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On Torture

A majority of Americans in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll oppose the use of torture in terrorism investigations, backing Barack Obama's pledge that "under my administration, the United States does not torture." But there's an even split on whether he should investigate whether laws were broken in the way suspects were treated under the Bush administration.

Overall, 58 percent support the prohibition Obama declared before taking office, but there's a wide gap across party lines: 71 percent of Democrats and 56 percent of independents in the poll said torture should never be used, but most Republicans, 55 percent, said there are cases in which the U.S. should consider using torture against terrorism suspects.

The issue of torture has new prominence today after Obama's order to suspend judicial proceedings against terrorism suspects being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Last week, a top Bush administration official said plainly that the U.S. had tortured a Saudi national held there; the man allegedly intended to take part in 9/11 attacks. The politics of torture and Gitmo are now inextricably linked.

There's also a large political divide about whether the new administration should look into any illegality on the part of the previous one in terms of its handling of those suspected of terrorist activities, as 69 percent of Democrats said they'd like to see such investigations while 69 percent of Republicans said no. Independents divide 53 to 45 percent against investigations.

Put together, all Americans break 50 percent in favor of investigations, 47 percent opposed.

On the question of the use of torture, a gender gap spans party affiliation, as in all cases women are more apt than men to support Obama's position that torture not be used in any circumstance.

Q. Obama has said that under his administration the United States will not use torture as part of the U.S. campaign against terrorism, no matter what the circumstance. Do you support this position not to use torture, or do you think there are cases in which the United States should consider torture against terrorism suspects?

           Support not      There are cases
          using torture   to consider torture   No opinion
All            58                 40                 2

Democrats      71                 28                 2
Republicans    42                 55                 3
Independents   56                 43                 2

Men            49                 50                 1
Women          65                 31                 3

Dem Men        65                 33                 2
Dem Women      75                 23                 1
GOP Men        34                 65                 1
GOP Women      50                 45                 6
Ind Men        45                 55                 *
Ind Women      66                 31                 3

Liberal        72                 27                 1
Moderate       57                 42                 1
Conservative   47                 50                 3

By Jon Cohen  |  January 21, 2009; 12:59 PM ET
Categories:  Post Polls  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: WaPo-ABC poll on Gitmo
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Comments

Put together, all Americans break 50 percent in favor of investigations, 47 percent opposed.

That's pretty impressive considering most of our beltway columnists have been arguing against prosecutions and our TV media personalities have mostly ignored the issue or have argued against them.

I'd say there is a large disconnect between our citizens and most of our media personalities.


Posted by: pmorlan1 | January 21, 2009 2:22 PM | Report abuse

This poll proves beyond a doubt that most Repukes are un-American scumbags.

Who Would Jesus Torture?

That's a rhetorical question, Repuke morons. Jesus was against torture.

As for the 28% of Democrats who support torture, SHAME ON YOU. You are NOT real Democrats, you are Repuke scumbags.

Our country is in DEEP TROUBLE if 40% of Americans support the ILLEGAL use of torture.

Torture is a CRIME. We put US soldiers in prison for waterboarding Filipino insurrectos. We HANGED Japanese soldiers for waterboarding Allied troops.

TORTURE IS MORALLY WRONG.

America has lost its way. I blame Repukes.

Posted by: Tom333 | January 21, 2009 2:23 PM | Report abuse

You DO realize that the rest of the world is reading this poll.

And they think Americans are scumbags.

I blame Chimpy and his Reign of Error. He treated the Constitution like a "g0ddamn piece of paper" and wiped his butt with it.

And when he okayed torture, Chimpy also wiped his butt with the Bible.

Posted by: Tom333 | January 21, 2009 2:39 PM | Report abuse

This is a sobering poll. It isn't a good look for the US - but it is quite likely there would be similar results if other countries in similar situations polled it.

What really puzzles me - aren't so-called Christians heavily weighted on the Republican side of the spectrum?

Is it that because they see graphic depictions of torture regularly in church they are desensitised?

Is it because they are taught that those who sin should be punished? Perhaps after childhoods of psychological torture (for example threats of burning in hell for "sins") they see a bit of drowning for a possible bomber (or even some innocent unlucky enough to be seized) reasonable retribution.

It has known that torture is very ineffective at extracting reliable information, it is mostly used as a fear tactic or to inflict punishment.

