Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

April 27, 2009

PUBLIC OPINION ON TORTURE.... There have been a couple of new national polls on the Bush administration's torture policies, and the results offer at least some hints about the effect of the policy debate thus far.

Over the weekend, for example, a Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 49% of respondents agreed that the United States should not torture, while 48% who believe torture is sometimes acceptable. The same poll, however, found that a 51% majority supports an investigation into Bush administration officials who may have broken the law in this area.

Gallup published a new poll today, which has similar results, but one unexpected twist.

A new Gallup Poll finds 51% of Americans in favor and 42% opposed to an investigation into the use of harsh interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects during the Bush administration. At the same time, 55% of Americans believe in retrospect that the use of the interrogation techniques was justified, while only 36% say it was not.

It's a little counter-intuitive, but according to this poll, a majority wants an investigation and believes the torture was justified. As Greg Sargent argued, the results suggest "voters are capable of wanting a thorough airing of precisely what happened and when, even if they don't necessarily oppose the use of torture."

I guess David Broder's theory about those who support an investigation being motivated by an "unworthy desire for vengeance," is looking a little shaky.

I should note that when it comes to issues like torture, polls aren't necessarily the most important measurement. It's not as if overwhelming support for torture would somehow make the abusive interrogation tactics less illegal, immoral, dangerous, counter-productive, etc.

But the polls are of at least some interest now, because I suspect policymakers may be influenced by the results. If, say, an overwhelming majority of the public was dead set against accountability for Bush administration officials, chances are, Democratic leaders on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue would be even less likely to pursue an investigation.

That's obviously not the case. Two credible, national polls have been released in two days, and both show narrow majorities supporting some kind of investigation. How might the politicians respond? Your guess is as good as mine, but given the close results, I don't imagine the polls will produce any new clamoring for accountability.

Steve Benen 3:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

Bookmark and Share

I think it will take an overwhelming majority of people in favor of investigation to actually get one going. All the incentives run in reverse. The Obama administration wants to work on other priorities, top congressional democrats were likely aware of much of the torture and so probably aren't going to be interested in an investigation and the Republicans are obviously not interested.

Posted by: TW Andrews on April 27, 2009 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

Whether or not a majority of Americans want to see an investigation into torture is, frankly, irrelevant. At various points in US history, sizable majorities of people have felt that, for instance, slavery was OK and that women should not have the right to vote.

The rule of law is not about what the majority wants. It is what the law- in this case the Constitution of the United States- demands. And, in this case, the law demands torture investigations.

Again, I'll put it as a syllogism:

The US is a signatory to the UN Convention Against Torture, which requires investigation of credible torture claims;
The US Constitution places treaties as the law of the land;
Therefore, the US Constitution requires investigation of these credible torture claims.

You don't need to be a University of Chicago Professor of Constitutional Law to understand this.


Posted by: Zorro on April 27, 2009 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

Let's take a fucking poll to determine whether robbery, armed robbery, rape & murder should be investigated and prosecuted.

If our politicians are going to use polls to determine whether crimes are to be investigated and prosecuted, WTF does that say about our spineless politicians?

Making a 'political' decision on the investigation of the illegal actions of the Bush Criminal Enterprise is illegal, immoral, and just plain wrong.

Posted by: AngryOldVet on April 27, 2009 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

The only reason for the recent results of the Gallup Poll is the concerted campaign for justification by Cheney et al. If and when we finally find out what information we gleaned from torture there may be an entirely different result. Neither way is the right way of course. The entire argument is specious and sickening, that the US should adopt torture under any circumstances saddens me beyond words.

Posted by: Grandma Vicki on April 27, 2009 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

While we are taking polls, I suggest the results of the following polls be used as the basis for public policy:

1) Poll Mississippi & Alabama to determine if slavery of blacks should be reinstituted.

2) Poll Arizona & Colorado to determine if there should be a hunting season for white males to kill 'illegals'.

3) Poll Utah to determine if Mormonism should become the official religion of the state.

All of these are as logical as using polls to determine if crimes should be investigated and prosecuted!

Posted by: AngryOldVet on April 27, 2009 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

The Cheney spin is working. Until they change the conversation from 'how effective is it' to 'how many people were tortured that didn't know anything' or 'it is morally repugnant', the number for torture will remain the same.

