Fifty years ago, the great Martinican poet Aimé Césaire wrote that the trouble with colonization was not just that it dehumanizes the colonized but that it also "decivilizes" the colonizer. Torture does the same. While transforming a human being into a thing of pain, it simultaneously strangles human society. Torture threatens to decivilize us today not only because its practices are being normalized within our national imagination but also because civil society is being enlisted to rationalize its demands. In most arenas, this process has elicited at least some vocal opposition. When it was revealed that medical professionals were assisting in abusive interrogations, debates among doctors and psychologists followed about torture, medical ethics and war. And while Administration lawyers have attempted to narrow the definition of torture and to authorize new methods of inflicting pain, other attorneys, including top military lawyers, have challenged interrogation policies on legal, moral and tactical grounds.
And so the B-side to the torture music issue flips to the music community's response to the practice. While many musicians may not even be aware of this instrumentalized use of their songs, Metallica's James Hetfield did comment on the phenomenon to Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air. Asked about a BBC report that described his band's music being blared during Iraqi interrogations, he responded with "pride" that his music is "culturally offensive" to Iraqis. Hetfield said that he considers his music "a freedom to express my insanity.... If they're not used to freedom," he said, "I'm glad to be a part of the exposure."
But Hetfield's voice must not be the only one. Where do other musicians stand? Will Eminem rage against the torture machine or will Bruce Springsteen speak out as his music is press-ganged into futility and pain? If American musicians oppose the use of their music in torture, it's time for them to make some noise.