Posted by: pdgnz | January 21, 2009 2:54 PM | Report abuse

As someone who has been on counter-terrorism ops, I know that torture not only is not useful (they lie to you, actually), but is against the Geneva Conventions.

I for one am glad we are returning to the Rule of Law from the dark days of Fear and Paranoia that ruined our nation for the last eight years.

By the way, the most effective way is actual friendly interrogation - most of our useful intel from GITMO was from a former police officer who used standard detective techniques instead of torture. Yep, just one guy.

Posted by: WillSeattle | January 21, 2009 6:17 PM | Report abuse

How telling it is that a majority of Republicans think that torture is something that Americans should "consider" using in certain circumstances.

Should we also "consider" using mass rape as a war strategy? If not, why not? Since it is well known that torture's efficacy is not in extracting information, but in terrorizing a population, it fits right in with the neocon philosophy of foreign affairs. You know, the philosophy that says that America needs to "pick up a small, crappy country every ten years or so and throw it against the wall, just to show it means business." (Paraphrased from Ledeen)

This is a travesty. There's a partisan divide here, but one side is just wrong.

Posted by: valkyrie607 | January 21, 2009 11:00 PM | Report abuse

I always knew the republicans who believe in torture were unamerican and neanderthals.

Posted by: sandnsmith | January 21, 2009 11:19 PM | Report abuse

Tom333,
You are absolutely correct.
How these so-called "Christians" can meld their religious beliefs with concepts like torture, rendition, etc., is a mystery to me.
pdgnz has a good point.
I do think the element of punishment motivates a lot of these people who condone torture.
As a military wife, I believe our former policy of using torture, even if limited, threatens our own troops' welfare when they are on the battlefield.
We may not be able to prevent their being tortured and killed by stateless terrorists, but our pursuit of them will hold the moral high ground when we do pursue them.
We must rely on our intelligence assets and operations to keep us safe from attack in this country, not on "prayer" and tough outlaw policies.
That's why it never made sense to me that the Bush forces neglected our border and port security.
I came to the conclusion that the neo-cons' corporate buddies wanted to exploit the illegals flowing into the country in order to circumvent paying Americans decent wages and benefits.
I kept hearing from my evangelical neo-con loving ideological ignoramuses:
"We have to keep fighting them over there so they won't come here."
They couldn't answer the question:
"What makes you think they won't come here anyway?"
They could never answer that.

Posted by: Judy-in-TX | January 22, 2009 12:53 AM | Report abuse

Can you imagine that anyone, anywhere, would ever torture the enemy to extract information, and by the enemy I mean specifically our dear Salafist friends? As for the efficacy of torture to extract information as opposed to forcing a confession just how many times do you believe that you can provide false information to your interrogators without severe consequences? Innocents abroad indeed.

Posted by: garrafa10 | January 22, 2009 1:03 AM | Report abuse

Darn that Constitution! As Americans supporting torture make clear, it's just too liberal.

Posted by: greystuul | January 22, 2009 1:57 AM | Report abuse

DO NOT LISTEN TO WHAT BARACK OBAMA SAYS, BUT CAREFULLY WATCH WHAT HE DOES !!!

Barack Obama is the greatest liar in history (no wonder he is an excellent lawyer!) During his campaign, he told lots of hope in future for America if he was elected, but now he warns Americans of oncoming darker economy and not to put too much hope in his promises. He promises a big plan to reduce budget deficit but his inauguration ceremony this January will be the most costly in history (50 millions) while the nation is in deep depression, as well as his presidential campaign (600 millions), which was far more than his opponent John McCain's. He vows to clean up Washington DC, but he failed to first clean up his homestate Illinois, one of the most corrupt state with the scandal of Governor Rod Blagojevich, who greatly helped Obama to win his state senate seat in 1996, 1998, and 2002. And his favorite slogan is "Yes, we CAN", yet he himself CANNOT quit smoking at all !!! (Each year about 1.3 million American smokers quit successfully).

Posted by: TIMNGUYEN1 | January 22, 2009 2:08 AM | Report abuse

TO ALL THOSE WHO OPPOSE TORTURE:

Is it not completely obvious that torture is necessary under certain, albeit limited, circumstances? If you disagree, then you should expand your mind on the issue. If I had the power to kill everyone on this planet and all you had to do to stop me was torture me, I guarantee that all of you would do it, and gladly. Take a seat, you hypocrites.


