Do Most Americans Support Torture?

WorldPublicOpinion.org, a project of the respected Program on International Policy Attitudes, released an important statement (sent to their email alert list but for some reason not published at their website) noting the widespread misreporting on public attitudes towards torture in the wake of the most recent revelations from the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture:

“Problematic Reporting on Attitudes About Harsh Interrogation

Various reports of recent polling give the misleading impression that a majority of Americans approve of the harsh interrogation techniques used by the CIA after 9/11 and discussed in the recent Senate Intelligence Committee report.

A key example is the December 16 article in The Washington Post with the headline “A majority of Americans support harsh CIA methods, poll finds.”  The conclusion in the headline is not supported by the actual polling data referenced, and is strongly contradicted by past Washington Post/ABC polling, as well as polling conducted by PIPA and others.

The new Washington Post/ABC poll simply asked whether “the CIA’s treatment of suspected terrorists was justified”– with no specification of what the treatment was — and 59% said it was justified.   Pew just released the results of a similar question and found 51% saying it was justified.

But when the Washington Post/ABC previously asked about specific methods that the CIA has used, very large majorities rejected them.  These included waterboarding (78% rejected), punching/kicking (69%), sexual humiliation (84%), forced nakedness (74%), denying food and water (61%), and exposure to extreme heat and cold (58%).   While this poll was taken in 2004—much closer to 9/11–there is no reason to believe that these views have changed.

PIPA polling, conducted in 2004 and 2009, found similar results, even when respondents were asked to imagine a ‘ticking bomb’ scenario.

Interestingly, all of these findings were included in a comprehensive analysis of polling on torture in an article published December 11th on the Washington Post site, titled ”No, Americans aren’t ‘fine with torture.’  They strongly reject it.“ http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/12/11/no-americans-arent-fine-with-torture-they-strongly-reject-it/?hpid=z3

A comprehensive review of US and international polling on torture can also be found in the WPO digest on human rights at http://worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/digests.php.”

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