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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Do Americans Support Torture? A New Poll Says…Yes?

This is disheartening, although to be honest not surprising.

A new national poll indicates that most Americans don’t want to see an investigation of Bush administration officials who authorized harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists, even though most people think such procedures were forms of torture.

Six in ten people questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Wednesday believe that some of the procedures, such as water boarding, were a form of torture, with 36 percent disagreeing.

But half the public approves of the Bush administration’s decision to use of those techniques during the questioning of suspected terrorists, with 50 percent in approval and 46 percent opposed.

“Roughly one in five Americans believe those techniques were torture but nonetheless approve of the decision to use those procedures against suspected terrorists,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “That goes a long way toward explaining why a majority don’t want to see former Bush officials investigated.”

Fifty-seven percent of those questioned don’t want Congress to investigate Bush officials who authorized those harsh interrogation procedures, with 42 percent calling for action by lawmakers. Fifty-five percent also don’t want a similar investigation by an independent panel.

60% of Americans think the Bush administration tortured, nevertheless 50% think it’s ok. I’m assuming that most of that 50% comes out of the 40% that don’t think what we did was torture…but still, there’s an overlap. There are people who agree that we tortured, and think “Hey, it’s cool that we tortured people.”

I don’t know if the media’s defense of torture is shaping the public opinion…I haven’t had the “luxury” of tuning into American media lately, although I wouldn’t doubt they have been spinning this not as a debate of “Torture, right or wrong”, but rather of “Torture, who cares if it’s wrong, does it work?”

I’ve mentioned in the past, being from New York, I have noticed a lot more support for Bush national security policies among Democrats and liberals than others have seen…Perhaps as a result of directly being effected by 9/11. In New York on election night, I was watching election returns with local Democrats…one woman, upon seeing Obama win, commented that he hoped he wouldn’t “listen to bleeding heart liberals and continue to make the terrorists suffer.” A comment others in the room nodded their heads in agreement to. She continued; “There are 3,000 reasons to make these terrorists suffer.” (I was forced to swallow my words; yes, this woman, this Democrat, wanted America to torture in the name of those who died on 9/11…and not even to get information, just to make them suffer.

50% support torture…I guess we can look at this as a glass half full type of thing. Half the country doesn’t think we should torture, but do 50% of Americans support other countries torturing? Or is our country divided…between those who want to take the moral highground versus those who think we are better when we are immoral, barbaric and cruel. It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, that same attitude existed in the imperalist societies of the past.  


  1. I wish I could say this poll is an outlier, but it’s not that far off from the results of other polls. What really bothers me about this is the approval of the use of torture for prisoners that are suspected terrorists. It blows my mind that there can be more than 25% approval in that case. Unbelievable.

  2. I’ve held all three positions (yes, there are three).

    o  Support torture.  At first it was anger driven and a bit blind.  “The fuckers” killed Suzanne and the four-year-old girl sitting next to her when their plane hit the Pentagon, dropped the towers, beheaded captives and kept sending boys and women with bombs strapped to themselves into crowds of civilians.

    – The first problem with this is that “the fuckers” aren’t always the ones you catch.  Sometimes you catch innocent people and torture them, which by itself makes you as bad as “the fuckers”.  At the time I didn’t think that America would actually be doing the actual torturing, but threatening to send prisoners (and actually sending them) to countries who would was fine with me.

    o  Don’t support torture, but don’t support investigating it.  Over the last few years the reality of the immorality of even allowing others to torture on our behalf, the inaccuracy of any information gained and the loss of the moral high ground sank in.

    – The problem with this has sunk in much more recently.  As much as I don’t want our current progress in positive directions to get hauled down into partisan mudslinging (which I desperately hope we can still avoid), Rule of Law is too important and too fragile.  Justice has to be served or the damage is too great.

    o  Don’t support torture, support investigating it.  

    – It has become clear that we were in fact doing the torturing itself, and because of recent discussion here and elsewhere I have finally gotten the definition and history of the act into my head.  It isn’t about physical harm at all, it is coercion through the use of terror – which sounds an awfully lot like what we are supposed to be fighting against.  That, and the specific types of torture we performed are specifically the types of torture we have prosecuted our own people and others for using.  

    I think most people are in stage one or two of that process and just haven’t thought all the way through it (and of course some won’t ever do so).  As this plays out over the next year or two I suspect poll numbers like these will start to skew much more towards opposition than support of torture.

  3. Jjc2008

    easily influenced by the shows they watch.

    I have some liberal friends who watch 24 religiously and love it.  While they believe in unions, in health care for all, in public education, they also truly believe there are some human beings unworthy of sympathy of any kind.

    Right after 9/11, I have to admit, my liberal self experienced some real anger.  I remember seeing people coming out of building windows (either blown out or forced out by flames) and feeling an intensity of anger I never felt before. I cannot imagine how I would feel if I had lived in NY or knew people there……

    And for me, for years, since the 80s, my anger and frustration at the Taliban and what they do to women and girls, just gets to me.  These men, in my mind, are the worst kind of bullies.  When I read about a girl having acid thrown in her face, an irrational part of me takes over and I want to hurt those bullies who do that.  

