When the U.S. Navy invited the alt-metal band Drowning Pool to perform at a Guantánamo Bay Fourth of July celebration earlier this summer, the booking sparked an uproar: The band’s abrasive song “Bodies”—along with the music of other artists—had been played at extremely high volume to torture former Guantánamo detainee Mohamedou Slahi and others with sleep deprivation. The booking appeared to be some sort of grotesque nod to the base’s history of abuse (Slahi was never charged with a crime and was released after 14 years of captivity).
At the time, Guantánamo officials were silent, but a spokesperson for the U.S. Southern Command insisted that it was all a coincidence: “I’m sure they didn’t know the details [of the use of “Bodies” in torture at the base] when they scheduled the performance,” she told the Miami Herald, which broke the story of the band’s performance, earlier this month. “It is likely that leadership was not informed of the potential for negative connotations because individuals were more familiar with the song ‘Let the bodies hit the floor’ than the name of the band that performed it or its past history with detainees,” the spokeswoman later told the Washington Post.
Emails obtained by Fusion, however, demonstrate just the opposite: Guantánamo officials knew about Drowning Pool’s history at the base, found it “interesting,” and thought it might “garner media interest.”
The emails, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, show that Guantánamo officials (their names are redacted) discussed the fact that Drowning Pool’s Wikipedia page noted the use of “Bodies” in torture: “The band ‘Drowning Pool’ will be our entertainment for July 4,” a civilian working on the base wrote in a May 15 email which included a link to the band’s Wikipedia entry. “Interesting note about Guantanamo in the Wikipedia article, although I would say they are ‘supportive’ of Guantanamo based on their statements.”
Another email sent the next day to a Navy official reads: “Wanted you to know this. Check out their Wikipedia page – this band might garner some media interest.”
“Don’t know much about them,” the official responded. “We’ll see!”
The band’s Wikipedia entry currently describes their association with Guantánamo Bay:
“Bodies” was used consistently by interrogators at the Guantanamo Bay detention camps in 2003, and was consistently played over a 10-day period in 2006 during interrogations of Mohamedou Ould Slahi while he was “exposed to variable lighting patterns” at the same time. On December 9, 2008, bassist Stevie Benton was quoted by the Associated Press as considering it an honor that the U.S. military was using the band’s music for “enhanced interrogation” of captured prisoners. On December 13, 2008, he issued an apology on the band’s MySpace page about his comment on musical torture, stating his comment had been “taken out of context.”
The use of music as an interrogation technique at Guantánamo was first noted in a 2005 U.S. Southern Command inquiry into torture at the base: “Interrogators stated that cultural music would be played as an incentive. Futility techniques included the playing of Metallica, Britney Spears and Rap music.”
Drowning Pool was not identified specifically until a 2008 Senate Armed Services Committee investigation described the treatment of Slahi. Slahi recounted the experience in his 2015 memoir, Guantánamo Diary:
The Mauritanian was detained from 2003 to October 2016, when he was released without charges. In an email to the Herald, he described Drowning Pool’s performance on the Fourth of July as “quite a coincidence.”
The emails also show that Drowning Pool was selected from a potential group of performers that included Sum 41, “Josh Todd of Buckcherry,” and Tony! Toni! Toné!
U.S. Southern Command’s deputy chief of public affairs, Robert Appin, told Fusion that Col. Garcia was in a meeting with “the ambassador.” He did not say which ambassador. A request for comment from Guantánamo Bay’s public affairs office was not immediately returned.
Update – In a statement provided on July 24, a spokeswoman for Naval Station Guantánamo Bay, deputy public affairs officer Monique Meeks confirmed that the station’s commanding officer was aware of Drowning Pool’s history. “Those involved with booking the show did let the CO know the history of the band (based on Wikipedia),” Meeks wrote.
This post was produced by the Special Projects Desk of Gizmodo Media Group.