Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Gitmo Jukebox

Just Like War, Torture Is Over If You Want It


Like STDs or race relations, torture is the great unspeakable. Nobody will talk about it. Not your friends or your family, not your congressman or Fox News and certainly not our president. He won’t even use the T-word—he calls it “alternative interrogation” like it’s something you’d see on the midway at Lollapalooza. Well, you can call rape “a forced backrub with benefits,” but it’s still rape.

Perhaps the least heinous of all reported U.S. torture techniques was the blasting of Eminem and Dr. Dre at teeth-rattling volume into the virgin ears of hog-tied Muslim detainees—for 20 days at a time in midnight-dark dungeons.

There’s a company called BMI that, among other things, tracks how many times artists get played on the radio, in bars or even by cover bands. Those radio stations and nightclubs have to pay BMI a performance royalty—it’s a small fee for each play, literally nickels and dimes—but with big artists it really adds up. BMI is a stickler for enforcing the rules. If your corner bar doesn’t pay up, the plug gets pulled on the jukebox. I’ve seen it happen.

So, I called up BMI to make sure what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. I told them about the Human Rights Watch report documenting the Slim Shady treatment and asked if the government is paying out performance royalties for these marathon S&M listening parties. After all, 20 days in a row adds up to a lot of Benjamins for Dre and Em when you consider there are hundreds of terror detainees, some as young as 15 at the time of incarceration. And if the feds aren’t paying up, is BMI gonna pull the plug on the Kabul jukebox or what?

I get a call back from BMI’s spokesperson Robbin Ahrold. Like all spokespeople, he’s a most agreeable fellow, adept at reinforcing the illusion that he’s helping you even when he’s stonewalling.


“Well, to be honest, we’ve never been asked a question like this. I’m not sure how to even find the answer,” he says, sounding sincere. He assures me he’ll get back to me before deadline because, hey, he’s kinda curious about this himself.Turns out “kinda curious” is BMI-speak for “not so much.” He doesn’t get back to me.

I try the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the folks who jealously guard the retail integrity and profit potential of major label music—even if that means suing moms and kids for piracy. I get the RIAA’s spokesperson Amanda Hunter and give her my spiel. Well, as you can imagine, it went over like a fart in church. She’ll have to get back to me, she says. An hour later she emails:

“The RIAA doesn’t have a role in the collection and distribution of royalties, so no one here has any knowledge of when royalties are collected or distributed. We are a trade association, based in D.C., and we handle antipiracy, legislative activity and litigation.”

Not to be dissuaded, I write back:

“I’m not so sure this isn’t a piracy issue. I mean, I haven’t seen any receipts. Have you folks? How do we know that the Eminem and Dr. Dre tracks in question weren’t illegally downloaded by some GI?”

Apparently tired of playing along, she writes back:

“We are not connected to this story in any way. Good luck, Amanda.”

I’m sorry Amanda, but you’re wrong. We’re all connected to this story. That’s the horrible point I’m trying to make. When America tortures people, you torture people. So, in the words of the bard, how does it feel, Amanda?

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