In 2003, the wartime prison blasted deafeningly loud recordings of the band Drowning Pool’s “Bodies” to deny a shackled prisoner sleep between rounds of questioning by a masked U.S. interrogator.
Guess who played at Guantánamo this Fourth of July? Drowning Pool, reprising the mosh pit anthem whose refrain is “Let the bodies hit the floor,” to the delight of troops attending the base’s Freedom Fest.
How did it happen? Was it an intentional nod to the days of harsh interrogation that President Donald Trump vowed to bring back if he was elected?
Did the band not inform the Navy entertainment agency of the song’s lurid legacy when it booked the gig for the base’s Tiki Bar preceding a fireworks display Tuesday?
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Answers are in short supply. Efforts to reach the Dallas-based band through its Facebook page, spokesperson and booking agent were unsuccessful. The prison spokesman declined to comment on whether anyone there was aware of the use of the music before the Miami Herald inquired and pointed to a 2009 Senate report that showed the song was used as an approved sleep-deprivation tactic, in tandem with strobe lighting, against captive Mohammedou Slahi during a particularly cruel period of interrogation.
At the U.S. Southern Command in Doral, the Pentagon subsidiary with oversight of the prison, spokeswoman Army Col. Lisa Garcia said the detention center of 41 captives staffed by 1,500 troops and civilians “has nothing to do with what band and when those performances are scheduled.”
Bands are scheduled through the Navy’s entertainment branch, called the Morale, Welfare and Recreation division and the base itself, Garcia said. “I’m sure they didn’t know the details you provided below when they scheduled the performance.”
And everyone on base was invited to the show, held just outside the Officer’s Club and far enough away from the Detention Center Zone that the music couldn’t be heard by the captives.
But Slahi, now free in his native Mauritania, called the choice of band, “quite a coincidence” in a response to a Herald inquiry on the Fourth of July.
The man who was held captive here for 14 years, and never charged with a crime, lamented the use of music “as a tool of torture,” celebrated diverse tastes in entertainment and noted that he still suffers hearing problems “to this day ... because of the lengthy exposure to very loud music that I had to endure, alone in the interrogation room.”
“As long as you don’t harm anyone, you can enjoy any type of music you wish,” he said by email. “I love art and good music and feel much pain for music to be used as a tool of torture. This is so twisted on many levels. Because music is supposed to make you happy and make you a better person, sometimes.”
Meantime, prison spokesman Navy Cmdr. John Robinson III would not estimate how many prison guards and others members of the staff attended the concert, himself included.
Last year, the rapper Ludacris performed on the Fourth of July and members of the prison public affairs team offered that they stayed away, in part because of the crowds and in part because the performer forbade video of the event, held at a ferry landing.
This year, social media accounts showed an enthusiastic stage-side crowd.
One concertgoer who captured the event in a Facebook Live video that recorded members of the audience engaged in an enthusiastic call-and-response of “Let the bodies hit the floor.”
A 2005 Southcom inquiry into allegations of detainee abuse at Guantánamo noted that the playing of “futility music” was an authorized interrogation technique. It did not mention the band Drowning Pool or the “Bodies” song specifically. Instead, it said the “futility technique” included rap, Metallica and Britney Spears music.
By 2009, the Senate’s Armed Services Committee outed “Bodies” as the song in a report entered into the Congressional record. Less than two years later, after Jared Loughner killed six people in a shooting rampage in Tuscon and critically wounded then Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, police discovered the song was a YouTube favorite of the gunman.
Garcia’s remark suggested that the choice of band may have also reflected a lack of institutional memory, or sense of history, at the remote, century-old Navy base whose prison opened in 2002 and has been run on temporary troops mostly doing deployments of nine months to a year.
The military might not be the only ones. In 2011, the band lamented the use of its song to inspire the Tuscon gunman in a statement posted on its website that has since been deleted.
It said: “We were devastated this weekend to learn of the tragic events that occurred in Arizona and that our music has been misinterpreted, again. ‘Bodies’ was written about the brotherhood of the mosh pit and the respect people have for each other in the pit. If you push others down, you have to pick them back up. It was never about violence. It’s about a certain amount of respect and a code.”
Ex-prisoner Slahi responds
The Miami Herald asked former, never-charged Guantánamo war prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi what he thought of the U.S. military’s featuring a band and head-pounding heavy metal song that left an indelible mark from his abusive, 2003 interrogations at this year’s Fourth of July “Freedom Fest” at the base.
Here is what he said in an email from Mauritania:
“I love art and good music and feel much pain for music to be used as a tool of torture. This is so twisted on many levels. Because music is supposed to make you happy and make you a better person, sometimes.
“Of course the designer of the torture program playing on the cultural sensitivities and their advisers must have told them that ‘we’ don’t like certain types of music, and as if the almost 800 detainees, with all possible cultural backgrounds were having the same tastes and motivations, people like me had to be part of this very bad written script.
“To this day, Carol, I have problem hearing stuff because of the lengthy exposure to very loud music that I had to endure, alone in the interrogation room.
“I’m not going to comment on people choice in life, like the one at hand but I find it quite a coincidence. However, as long as you don’t harm anyone, you can enjoy any type of music you wish.
“I hope that the great country that is yours, would stop torturing people and violating the rights. Furthermore, I believe that your people deserve that their government come clean and disclose all crimes committed during the so-called war on terror and remedy the wrongdoings.
“Of course, I would benefit but the country would benefit way more. If weapons and technological advancement were enough to make a country great, the Soviet Union wouldn’t have fallen apart.
“Your country has a big responsibility to advocate human rights instead of twisting the arms of countries like mine and order them to violate my rights and deprive me of my civil papers.
“And remember that, ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ ”