Freedom Fest, which is too far from the prison to be heard by the remaining captives.
Guantánamo’s annual Fourth of July show is arranged by a base activities division that runs the bars, cinemas, beach activities and occasional concerts at the base of about 5,500 people, at least 2,000 of them Jamaican and Filipino guest laborers. “Crowds average 1200+ troops, families, and base residents,” Meeks said by email. “The evening concludes with an eagerly awaited, heart-pounding fireworks show.”
This year, “those involved with booking the show did let [Culpepper] know the history of the band (based on Wikipedia), but only late in the process.” He was “made aware of possible media interest,” Meeks said, suggesting the fighter pilot who runs the base expected the choice of band would draw questions, “but also considered morale of those stationed and deployed in Guantanamo Bay.”
Now freed Mauritanian captive Mohamedou Ould Slahi, whose “Bodies Hit the Ground” treatment was documented in the 2009 Congressional Record, remarked to the Herald that while he respects an individual’s right to “enjoy any type of music you wish” the choice of Drowning Pool struck him as “quite a coincidence.”
“I love art and good music and feel much pain for music to be used as a tool of torture,” Slahi also said in an email from his native Mauritania, adding that he continues to suffer hearing loss from being blasted with recorded music him during a period of interrogation in a campaign of sleep deprivation.
The emails, subsequently released to the Miami Herald, showed it was no coincidence at all. An Air Force captain advised the U.S. Navy base in Cuba in March that more than a dozen bands were within the Armed Forces Entertainment price-range for the Independence Day concert. They included Atlanta’s mainstream R&B group Jagged Edge; the Coral Springs rock band New Found Glory; Los Angeles based singer-songwriter ZZ Ward and Canadian heavy-metal singer Sebastian Bach, who in the ’80s and ’90s fronted for the New Jersey band Skid Row, which was also available.
Guantánamo’s social director went with Drowning Pool. On the eve of the concert, the base Facebook page welcomed the band in a posting that advised: “Don’t let your bodies hit the floor with excitement.”