For many people, the Sesame Street theme song evokes images of a diverse group of joyous children playing with Big Bird and the other muppets. But for some Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, and Afghanistan detainees, the song might be a reminder of long nights interrupted by screaming kids looking for the location of Sesame Street, as the show’s theme song is one of several songs allegedly used by the United States military as part of its interrogation techniques.

On Thursday, October 22, the National Security Archive, a private research institute and library situated at George Washington University, filed Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain the names of the songs and artists used in interrogations. (The following document provides a list of bands.) Popular musicians such as Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and bands like R.E.M. and Pearl Jam, as part of the Close Gitmo Now campaign, have endorsed the requests. The prevailing sentiment among these musicians is that their music is supposed to promote peace and justice, not cracking the minds of detainees.

CNN reported
that some musicians may be contemplating legal action against the U.S. government. The most likely claim would involve copyright infringement, but the musicians are unlikely to prevail in a suit. Section 101 of the Copyright Act states that to perform publicly means:

(1) to perform or display it at a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered;

Although detainees probably do not fall within a “normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances,” the military usually played the music for only a few detainees and thus the public part is unlikely to be met.

However, even if the musicians would successfully argue for a public performance, a victory may still be elusive. Section 114(d)(1)(c)(iii) exempts from copyright infringement “a transmission within a business establishment, confined to its premises or the immediately surrounding vicinity.” The military could persuade a judge that its business establishment is the detention center and that the sounds were confined to that area.

— Chris Rigsby

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One Response to Sesame Street Song as Torture

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