Two former Oklahoma correctional officers and their supervisor were charged Monday after an investigation found they tortured inmates with a popular children’s song.
The Oklahoman reports 21-year-old Gregory Cornell Butler Jr., Christian Charles Miles, also 21, and their supervisor, 50-year-old Christopher Raymond Hendershott, were charged with misdemeanor cruelty to a prisoner and conspiracy.
Investigators found that the officers forced at least four inmates at the Oklahoma County Jail in Oklahoma City to stand with their hands cuffed behind their backs and shackled to a wall while the song “Baby Shark” was played on a loop for hours on end at high volume.
According to investigators, Miles confessed that he and Butler “systematically worked together… to discipline inmates and ‘teach them a lesson'” by subjecting them to the abuse, which occurred last November and December.
“The playing of the music was said to be a joke between Miles and Butler,” the investigators wrote. They added that the music caused “undue emotional stress on the inmates who were most likely already suffering from physical stressors.”
The investigators found that Hendershott learned of the torture last November 23 but “took no immediate action to either aid the inmate victim or discipline the officers,” which apparently “led to the officers continuing to mistreat inmates.”
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater told reporters on Tuesday that “it was unfortunate that I could not find a felony statute to fit this fact scenario.”
“I would have preferred filing a felony on this behavior,” said Prater.
The use of music to torture prisoners has been reported on numerous occasions during the U.S.-led so-called War on Terror. Documents including a 2008 Senate Armed Services Committee report (pdf) and a 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report (pdf) detail how loud music—usually in concert with other “enhanced interrogation techniques“—was used to torture CIA and military detainees.
Detainees at Guantánamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba—many of them held without charge or trial for years—were tortured with songs including Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” Eminem’s “White America,” the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive,” and even hits by Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.
Children’s songs, including the theme from Sesame Street and “I Love You” from the television show Barney & Friends, were favorites of GITMO torturers.
Some obeservers connected the torture inflicted upon Muslim detainees abroad with the cruelty endured by so many Black, Brown, and other prisoners caught up in the epidemic of mass incarceration in the United States.
Emily Jones, a member of the activist writers’ group Collective 20 whose work focuses on issues of war and peace, tweeted that “America’s vision for peace brutalizes its own youth in police/prison and perpetual war uniforms.”