Do Americans Support Torture?

Do Americans support tactics revealed in the damning U.S. Senate torture report?

Americans polls torture report

The Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday released the highly anticipated – and dreaded – 500-page summary of its report on the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program.

The controversial methods of “enhanced interrogation” revealed in the damning document have sparked international outrage and criticism. Subsequently, reactions were documented, from other countries as well as from lawmakers at home.

However, the most important response – from the American people – remains vague.

Let’s have a look:

The following YouGov poll suggests a majority of Americans agree that the details in the report will hurt the country's image abroad, and making the report public does more harm to American interests than the actual use of torture does. But at the same time there isn’t much support for the CIA either.

“Just 10 percent of Americans think the agency has been mostly truthful about its use of torture against suspected terrorists. Only 21 percent think that the torture program was legal, with another 24 percent saying it was illegal but necessary, and 32 percent that it was both illegal and unnecessary. About a quarter say the CIA officers who tortured detainees should face prosecution,” the survey found.

Americans polls torture report

Recommended: 5 Takeaways From The CIA Torture Report That People Are Not Talking About

Americans polls torture report

"Like so many other issues, views about torture are highly polarized politically," explains YouGov researcher Will Jordan.

"Thirty-eight percent of Democrats say torture is never justified, compared to just 11% of Republicans. Republicans are also more open to all of the specified tactics than their Democratic counterparts. In fact, while Democrats tend to say all of the nine tactics are unacceptable, Republicans tend to say all of them are acceptable, with one exception: People of all political persuasions reject the use of rectal feeding."

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While the charts above represent the public perception of torture after the release of the report, another poll conducted by PEW back in August 2011 found that a considerable majority (53%) of Americans said the use of torture is often justified, with just 42% responding it could only rarely be justified or not be justified at all.
Americans polls torture report

And while these surveys suggest that Americans fundamentally support torture, The Conversation’s Paul Gronke, Darius Rejali and Peter Milleh have found otherwise. After compiling the “most exhaustive” archive of U.S. and international public opinion data on torture dating back to 2001, the authors concluded:

“Americans remain deeply ambivalent about the use of torture, as apparently are many in the intelligence community. They recognize the very real threat posed by terrorist organizations, but also know that torture is morally wrong. And it would help clarify public attitudes if many American politicians would quit claiming – incorrectly – that torture is effective. Anyone who thinks there is widespread American public support for torture is badly mistaken.”

Keeping all the polls, analyses, surveys and opinions into consideration, we can say that while Americans do not support torture, they also do not disapprove of it – depending on which technique is being used to inflict it.

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