Of the many tactics and techniques deployed to extract information from detainees at Guantanamo Bay, the back catalogue of Billy Bragg is one of the more unlikely weapons suspected of having been harnessed in the name of the War on Terror.
But the thought of seminal Bragg ballads such as "A New England" and "Island of No Return" being played at extreme volume to torture inmates was enough for the Bard of Barking to yesterday add his name to a coalition of musicians including REM and Pearl Jam calling for the rapid closure of the American prison camp.
The performers have lodged a freedom of information request with US agencies including the CIA and the FBI to find out which music was played over loudspeakers into the cells of inmates at Guantanamo Bay as well as "black sites" – clandestine facilities set up under the Bush administration to interrogate terrorist suspects.
Campaigners say there is evidence that music played repeatedly at ear-splitting levels was used to "humiliate, terrify, punish, disorient and deprive detainees of sleep" as part of efforts to break detainees during interrogation. Former inmates at Guantanamo have previously testified that songs from AC/DC, Britney Spears, the Bee Gees and Sesame Street were played as part of a psychological onslaught. A jingle for a cat food and the theme tune for Barney, a dinosaur children's television character, were also pumped into cells in the facility in Cuba. Thomas Blanton, executive director of the National Security Archive, which has filed the freedom of information request, said: "At Guantanamo, the US government turned a jukebox into an instrument of torture." The American authorities have insisted music was only played as a security measure to "mask sound and prevent communication among detainees".
The musicians want the full list of songs used at the camp to be disclosed from classified records as part of a protest against the continued existence of the facility, which President Obama pledged to close as one of the first acts of his administration.
Bragg, who has resolutely supported a host of left wing causes throughout his career, is joined on the list of musicians compiled by the newly-formed National Campaign to Close Guantanamo by the Nine Inch Nails, Rage Against The Machine and Roseanne Cash, daughter of Johnny Cash.
In a statement, REM said: "We have spent the past 30 years supporting causes related to peace and justice. To now learn that some of our friends' music may have been used as part of the torture tactics without their consent or knowledge is horrific. It's anti-American, period."
Tom Morello, guitarist with Rage Against the Machine, added: "The fact that music I helped create was used as a tactic against humanity sickens me. We need to end torture and close Guantanamo now."Reuse content