Posted by: MoveOn | January 22, 2009 3:32 AM | Report abuse

I would bet, if , instead of, "whether he should investigate whether laws were broken in the way suspects were treated under the Bush administration," people were asked, "whether some citizens are above the law," we would see drastically different results.

Posted by: dickc | January 22, 2009 11:34 AM | Report abuse

MoveOn: So, in this super villain scenario of yours, why does he give in? Torture?

People committed enough to committ suicide bombings and plan mass murder aren't very likely to have watched "24" and know that they have to cave in to keep the fantasy alive for Cheney and Scalia and the rest of you.

And Nguyen: Really, is that it? Listen or read something other than Limbaugh and the rest of the boobs.

Cheers,

Posted by: cmhmd | January 22, 2009 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Torture is unacceptable under any circumstance.

Nothing is gained from torture and I am becoming exceedingly angry at the stupid comments of those who favor torture.

Forgive me, but I'd even like to waterboard the bunch of stupids who advocate torture.

Thereby nullifying my claim that torture is unacceptable under any circumstance.

Would torture serve to enlighten the stupid?

Posted by: KarenHedwigBackman | January 22, 2009 1:39 PM | Report abuse

Garsh! That really *is* a loaded WaPo poling question. And still the American people polled got it right: 58% to 40%. Maybe we really are waking from this long, fearful national nightmare. Hope so!

Posted by: lgraham1 | January 22, 2009 2:22 PM | Report abuse

"Is it not completely obvious that torture is necessary under certain, albeit limited, circumstances?"

No.

"If you disagree, then you should expand your mind on the issue."

I've already thought much longer and harder on this subject than you have.

"If I had the power to kill everyone on this planet and all you had to do to stop me was torture me, I guarantee that all of you would do it, and gladly."

No such situation is possible. Even if there were a situation where torturing you could produce information that would stop *someone else* (not already in custody) from killing everyone, there's no way to know that it would be effective. And even if there were, that's no argument against Obama's executive order since a) his order simply establishes that Americans will obey the law and b) IN REALITY there are no scenarios like yours.

"Take a seat, you hypocrites."

You don't understand the concept of hypocrisy. By your lights, someone who believes that stealing should be illegal is a hypocrite because you can imagine some fantastic scenario in which they would steal. That's obviously ridiculous, and would mean that only those who oppose all laws aren't hypocrites. In fact, that you apply such a radical concept of hypocrisy so selectively makes you a hypocrite.

Posted by: jibal | January 22, 2009 2:22 PM | Report abuse

"Barack Obama is the greatest liar in history (no wonder he is an excellent lawyer!)"

On the contrary, it is Mr. Nguyen who is the liar, although not a very good one. Just to state the obvious, Barack Obama is not a trial lawyer; being a great liar would not make one an excellent law lecturer.

Posted by: jibal | January 22, 2009 2:27 PM | Report abuse

"most Republicans, 55 percent, said there are cases in which the U.S. should consider using torture against terrorism suspects."

Most Republicans, like our friend "MoveOn", a) can't distinguish the difference between a show like "24" and reality, b) can't be bothered to educate themselves as to what experts in interrogation say about the efficacy of torture, and c) don't believe in the rule of law.

Posted by: jibal | January 22, 2009 2:31 PM | Report abuse

If you think torture works (and you're wrong, it's been documented not to work, throughout several wars), I would understand your point only if this were true: if you were in such a damned hurry to get the information, why wouldn't you use truth serum (sodium pentathol)? I am very curious to hear your response.

For, you see, sodium pentathol is very reliable, very fast and effective and painless. So, you would get your information faster and wouldn't have to wait through or worry about the following:

wouldn't have to buy manacles to hang them in stress positions,
for prolonged torture to be finished,
for them to catch their breath from the suffocation of waterboarding,
wouldn't have to wait for them to stop screaming,
for them to wake up from beating them unconcious,
wouldn't have to worry about blocked arteries possibly killing the prisoner and stopping him from providing more information later,
wouldn't have to drag him back to his cell because he can't walk/see/hear/breath.

So, why do you folks that advocate torture, advocate it over truth serum? Just asking.

