Indie rock artist Mori Einsidler smiled as she rattled off KT Tunstall, Dashboard Confessional and Tegan and Sara as her musical influences. Moments later, her cheery attitude vanished. She shook her head while trying to imagine her music being played for days straight to torture prisoners.
“It completely goes against everything the artist intended,” the Communication freshman said. “You’re just blasting these people out of their minds, and I don’t think that’s okay.”
Northwestern students and professors showed support for artists like R.E.M., Pearl Jam and Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, who last week joined the National Campaign to Close Guantanamo in response to a November 2008 report by the Senate Armed Service Committee that said music was played at high volume during certain interrogations.
If Einsidler’s music were to be used for torturing detainees, she said she would take similar action to other artists and make the public more aware of the situation. The controversy changes the music’s purpose, she said.
“It doesn’t make me love music any less, but I do think it’s degrading because it’s meant to make an emotional connection and to express yourself,” Einsidler said.
Northwestern history professor Michael Kramer, who teaches a class in rock music history, said he first heard about music being used to torture Manuel Noriega in Panama.
“I remember how absurd it seemed at the time,” he said. “It seemed like a Saturday Night Live skit until you thought about how music could be used, especially at high volumes.”
He called the events at Guantanamo Bay disturbing and went on to joke that U.S. citizens should be careful about the ways the CIA uses anything, let alone music.
Joe Margulies, a Northwestern law professor with almost eight years of litigation experience at Guantanamo, thinks the center should be shut down — but not in protest of the technique because it hasn’t been used in years. According to CNN, exposing prisoners to loud music stopped after fall 2003 after the Department of Defense conducted a review of interrogation techniques.
Margulies said celebrity support for the issue will not make a difference since President Obama has already promised to close the facility by January.
“The Obama administration has committed to close the base,” he said. “That commitment has predated a public statement by Nine Inch Nails rejecting the use of their music.”
Kramer disagreed with artists like Metallica’s James Hetfield, who approve of using their music for interrogations. He said such artists were misinformed about the different messages their songs send in different contexts.
Weinberg freshman Chase Sund, a member of the ska band The Takeouts, said that blasting music is better than physical torture, but still not justified. He is in favor of closing Guantanamo Bay and giving prisoners legal jurisdiction under U.S. law.
“It’s kind of a sick irony that people would take things that would be used as some sort of expression or entertainment and turn it around like that to use it as a horrific act or some sort of tool against people,” Sund said. “In a way, it’s pretty sad.”
To Kramer, the issue of using music during interrogations is far more complicated than a discussion of artists’ rights to self-expression. Music can be used as a weapon, he said.
“Don’t let anyone tell you that music and culture aren’t important to questions of politics and power.”