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Get ready for more details about the horrors allegedly inflected upon hapless Guantanamo prisoners during the Bush years. As the Washington Post recently reported, the National Security Archive, a Washington-based independent research institute, has filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking the declassification of government records that may reveal what songs were blasted at prisoners -- for hours and even days at a time -- as part of interrogations or punishment.
The FOIA request was made in behalf of what the Security Archive's website called a "coalition of U.S. and international musicians, including R.E.M., Pearl Jam, Tom Morello and Jackson Browne." In all, the group includes dozens of top recording artists and bands.
According to the Post, some of the songs played at Guantanamo may have been Don McLean's "American Pie"; Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A", the "Sesame Street" theme song; and even the "Meow Mix" jingle from the TV commercial for cat food. (If you've forgotten the "Meow Mix" song, you can listen to it here. (Warning: If you're one of those who sometimes gets a song stuck in your head, don't listen to "Meow Mix" more than once.)
The Security Archive's executive director, Thomas Blanton, said: "At Guantanamo, the U.S. government turned a jukebox into an instrument of torture. The musicians and the public have the right to know how an expression of popular culture was transformed into an enhanced interrogation technique."
The use of music at Guantanamo raises a question: Just how effective might a song be in getting a prisoner or enemy combatant to reveal secrets? An answer of sorts is provided in a 1962 Billy Wilder movie, "One, Two, Three." A hilarious and biting satire of East-West relations during the Cold War, "One, Two, Three" featured a gripping scene in which East German police use an American pop song to extract a confession from a young East German student -- a dedicated communist named Otto who despises American culture.
Otto's interrogators, in their choice of music, obviously knew what buttons to push to get the student to make a confession -- and in this case a false one: that he's an "American spy." The "decadent" American song they played again and again was a 1960's pop hit: "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini."
You can judge for yourself from this famous scene in "One, Two, Three" just how effective the right song might be in loosening up a prisoner.
Interestingly, "Yellow Polka Dot Bikini," according to Wikipedia, was re-released in 1962 to capitalize on the success of "One, Two, Three." However, the song failed to land on the charts as it had when released two years earlier.
Perhaps public revelations about what songs were blasted at Guantanamo prisoners will ultimately give a boost to the careers of aging recording artists demanding to know if their songs were indeed used -- and were part of what one recording artist called a "crime against humanity."