    There is an emotional response that exists in most.  But when I stop, think, reason, I understand that no matter what they do/did, reacting that way solves nothing, is immoral.

    So I think that the media can easily manipulate that emotional side of many of us in how they ask the questions, in how they consistently bombard us with stereotypes in shows……..

  4. creamer

    christians being OK with torture. The older denominations were against, though it doesn’t see like there were huge margins either way. Without going into all of my struggles with “christian’s” , it does seem to point towards a populace thats easily influenced by fear.

     I do wonder if the polls acurately predict the nations reaction if investigations and prosecutions went forward. I fear that it might rip us apart, but maybe the majority of Americans don’t care about bush/cheney anymore than the care about “suspected” terrorist.

  5. anna shane

    the jouissance of revenge?  We like the death penalty even if it does mean the state murders innocent people too.  Bush knew his base.  Maybe Barack can lead them to a higher road, but even if he can show that it works better to not torture, I doubt that he’ll sway everybody. It’s oh so moral to cause agony to someone else’s family members.  Ah, that human race?  

  6. HappyinVT

    I’m not even going to bother with Fox News because we all know how they are spinning this.  MSNBC is on the other side of the spectrum.  I don’t know how the broadcast networks are reporting the torture issue; I’m at work.  Although their websites seem to be mostly devoid of any real reporting.  I’ve flipped to CNN a few times just to see how AC360 plays it.  Sad is the main word that comes to mind.  The NYT, Washington Post, Newsweek all have had great in-depth articles but CNN does a crappy 2 minute piece followed up a D and an R discussing whether torture worked and/or whether it should be investigated.  It doesn’t matter if it worked; it’s illegal.  When you have both sides of the aisle saying it might have worked and/or let’s just move on, it’s hard for “regular” people who only have snippets of information to disagree.

    The local coverage here anywhere has sucked.  Short AP stories in the paper with little real information.  I don’t think the local tv stations have covered it at all.

    I’ll also put the blame on the President and members of Congress.  I get that Obama wants to look ahead and it appears that he’s letting the DOJ do what it wants to do.  His rhetoric has been remarkably poor on this, though.  He has said once that he wants to concentrate on his agenda while the independent DOJ does it’s job.  He needs to say it again, loudly and clearly.  He is the best person to make the case and he needs to make it.  Congressional Dems have been all over the place on this.  According to HuffPost, Chris Dodd doesn’t understand why the White House released the memos if they aren’t going to prosecute.  How about shouting loudly that we need to prosecute.  Leahy wants a truth commission but he won’t go forward without Republican support.  I agree with him largely because to do so will seem like a partisan witch hunt, which we don’t need.  He needs to get behind a special prosecutor, then.  I don’t really hear anyone in Congress calling for a special prosecutor.  As it has since the election, it falls on the president to twist in the wind.  He is the president but Congress is supposed to be an equal branch of government.  Of course, some of them are too busy worrying about how much they’ll be implicated.

    I generally think the American people are smarter than we often give them credit for.  However, the reporting on torture has been iffy at best.  How many of those people know that one person was waterboarded 180+ times in one month?  How many know what waterboarding really is?  How many have heard the details of the ICRC report?  How many know that we’ve prosecuted American soldiers for the same thing?

    Some won’t care.  After all, 3,000 people were killed on 9/11, and the ends justify the means.  And, folks have been conned into believing Muslims are evil and, therefore, deserve such treatment.  I find that troubling but not surprising.  As with everything else, the fearmongering of the last eight years is going to take awhile to overcome.

  7. mme truffle

    I’m not saying that plenty of people don’t believe that torture is acceptable.  Far too many do.

    But the order and phrasing of the questions make a difference in what type of response the pollster will get.  We’ve seen many polls on this in the last few weeks and every singly poll that asked respondents if they approve or disapprove of torture techniques received a different response than the pollsters who asked about harsh interrogation techniques.

    Six in ten people questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Wednesday believe that some of the procedures, such as water boarding, were a form of torture, with 36 percent disagreeing.

    But half the public approves of the Bush administration’s decision to use of those techniques during the questioning of suspected terrorists, with 50 percent in approval and 46 percent opposed.

    This makes it appear as though CNN asked about torture techniques in their initial question but it’s misleading, they didn’t.  Here is the exact order of the questions:

    “As you may know, the Bush administration authorized the use of harsh interrogation procedures, including the procedure known as waterboarding, when the U.S. captured suspected terrorists. Based on what you have read or heard, do you approve or disapprove of the Bush administration’s decision to use those procedures while questioning suspected terrorists?”

    “And regardless of whether you approve or disapprove of the use of those procedures, do you think any of those procedures were a form of torture, or don’t you think so?”

    To be more accurate they should have asked the torture question first, and the wording of the “approve of torture question” should have had different wording based on the response.  For instance if someone said they thought it was torture, the next question should have referred to it as that.


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