We need to push the really bad stuff, like the people who died from it, the people who were water boarded 6 times a day for a month, or because of head injuries, the cement wall they used to throw the prison into was replaced with wood. Right now I think the public is under the assumption torture is the photos from Abu Ghraib. Those were humiliating, but the public needs to understand the personal terror that those men faced all over the world because of those legal memos.

Posted by: ScottW on April 27, 2009 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

Two credible, national polls have been released in two days

I'm not buying this. Accounting procedures were compromised by moneyed interests, leading to he rise and fall of Enron, Worldcom and others. Ratings agencies were compromised the same way. Journalism - same thing. Money talks. The only polls that can be tested are those that correspond with elections. The pollsters know that. They should be taken with the same degree of credibility as palm reading. And they most certainly should not drive policy!

Posted by: Danp on April 27, 2009 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

Let's see a poll question that identifies torture as illegal, and see how that polls out.

Hey media... waterboarding is torture, and it's illegal. Maybe it's time to quit using Nazi euphamisms like "enhanced interrogation techniques".

Posted by: Racer X on April 27, 2009 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

I think one of the best lines is Carl Levin, D-Mich., about pressing the Obama administration to pursue investigations into torture: "Frankly, I'd like to read the page before we turn it."

Posted by: Neil B ♪ ♫ on April 27, 2009 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe the poll should include a question of whether we should have tortured people when the only ticking time bomb was Bush's unstoppable desire to invade Iraq.

This "time bomb scenario" stuff is ridiculous, we tortured people trying to prove unfounded suspicions.

Posted by: Capt Kirk on April 27, 2009 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

Understanding statistics....

51% of Americans in favor of an investigation and 55% thinking the interrogation techniques was justified does NOT mean: "a majority wants an investigation and believes the torture was justified."

Based on two questions, we've got four categories of people. Let me assign them in a simplistic way to get these final numbers:

Favor investigation, not justified: 45%
Favor investigation, justified: 6%
No investigation, justified: 49%
No investigation, not justified: 0%

Ok, these aren't the actual numbers because you've actually got "Don't know" answers for each question as well which I lumped into the No investigation and justified columns. So in reality there are nine possible viewpoints on these two issues, even more complicated.

But the point is, just because a majority of people believes one thing and a majority believes another thing, does not mean there is a majority that is A & B. As you can see, that group can be quite small. Your logic would lead us to conclude that the majority of our country is white women who are democrats and oppose gay marriage.

Posted by: vondo on April 27, 2009 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

AngryOldVet, I like your style.

Posted by: Uli Kunkel on April 27, 2009 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

What these polls - and far too many others - show is that something like half of our fellow Americans are unclear on the concept of the "employer-employee relationship." As in: elected officials, even the president, are our employees. They do not get to decide when they'll follow the employee handbook and when they'll ignore it. They do not get to decide that there will be no consequence for ignoring the employee handbook, or that certain employees can disregard it at will without reprisal.

Again, I'll be setting up a blog in the next few days to organize protests demanding accountability for the rule of law, and at that point will forward the web address to all of the major liberal/progressive blogs.

This is insanity. Here we've had people running around screeching about "security" and "safety" for the past 8 years, while meanwhile, deciding that it's ok for their friggin' employees to lock people up without charges, without access to legal counsel, and to torture the hell out of them. There IS no "safety" or "security" when the people who work for you get to decide that you can be locked up and tortured because they decided for whatever reason that it's justified. It isn't, it never will be, and it's about damn time that we remind both our elected officials and our fellow citizens just who is supposed to be the boss in this relationship - and then demand that our employees follow their job descriptions.

Posted by: Jennifer on April 27, 2009 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

Nothing makes me weep for America more than knowing that half of it thinks that torture is justified and should be argued on it's merits, not on ethics.

Posted by: doubtful on April 27, 2009 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

What all these polls suggest is that the left has to do a better job of exposing the reality of the torture that occurred.

1) The vast majority (90%+) were innocent of anything except, perhaps, defending their country from invasion.

2) The victims were not slightly inconvenienced but were seriously tortured for years.

I suspect that at least half of America doesn't realize the above two facts.

Posted by: Jupiter on April 27, 2009 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

I agree completely with doubtful.

Unfortunately, it seems as though 90% of our press feels that way.

Posted by: DR on April 27, 2009 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

I wonder what Kiefer Sutherland's take is on the torture issue...

Posted by: JM on April 27, 2009 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

Well the question was "based on what you know or have read, do you think the use of harsh interrogation techniques for terrorism suspects was justified or not justified." There's really no way to interpret the data from this question without knowing what people "know" or "have read."

