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Metallica Urged U.S. to Stop Using Their Music for Torture, Says SEAL Who Killed Bin Laden

Metallica, James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett

The U.S. military played Metallica records to weaken prisoners it planned to interrogate, and stopped after the band objected. That’s one revelation (via Blabbermouth) from Esquire‘s blockbuster profile of the Navy SEAL who shot Osama bin Laden.

The piece, titled “The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden… Is Screwed” and written by former San Francisco Chronicle editor Phil Bronstein, is essential reading for a whole lot of other reasons. But its still-anonymous, enviably quotable subject’s pithy comments about Metallica should be of obvious interest to music fans.

When we first started the war in Iraq, we were using Metallica music to soften people up before we interrogated them,” the man Esquire calls only “the Shooter” is quoted as saying. “Metallica got wind of this and they said, ‘Hey, please don’t use our music because we don’t want to promote violence.’ I thought, Dude, you have an album called Kill ‘Em All.” (Would it be unappreciative of his service or callous toward torture to recommend Lulu instead? Sigh, probably.)

But the military reportedly shifted its allegiances to the self-described Christian metal band Demon Hunter. The Shooter continues: “But we stopped using their music, and then a band called Demon Hunter got in touch and said, ‘We’re all about promoting what you do.’ They sent us CDs and patches. I wore my Demon Hunter patch on every mission. I wore it when I blasted bin Laden.” UPDATE: Demon Hunter have issued a statement about their inadvertent involvment in bin Laden’s demise that concludes, “We are honored, humbled and blessed that Demon Hunter was of any support or comfort to Seal Team 6 or anyone in the US military at any time.” Read it in full below.

So there you have it: The guy who killed bin Laden was reportedly wearing a patch promoting a Christian band. Set aside the twisted irony of associating the crucified, crown-of-thorns-wearing Biblical turn-the-other-cheeker with torture and killing. Letting the Shooter wear a badge that could help jihadists portray the stupidly named “War on Terror” as yet another Christian Crusade was probably not the savviest global public relations move.

To be sure, the U.S. government’s use of Metallica’s music as psychological warfare has been previously reported (see our own David Peisner’s 2006 piece Music As Torture: War Is Loud). But the Shooter’s quotes here provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse on what this aural waterboarding was like.

Metallica haven’t always spoken out against the use of their music for torture. In a 2008 interview with Germany-language TV network 3SAT, James Hetfield at first giggles awkwardly when asked about the reported use of his band’s music on Guantanamo Bay prisoners. “Part of me is proud because they chose Metallica,” he said. “And then part of me is kind of bummed about it that people worry about us being attached to some political statement because of that. We’ve got nothing to do with this and we’re trying to be as apolitical as possible, ’cause I think politics and music, at least for us, don’t mix.”

Esquire‘s piece also suggests the U.S. military might, understandably, not be hip to the latest in loud music. “If there are people that are dumb enough to use Metallica to interrogate prisoners, you’re forgetting about all the music that’s to the left of us,” Metallica’s Lars Ulrich said in an interview on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show in April 2009. “I can name, you know, 30 Norwegian death metal bands that would make Metallica sound like Simon & Garfunkel.”

SPIN has also covered the quest for the maximum possible volume. But we seriously doubt artists such as Michael Gira and Black Dice would want their decibels used on prisoners of war — excuse us, “detainees.” We’re just happy these bands are on our side.

Full Demon Hunter Statement:

As you can imagine, our inboxes and phones (and those of our representatives) have been flooded with messages asking us how we feel about the Esquire article on the raid that brought Osama Bin Laden to justice that began circulating yesterday. Specifically, the person identified in the story as “The Shooter” said that Seal Team 6 wore the Demon Hunter emblem on their uniforms and “I wore it when I blasted Bin Laden.”
Over the years, we have been overwhelmed by the personal (and unofficial) emails and letters we’ve received from members of the US military. We have been humbled and honored by the troops who’ve told us our music has offered them some comfort while overseas, while missing loved ones, while doing what they do best in order to keep America safe and protect the freedoms we enjoy. We’ve met many servicemen and women at our shows and they’ve shared their stories with us in person, as well. We wrote “The Soldier’s Song” back in 2005 to pay tribute to these folks who’ve reached out to us. We included one such veteran among the Demon Hunter fans we profiled in our documentary film, 45 Days.
We have seen our symbol, a demon skull with a bullet hole in its forehead, tattooed on fans around the world. We’ve seen it made into sculptures, painted onto motorcycles, even spray-painted onto tanks and military planes. We often post these pictures on our Facebook page when we receive them. One such email, a few years ago, came from a special operations team who had crafted homemade Demon Hunter patches and put them on their uniforms. They asked us if it was OK if they did this and we of course told them “YES” because we are unapologetic supporters of our troops. In the last 24 hours, we have come to believe this team who contacted us a few years ago must have been Seal Team 6.
As for the talk about enhanced interrogation techniques that has sprung up in the media in the last 24 hours surrounding this story, we feel that it is an unnecessary distraction. It’s been widely reported for years that heavy metal music has sometimes been used in these situations. We have no specific knowledge of our music being used for this, nor have we ever volunteered it to be used as such, nor are we commenting on it beyond that. The debate about enhanced interrogation techniques is for politicians, military intelligence, pundits and others of the like to have.
The members of Seal Team 6 and The Shooter are American heroes who deserve our support. We were among the Americans and people around the world abroad who supported the bringing to justice of one of the biggest mass murderers in history, who planned and executed some of the most horrific acts imaginable. All of the military who risk their lives to protect our freedoms earn our respect each and every single day. We are honored, humbled and blessed that Demon Hunter was of any support or comfort to Seal Team 6 or anyone in the US military at any time.