If Vietnam was the first media war, then Iraq and Afghanistan were the first conflicts of the digital media era, with troopsÂ carrying contraband cellphones, cameras and perhaps most important for long convoys: MP3 players loaded with music.
Few tracks circulated on playlists overseas more than Drowning Poolâs âBodies,â a hard rock song mostly consisting of the throaty, repeated lines of the main chorus: Let the bodies hit the floor.
The troop favorite and its sordid pastÂ converged in a strange way this week, when the band played for Freedom Fest, a July 4 show for troops stationed at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, home to the high-profile prison that has held detainees from the global war on terror since Sept. 11, 2001.
This is how #guantanamobay celebrates #fourthofjuly w/ @drowningpoolofficial â¦ best #independenceday party on the planet, with the men and women who deserve to celebrate the mostâ¦ #usnavy #usarmy #usmc #usmarines #uscoastguard #usairforce #jtf #DrowningPool #freedom #supportourtroops #godblessamerica #TKO #streetsmartmanagement
A post shared by Paul Gargano (@paulgargano) on Jul 4, 2017 at 4:36pm PDT
The song has a dark history in post-9/11 military history: It was used in at leastÂ one instance during harsh interrogation of Mohammedou Slahi, a detainee held at GuantÃ¡namo in 2003.Â An interrogator, identified only as Mr. X, âexposed to variable lighting patterns and rock music, to the tune of Drowning Poolâs âLet the Bodies Hit [the] Floor,â â according to aÂ 2008 Senate Armed Services Committee probeÂ on prisoner abuse at the facility that misstated the name of the song.
A 2005 U.S. Southern Command inquiry into torture at the base noted music was one technique interrogators used to unsettle detainees but did not mention Drowning Pool specifically.
âInterrogators stated that cultural music would be played as an incentive. Futility techniques included the playing of Metallica, Britney Spears and Rap music,âÂ the inquiry said.
Slahi was freed after 14 years in October 2016 and returned to his native Mauritania without charges,Â the Miami Herald reported.
He recently told the newspaper that his experience with music during his detention was âtwisted on so many levels.â
âMusic is supposed to make you happy and make you a better person; sometimes,â he told the Herald by email in response to questions about the July 4 concert and Drowning Poolâs involvement.
Slahi told the Herald it was âquite the coincidenceâ that the band, and their signature song, were on hand for the festivities at the naval station, which houses 1,500 troops.
âIt is likely that leadership was not informed of the potential for negative connotations because individuals were more familiar with the song âLet the bodies hit the floorâ than the name of the band that performed it or its past history with detainees,â U.S. Southern Command spokeswoman Col. Lisa Garcia said in an emailed statement.
Drowning Pool has gone on tour with the USO at least five times since 2005 to provide entertainment for troops around the globe, including Iraq and Kuwait.
At the center is âBodies,â their wildly popular song from their debut album.
A popular song among troops
Released in May 2001, âBodiesâÂ was tailor-made for the headbanging rock crowd, and quickly became a favorite ofÂ service membersÂ looking for what many call âmotoâ songs â short for motivation â that combine fast rhythms and vivid details of violence to amp up combat troops heading out on patrol.
Its popularity could be attributed to a convergence of a few factors.
The song was a massive hit in fall 2001, peaking at sixth on Billboardâs mainstream rock charts that August,Â when service members â mostly in the ripe hard metal demographic of late teens and early 20s â began combat deployments to Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf and later Iraq.
Troops carried their personal laptops with homemade video editing tools, and coupled with a proliferation of combat footage from cable news and homemade clips, some started toÂ marry the song to footage coming out of the war.
Brian Castner, a former Air Force bomb disposal technician, said on Twitter that he recalls a video of the song spliced with stock military footage and photos of al-Qaeda leadership appearing as early as October 2001, when he was in Saudi Arabia gearing up for combat. A cursory search for âlet the bodies hit the floor Iraqâ on YouTube yields a flood of similar videos, and it made an appearance on HBOâs âGeneration Kill,â a miniseries about reconnaissance Marines in 2003-era Iraq.
In 2006, David Peisner wrote in Spin that interrogators often mentioned âBodiesâ as popular for âpsyching up U.S. soldiers and psyching out enemies and captives.âÂ (People also likedÂ pairing it with clips of violent football collisions.)
While the song has a mostly positive reputationÂ in military circles, it has often been fraught with controversy in the general public.Â Jared Loughner, who killed six people in an attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in 2011, was a fan.
At the time, the band posted a statement online that the song was âwrittenÂ about the brotherhood of the mosh pit and the respect people have for each other in the pit. If you push others down, you have to pick them back up. It was never about violence. Itâs about a certain amount of respect and a code.â
A band representative could not be reached for comment.
One former Army reservist, who declined to be named because of a sensitive government job, told The Washington Post that his unit turned the song into a running cadence as late as 2009, though he was unaware at the time it was used at GuantÃ¡namo, he said.
I can confirm I got emailed this one in Saudi in Oct 2001: https://t.co/ScqmL84TCp
â Brian Castner (@Brian_Castner) July 7, 2017
Other veterans contributed memories of the song, including Afghanistan veteran Matt Farwell, who described the song being played by drill sergeants during a ceremony at the end of infantry training at Fort Benning, Ga., in which newly minted infantrymen receive the coveted crossed musket branch insignia. Some also noted Drowning Pool was part of a subgenre of metal groups popular with troops that included bands such as Disturbed and AvengedÂ Sevenfold.
our drill sgts in B co 2/58 had that song playing while we drank that punch on honor hill during the crossed rifle ceremony. Makes you think
â Matt Farwell (@mattbfarwell) July 7, 2017
It was still a pretty universal gym pump/pre-patrol track in OEF 12-13. Not to mention the countless dubs over gun run footage
â Michael Eberhart (@mdeberhart) July 7, 2017
USMC kicked off briefing w/vid of Iraq leader playing cards (remember those) interspersed wbomb strikes to song. Can’t remember purpose. ’03
â TJ Mayotte (@tjmayotte) July 7, 2017
Slahi said in his book âGuantÃ¡namo Diaryâ that âBodiesâ resonated in a very different way.
â[The interrogator] started playing a track very loudly â I mean very loudly. The song was, Let the bodies hit the floor. I might never forgot that song.â