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


Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson3 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

Danuta Watola
Danuta Watola4 years ago

Thank you for the share!

Margaret C S.
Margaret S.4 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.

Dorothy N.
Dorothy N.4 years ago


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'?

Dorothy N.
Dorothy N.4 years ago


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

Dorothy N.
Dorothy N.4 years ago


The Kiobel decision could change all that: While in previous cases the right of plaintiffs to sue in US federal courts for abuses committed overseas had gone unquestioned, the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Kiobel ruled that Shell was immune: that liability for human rights violations applies only to natural persons. This is the issue that dominated the first round of oral Kiobel arguments before the Supreme Court in February.

Monday's arguments presented a new wrinkle. While exploring the United States' role as "the court of last resort" for human rights abuses abroad, the court addressed whether the Alien Tort Statute applies to a foreign entity like Dutch/UK-based Shell, which also has operations in the United States. And while it's risky business to predict the court's intentions, the line of questioning seemed to hint at a compromise, according to knowledgeable observers from both sides: Aliens must first try to sue either in the country where the abuses took place, or in the country in which the corporation is based—and then demonstrate it was impossible to do either. Such ruling could dismiss Kiobel while leaving the ExxonMobil case intact—that is, if the court doesn't rule for corporate immunity across the board.

Dorothy N.
Dorothy N.4 years ago


... In the jargon of the courts, ExxonMobil's case is "stayed" until the US Supreme Court rules on Kiobel v. Shell—in legal limbo. During Monday's hearing, lawyers addressed a basic question about one of the nation's oldest laws.

When Congress enacted the Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789, occasionally violent US-based privateers were plying the seas in pursuit of black-market riches. The Alien Tort act gave foreign-born nationals the chance to file claims against the privateers in US federal court, which was deemed fairer and less parochial than regional or local courts. Dusted off by civil rights activists in the 1970s, the Alien Tort statute recently has come to apply to any corporations with a presence in the United States.

n a series of precedents over recent decades—including in the ExxonMobil case—lower courts have firmly established this principle. According to the Product Liability Advisory Council, plaintiffs have filed almost 250 Alien Tort cases over this period—nearly half of them against at least one corporate defendant. Courts dismissed many of the cases, but three have gone to trial, one resulting in a verdict for the plaintiffs, and a few others have settled. And now the trickle of cases shows signs of turning into a flood: Of the 120 cases against corporations, fully half were filed since 2008.

Dorothy N.
Dorothy N.4 years ago


"A member of ExxonMobil's security personnel" forced his way into the home of a pregnant female, wielded a rifle, "threatened to kill her and her unborn child with his gun, then beat and sexually assaulted her."
"ExxonMobil security personnel" accosted a man traveling between villages, beat him, handcuffed him, accused him of membership in GAM, ignored his denial, and "took him to Post A-13 on ExxonMobil's property," where they threw him to the ground, wielded a knife, and "carved the letters 'GAM' into his back…regularly torturing him" for several more weeks.
"ExxonMobil security personnel" stopped a villager riding his motorcycle, beat him severely on his head and body, tied his hands, blindfolded him, took him to a military camp, kept the blindfold on him for three months, and tortured him regularly, "using electricity all over his body, including his genitals." ...

...the delays have already taken their toll. A few years into the court proceedings, Collingsworth reported that unknown assailants had killed two of his plaintiffs. The earliest a trial could take place is 2013—a full dozen years after the alleged events.

"They're not in forgive and forget mode," said Collingsworth, referring to the remaining plaintiffs, including relatives of the deceased. "Those who were tortured or had somebody killed suffered horrendous injury, and they're in this for the long haul. This is their life now." ...

... In the jargon of the cou

Dorothy N.
Dorothy N.4 years ago


Civilians remained in the crossfire throughout Aceh, and the area surrounding ExxonMobil's Arun facility was no exception. In 1998, a coalition of 17 human rights organizations accused Mobil of providing material support to the army, including bulldozers and other equipment used to dig mass graves. A 1998 BusinessWeek article quoted eyewitnesses to summary executions and the use of Mobil equipment to cover them up; Mobil denied any knowledge of this, saying it had loaned excavators to the army but only for peaceful purposes. Three years later, an August 2001 article in Time's Asia edition reported that in Aceh "people literally line up to tell stories of abused and murders committed by the troops they call Exxon's army."

Then came the 2004 tsunami, which took more than 100,000 lives and prompted the warring parties to agree on Aceh's autonomy and sign the 1995 Helsinki peace accord. The pact set up a human rights court, but Indonesian legislators explicitly forbade it from considering human rights allegations before 2006. So at the time, only Collingsworth's plaintiffs were left to redress the atrocities of Aceh's civil war. ...

on June 19, 2001, Collingsworth filed the suit in district court in Washington, DC.

In John Doe v. ExxonMobil, the alleged incidents date from 1999 to 2001, one of the most intense periods of violence in the Aceh civil war:

"A member of ExxonMobil's security personnel" forced his way into the home of a pregnant female, w

Dorothy N.
Dorothy N.4 years ago


from 1999 to 2004 the repression returned, involving far more troops. While GAM itself has also been accused of intimidation, extortion, and human rights abuses, it is widely reported that the Indonesian military committed the majority of violence against civilians, mostly poor farmers like John Doe III.

In Indonesia, as in Colombia and Nigeria, national soldiers can double as private security forces for a price. "From the inception of the Arun Project," says the John Doe complaint, referring to an agreement it says Mobil signed and included in the merger, "ExxonMobil has employed or otherwise retained members of the Indonesian military to provide security services for its facilities and operations in Aceh province…"

The complaint cites a 2001 Bloomberg News story reporting that "Exxon Mobil, by all accounts, became far too cozy with the Indonesian military during the Suharto years. It paid the salaries of the troops that guarded its fields and the nearby P.T. Arun liquefaction plant; it shared equipment the army apparently could not afford." ...

... Civilians remained in the crossfire throughout Aceh, and the area surrounding ExxonMobil's Arun facility was no exception. In 1998, a coalition of 17 human rights organizations accused Mobil of providing material support to the army, including bulldozers and other equipment used to dig mass graves. A 1998 BusinessWeek article quoted eyewitnesses to summary executions and the use of Mobil equipment to