Conflict & Justice

Sesame Street music used against Guantanamo prisoners, doc shows


Children sign a wall as they mark the 35th anniversary of Sesame Street flanked by characters Elmo, Tommie, Bert and Ernie at the Dalton School in Amsterdam, on July 20, 2011.



Sesame Street songs helped the US government break prisoners at Guantanamo in 2003, a new film from Al Jazeera World revealed.

In “Songs of War,” a 45-minute documentary, Sesame Street composer Christopher Cerf said he’s both horrified and fascinated by the revelation.

“My first reaction was, ‘this can’t possibly be true, this is just too crazy,’” Cerf tells Al Jazeera. “It was much worse when I heard later that they were actually using the music in Guantanamo to actually do deep, long-term interrogations.”

Cerf has won two Grammy Awards and three Emmy Awards for his music.

He’s written more than 200 songs for Sesame Street, the iconic television program that teaches children to read, write and speak in multiple languages.

Musicians first learned the CIA used their music to break prisoners late in 2008, The Associated Press reported.

Quoting the UK-based law group Reprieve, the AP said jailors blasted heavy metal and rap music alongside children’s music. 

US forces also used songs like “Enter Sandman” by Metallica, “Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen, “White America” by Eminem and “I love You” from Barney and Friends.

More from GlobalPost: 9/11 defendants protest Guantanamo military commission

American forces used the tactic in Iraq and Afghanistan “to create fear, disorient ... and prolong capture shock,” Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez told the AP.

After he learned about the methods, Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello told concertgoers he opposed torture of any kind.

“I suggest that they level Guantanamo Bay, but they keep one small cell and they put (former President George W.) Bush in there ... and they blast some Rage Against the Machine,” he said, the AP reported.

The Al Jazeera film’s producers also outlined CIA guidelines for interrogation methods, including white noise and loud music.

Quoting a recently declassified document, they said US agents could play music at 100 decibels for two hours to help get information from suspects.

“They were attached to chairs, headphones were attached to their heads, and they were left alone just with the music for very long periods of time,” researcher Thomas Keenan told Al Jazeera. “Sometimes hours, even days on end, listening to repeated loud music.”

“Songs of War” debuted May 29 on the news channel, and it will be rebroadcast throughout the week.

More from GlobalPost: Last westerner at Guantanamo asks for transfer to Canada 

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