Posted by: brantl1 | January 22, 2009 2:37 PM | Report abuse

"As for the efficacy of torture to extract information as opposed to forcing a confession just how many times do you believe that you can provide false information to your interrogators without severe consequences? Innocents abroad indeed."
If they're torturing you in the first place, how much more severe can the consequences GET? They might kill you? SO? If they are torturing you, and you're telling the truth, I suspect that you would lie in whatever way they seemed to desire, in order to get them to stop.

Posted by: brantl1 | January 22, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Anyone who DOESN’T think we should investigate and prosecute Bush and his officials for war crimes and torture doesn't understand that we live in a republic not a 4-8 year oligarchy.

We're supposedly a society ruled by laws, not by memos written by psychopaths (temporarily employed by the Justice Dept.), that are secretly turned into “law.” If we're ruled by law, not whim or vengeance, and if ethics hasn’t gone out of fashion, and if everyone is equal under the law, then they must be prosecuted, otherwise the law is a joke, and the next Republican government will feel free to do something similar.

We must never the Iraqis forget who paid the price because the thugs in the Bush administration thumbed their noses at law, and ethics and humanity. We are all too inclined to forget the foreigners who bear the brunt of our brutal foreign policy, but the rest of the world doesn’t forget.
These are some of our crimes (in the process of being repeated in Afghanistan, a country that has never been conquered, and never will be):

1.3 million Iraqis are dead because of our invasion;
several milliions are injured, with many permanently disabled, physically and psychologically;
over 4 million are displaced, many can never return to their homes;
women who used to be able to work in any profession can no longer do so. They are now being subjected to sharia law, forced marriages, death for illicit love affairs, and are forced to cover themselves from head to foot if they don’t want to risk attack;
thousands of professionals, such as doctors and engineers, have been murdered, others have fled Iraq. (In 2003 Bremmer fired nearly all professional Iraqis, included the military, leaving Iraq with no one capable of running the country.
the libraries and museums that contained the world's greatest ancient culture, and their modern one, were destroyed;
what was once a society that married across religious lines, now can only do so on pain of death.

An achievement that no surge can cover up.

Posted by: nanohistory | January 22, 2009 9:11 PM | Report abuse

cmhmd: It's not a 'supervillian' hollywood scenario. It's irrelevant considering "why" or even "if" the terrorist would give in. The point is that after all other methods are exhausted, you're left with torture as the only possibility of extracting information. The terrorist either dies or he gives up the information. I thought I made that point obvious.

jibal: No such situation is possible? IN REALITY? My point was to expand your mind. You would have said the same thing on 9-10-01. Again, the point is you would torture if it were the last option, all others exhausted, you choose to either do something or nothing. Obama chooses to do nothing.

hypocrisy, noun.
1: a feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not ; especially : the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion
2: an act or instance of hypocrisy

You do not support torture, but you yourself would torture in an extreme case. That makes you a hypocrite. If you support laws against stealing, and you steal, you are a hypocrite.

I've got a "24" scenario for you: >10,000 nuclear weopons on this earth and it's possible they could all be unleashed upon us. That's REALITY.

1963, Cuban missile crisis. REALITY. I don't care about any intellectual arguments on the "effectiveness" of torture. It's irrelevant. Do you do something or not?


Posted by: MoveOn | January 22, 2009 11:49 PM | Report abuse

cmhmd: It's not a 'supervillian' hollywood scenario. It's irrelevant considering "why" or even "if" the terrorist would give in. The point is that after all other methods are exhausted, you're left with torture as the only possibility of extracting information. The terrorist either dies or he gives up the information. I thought I made that point obvious.

jibal: No such situation is possible? IN REALITY? My point was to expand your mind. You would have said the same thing on 9-10-01. Again, the point is you would torture if it were the last option, all others exhausted, you choose to either do something or nothing. Obama chooses to do nothing.

Posted by: MoveOn | January 22, 2009 11:50 PM | Report abuse

HaHaHaHaHaHa!!!!!!

Obama the Hypocrite! Not yet 1 week in office, I am proven correct.

WSJ 1-22-09:

The unfine print of Mr. Obama's order is that he's allowed room for what might be called a Jack Bauer exception. It creates a committee to study whether the Field Manual techniques are too limiting "when employed by departments or agencies outside the military." The Attorney General, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Director of National Intelligence-designate Dennis Blair will report back and offer "additional or different guidance for other departments or agencies."

There's your Jack Bauer scenario, you anti-torture hypocrites!


Posted by: MoveOn | January 23, 2009 1:08 AM | Report abuse

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