Polling the Torture Debate
New poll data out of CNN suggests that most Americans believe the harsh interrogation techniques used by CIA interrogators was torture but are far more divided about whether or not they approve or disapprove of those techniques.
Six in ten Americans said that the use of "harsh interrogation procedures" including waterboarding is torture -- with the numbers, not surprisingly, highest among self identifying Democrats (75 percent) and lowest among Republicans (44 percent). Fifty-eight percent of independents believe the interrogation practices amounted to torture.
But, when asked whether they approve or disapprove of the use of these techniques, the American public is FAR more divided with 50 percent approving and 46 percent disapproving. Again, the numbers are split down ideological lines with nearly eight in ten Republicans approving and just more than one in four Democrats feeling the same way. Independents break slightly in favor of the use of these methods with 53 percent approving and 44 percent disapproving.
These numbers, which are consistent with data in the Washington Post/ABC News poll released late last month, point to one simple conclusion: Americans believe that what we did to suspected terrorists was torture but also -- narrowly -- believe that it was the right thing to do.
Those twin observations go a long way to explaining why President Barack Obama and his Administration have expressed very little interest in prosecuting those involved with the interrogations despite urgings from the liberal wing of the party to do just that. (The CNN poll shows that 57 percent of people oppose the prosecution of Bush Administration officials for their roles in the interrogations and an even higher number -- 65 percent -- believe that no prosecutions of military and intelligence officials should take place.)
From a purely political perspective -- and we know many people don't approach this from a political perspective -- the prosecutions are a straight loser, forcing a divided country to re-engage with a period of time they would much rather just forget.
In other words, don't expect to hear much on the idea of prosecutions or any sort of congressional truth commission out of the White House. They recognize the perils inherent in any such investigation and have little interest in re-opening a debate that it's not clear how any side could win.
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