And BTW, 23% of people both think use was justified and favor an investigation.

Posted by: Halfdan on April 27, 2009 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

It's a little counter-intuitive, but according to this poll, a majority wants an investigation and believes the torture was justified. -- Steve Benen

I don't see it as counterintuitive at all; some percentage of those who want to see the investigations conducted believe that the torture was justified (by results) and want to see it proven, in public. Investigation would, according to them, bring those "pluses" to light.

As to the numbers of those who seem to be OK with torture, several commenters above made the point that the sweet poison of Cheney and his cohorts is working. A lot of people are now convinced that a) torture "worked" and b) only rabid leftists are anti torture (and that strictly for revenge reasons). So, the knee-jerk response is: if they're for it, I'm against it.

I have, in the past few days, sent around a petition to sign, asking for accountability on torture. One response I got, from someone whom I used to respect and even like, was: "I'm not a Democrat activist". Whaaa??? I felt compelled to write back: "torture is not a political issue, Democrat or Republican; it's an issue of legal versus illegal as well as of basic, human decency. Which I had thought you possessed. Pardon my misperception"

Posted by: exlibra on April 27, 2009 at 4:22 PM | PERMALINK

The polls were roughly evenly divided on the merits of invading Iraq, too-until it happened. People change their minds often, especially when a respected authority tells them to.
If Obama said he felt an investigation was necessary, those polls would instantly show something approaching his job approval ratings figure approving of investigations.

Posted by: JMG on April 27, 2009 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

I, too, like AngryOldVet's style. Since when does a poll excuse crime?

Posted by: Bob M on April 27, 2009 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK

One thing the torture Republicans seem to have forgotten is that they did not get 49% of the American vote because, after all, they not only lost the General Election...


John McCain promised to close GitMo and end the use of torture just like Obama did. If the Republicans wanted a Torture standardbearer they should have nominated Ghouliani.

If McCain had won the only difference right now would be that Leahy wouldn't be waiting for the White House before starting his investigations.

Posted by: Lance on April 27, 2009 at 5:44 PM | PERMALINK

These polls are tremendously misleading on the "supports torture" side. Everyone answering that question has as an outlying scenario the ticking-time-bomb-but-I-can-save-NYC-with-torture thing. It's not the ticking time bomb thing - it's being accountable afterwords.

If you're so sure that torture is the only way with the guy you have - be willing to submit yourself to a jury arguing the necessity defense. If you're such a patriot and the situation is so dire (e.g. ticking time bomb) and you are right, no jury will convict you.

But, like at Guantanamo Bay, if you were just getting your jollies with random bread bakers and taxi drivers, and Chinese Uighurs, you'll be the one in jail.

Posted by: 22state on April 27, 2009 at 5:56 PM | PERMALINK

Listening second hand to the squirrelly little men at the CIA tell us they would not torture if they would be prosecuted I just have to say...

... Good!

If you want to be a real life Jack Bauer be ready to face the consequences. If, as 22state points out, you don't want to risk prosecution, you are not the person to be torturing anybody (or ordering up their torture).

I know comparisons to the Nazis is bad form, but what is truely horrible about the Final Solution was the banality of the evil, little squirrelly men pronouncing the death sentences on over 6 million people.

Investigate them all and put a chill up the spines of the f**king wantabees.

As for the idiot in the Washington Post wondering why we shouldn't torture Osama bin Laden to find his nukes, I just would point out that if Torture worked we'd already HAVE Osama bin Laden in custody. Moron!

Posted by: Lance on April 27, 2009 at 6:06 PM | PERMALINK

A poll on torture? What's next, a poll finding out how Americans really feel about rape....er, excuse me, "enhanced seduction techniques."

Posted by: Stefan on April 27, 2009 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK

See what numbers show up for/against investigations and punishment when the weaselly, Republican-inspired euphemism ("enhanced interrogation techniques") is replaced in the questions with the correct and truthfully descriptive noun ("torture").

Posted by: Doug on April 27, 2009 at 7:04 PM | PERMALINK

The only polls the politicians care about on this are the ones they conduct themselves on the DC cocktail party circuit. An those polls say: "We don' wanna know nuthin', boss!!"

