More Americans Think Torture Is Okay

Two days after President Barack Obama was inaugurated in 2009, he signed an executive order that made waterboarding illegal, as well as other interrogation methods that are not listed in Army Field Manual 2-22.3. More than three years later, a YouGov poll of 1,000 Americans has found that more Americans are in support of torturing terrorists in general and of certain torture techniques including, yes, strapping a person to a board and dunking their head in water to simulate drowning.

Amy Zagert, a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute, requested the YouGov poll and reviews the results in an article appropriately entitled “Torture Creep” in Foreign Policy. Of those surveyed,

  • 69 percent are in favor of assassinating known terrorists and 36 percent, of killing foreign leaders who harbor them. (Even though, as Zagert points out, Congress passed a law against assassinating heads of state in 1976 “when Congress discovered the CIA had been secretly concocting plans to kill Fidel Castro and other Third World leaders using poison, hit men, and even exploding seashells.”)
  • 41 percent said they would be willing to use torture on those captured in the fight against terrorism.
  • 30 percent think it is all right to chain naked prisoners in uncomfortable positions in cold rooms
  • 25 percent said that nuclear weapons and waterboarding can be used against terrorists.

More respondents endorsed the use of torture and specific torture techniques than did those answering similar questions in a January 2005 USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll. For instance, 18 percent of people were in favor of the naked chaining technique in 2005 and 79 percent against it; in 2012, 30 percent think this practice is acceptable and only 51 percent think it is wrong.

Why Do More Americans Support the Use of Torture?

Zagert offers three reasons as to why more Americans are in favor of torture. One is precisely because we have a Democratic president: As there is a general perception that Democrats are weaker on issues of national security, Americans are more inclined to think “assassinations and harsh interrogation practices are justified” when a Democratic president employs them. While noting that under Obama, “many contentious Bush-era counterterrorism policies — military commissions, indefinite detentions, and the targeted-killing-by-drone program” have remained in place and even been expanded, the use of “harsh interrogation policies” are not among them.

As Zagert also observes, the outrage over the use of such policies has faded as the controversy over them has. When was the last time that you saw photos of the Abu Ghraib scandal or references to Lynndie England?

At a time when media references to torture have dwindled, Zagert suggests that Hollywood, via popular spy movies and television shows, is behind the public’s current consciousness and perceptions about torture. Interest in such spy-themed entertainment has “skyrocketed” in the past decade, writes Zagert:

… there is plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that the boundary between fake spies and the real world is blurring in some disconcerting ways, from CIA directors pondering Hollywood hypotheticals in their confirmation hearings to Twitter users thanking Jack Bauer when Osama bin Laden was killed.

Now, this new poll is the first hard data suggesting that spy fiction might be influencing public opinion about real intelligence issues. The YouGov poll results reveal that Americans who say they frequently watch spy-themed television shows or movies are significantly more likely than infrequent watchers to approve of assassinating terrorists, torturing terrorists, and using every torture technique pollsters asked about except threatening terrorist detainees with dogs. (Spytainment fans, however, are not more likely to support dropping nuclear bombs on terrorists or assassinating foreign leaders than anyone else.)

Of course, Zagert emphasizes, we cannot really say that spy-themed entertaining is actually causing a change in people’s beliefs and attitudes. But popular movies and other entertainment can be a barometer for what people are thinking.

Terrorism is has been discussed in connection with the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has deadly attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi that took the lives of American ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. But what kind of a country has the US become, that more Americans support the use of torture?

Related Care2 Coverage

On Torture, Harper Government Wants It Both Ways

Pediatrician Arrested for Waterboarding His Own Daughter

Is Solitary Confinement Torture? (Video)

Photo by Shrieking Tree

156 comments

Jeanne R
Jeanne R3 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R3 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R3 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R3 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R3 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson5 years ago

depends on the crime. if your child was murdered raped or used as a human bomb, would you be so happy with a prison sentence? if your only son or daughter was being held somewhere and someone knew where but wouldnt tell, and you knew your child was suffering, would you be so forgiving? I don't support torture per se, but depending on the crime? I can't say in that place I wouln't

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Danuta Watola
Danuta Watola5 years ago

Thank you for the share!

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Margaret C S.
Margaret S5 years ago

This is a classic case of "dirty deeds done dirt cheap". We need to find a way to make it MUCH more expensive for these multinational corporations when they decide to violate the laws of the land and common decency. It really is a shame that, if "corporations are people", we can't throw a few CEOs along with upper management and their offending hired thugs into the hoosegow, while confiscating all their assets to pay for their imprisonment.

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Dorothy N.
Dorothy N5 years ago

(continued)

And for those supporting 'freedom' for corporate powers and the wealthiest to control and abuse the common wo/man - what do you think happens to you when they no longer need you and you become another 'useless eater'?

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Dorothy N.
Dorothy N5 years ago

(continued)

In their private deliberations on corporate immunity, the justices will be facing a judicial dilemma of their own making. They ruled in the 2010 Citizens United case that corporations have the rights of natural persons—in particular, the right of free speech in the form of campaign contributions.

John Farmer Jr., dean of Rutgers Law School, whose Constitutional Litigation Clinic filed a brief in Kiobel, warned that if the court concludes that corporations "are not persons for purposes of the Alien Tort Claims act" but are persons for purposes of influencing elections, "the combined effect will be that corporations can advocate with impunity at home, and act with immunity abroad. The court should be careful that in defining a person, it does not create a monster." ...

The monster was permitted to form long ago, and grows with each example of support from complicit or cowed governments, through the common practice of industries commonly permitted to get away with and profit from widespread murder, both through toxins and abuses now potentially including a virtual 'right' accorded to blatantly rape, torture and murder as they please.

Now it has 'person-hood' granted it by a corrupt Supreme court - such self-interests MUST be kept out of politics and policy - not to mention the Justice system.

And for those supporting 'freedom' for corporate powers and the wealthiest to control and abuse the common wo/man - what do you think happens to you when

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