Public opinion on torture

A Pew poll released a month ago found that a majority (54%) think that using torture to obtain information from terrorists is often or sometimes appropriate. That’s surprising to me, because I would have thought that the prevailing opinion was rarely-but-not-never. Certainly that’s how waterboarding (if we agree, for the sake of discussion, that waterboarding is torture) was used by the Bush administration. The often/sometimes/rarely number is 70%. In other words, the vast majority of the public disagree with President Obama’s position.

The Pew poll was taken before the attempted bombing of flight 253, at a time when the threat of terrorism had lost its urgency for many people. It also suffers from confusion over exactly what constitutes torture.

A new Rasmussen poll corrects those problems. It is more timely, and instead of using the vague and loaded term “torture”, it asks specifically about “waterboarding and other aggressive interrogation techniques”. More importantly, it asks about a specific case (Abdulmutallab, the underwear bomber), which I think gives a more informative result than asking in the abstract. The poll found that 58% believe that waterboarding (etc.) should be used on Abdulmutallab.

Personally, I’m not so sure. I think that they ought to find out how he responds to a normal interrogation first. But we won’t be doing that either, because the administration immediately put him into the criminal justice system, thereby protecting him from any interrogation at all. Rasmussen didn’t ask whether people agreed with that decision, but if they had, I’m sure the number would be microscopic.

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