Posted by: SqueakyRat on April 27, 2009 at 7:58 PM | PERMALINK

I think a good indication of how phony this issue is for the Democrats is that none of them speak out on Obama's advocacy of illegal wiretapping. The manufactured outrage on Bush's assaults on our freedoms is simply making political hay. When Obama attacks our freedoms, the Democrats point to his great poll numbers and popularity, and nary a word on his crimes. The crimes of the Bush legal advisors then appear to be that they are Republicans; when the Obama legal team tries to cover up illegal activity with the old "state secrets" routine, why, now we're acting as adults; now we're on the right track.

Posted by: Luther on April 27, 2009 at 9:24 PM | PERMALINK

I think the King of Jordan put it well. People though out the Middle East are looking to see if the rule of law is real or not in America. Just like many of our closet friends, that stopped working with us on intelligence issues, are wondering if America has turned a corner or not. McCain is a good example of someone saying they are against torture, but do not want anyone held accountable nor want talk about it.

Amazing and real.

Let's see... I read that there had been over 400 Armed Services cases against military personnel... and 4000 dead US people overseas, 100,000 dead Iraqis, and 2,000,000 refuges

Nothing like torture to try and get a link to justify the Iraq war!!!! Sure torture works...

Posted by: john on April 27, 2009 at 11:52 PM | PERMALINK

Dan Froomkin deconstructs these polls here at White House Watch. Short summary: he doubts they really contradict the February polls that said people want some variant of prosecution/investigation. He believes this set of results was implicit in the wording of the questions.

I hope he's right. Torture is illegal and the rest of this discussion is irrelvant.

Posted by: janinsanfran on April 28, 2009 at 1:07 AM | PERMALINK

How can waterboarding be 'Torture', if that PIG, Khalid Mohammed, was waterboarded 168 times? I've seen since then. He looks fine. He's got no broken bones, no missing teeth, both ears, both eyes, all of his fingers and toes. And WE used the information, that he gave us, to STOP ANOTHER 911 STYLE ATTACK ON LOS ANGELES. What's wrong with you people? What would YOU do, to protect YOUR FAMILY? You'ld do whatever it takes. So why don't you all just shut the f*ck up, grow up, and be thankfull that we DID HAVE PEOPLE IN CHARGE, that understood the magnitude of the situation. Unlike the IDIOTS that we have there, now.

Posted by: Timothy L. Pennell on April 28, 2009 at 8:29 AM | PERMALINK

@ Timothy. Guess you never read anything besides your REd State commie propaganda ( because imho a red state is a Communist one) or can remember past your cannabis-induced Jack Bauer fantasy that The Viet Cong tortured, the Khmer Rouge tortured, the Japanese tortured in WW2- and we hung the offenders. It has been stated time and time again that no RELIABLE information can be gotten through physical torture. Sure KSM answered his interrogators questions, but was it verifiable intel? Doubtful, much like CUrveball and Yellowcake- I bet half the info was just appeasement tactics. Torture apologists are just right wing American Taliban extremists, who forget that if we stoop to torture our enemies, we sink to their level. No excuse. We're supposed to be the leaders of the free world, not a "banana republic". So here's a nice hot cup of STFU and I hope you're never on the receiving end of a watering can. The people in charge,had they any foresight or competence would have prevented 9-11 and not used it as an excuse to fist-grab more Constitution- breaking powers. All these weak-tea baggers forget that "big guvmint" started on 9-12-01.

Posted by: johnnymags on April 28, 2009 at 8:53 AM | PERMALINK

That's right, by God. We shouldn't let a little thing like public opinion stand in the way of getting the evil Bushies. After all, as Jerry Brown said in his brief to the California Supreme Court, there are some issues too important to be left to the will of the people.

Posted by: senor on April 28, 2009 at 9:31 AM | PERMALINK

The media has done a great job with their constant use of the term torture. Torture is like pornography, everyone has a different opinion of what it is.

We have some attorneys who were asked to give a legal opinion on whether enhanced interogation techniques constituted torture or violated US law. After considerable research they wrote opinions that it did not. Government officials acted based on these legal opinions. Note the word opinions. Now stick 10,000 lawyers in a room and have them vote on whether they agree with that opinion. Half will, half will not. And you want to prosecute someone for giving an opinion that is not a clear cut fact.

And if we consider sleep deprivation and stress positions torture, we need to investigate every police station in the country. They may not use water boarding but they use these others to one degree or another.

It's alao somewhat ironic to me that the same people that are concerned that we poured water on a murdering terrorist responsible for 3,000 innocent civilian deaths could care less that we allow doctors to mutilate 8 month old fetuses.

Posted by: Ed on April 28, 2009 at 10:06 AM | PERMALINK



Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM

buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly