April 21st, 2009
02:30 PM ET
5 years ago

Polls: Americans split over torture investigations

President Barack Obama Tuesday said that it will be up to Attorney General Eric Holder to decide whether or not to prosecute the former officials for legally allowing the techniques that many view as torture.
President Barack Obama Tuesday said that it will be up to Attorney General Eric Holder to decide whether or not to prosecute the former officials for legally allowing the techniques that many view as torture.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Americans appear to be split on whether former Bush administration officials who drew up the legal basis for interrogation techniques used on terror suspects should be criminally prosecuted.

President Barack Obama Tuesday left open the possibility of such criminal prosecution, saying that it will be up to Attorney General Eric Holder to decide whether or not to prosecute the former officials for legally allowing the techniques that many view as torture.

Thirty-eight percent of people questioned in a national poll conducted by Gallup two and a half months ago favored a criminal investigation by the Justice Department into the possible use of torture during the interrogation of terror suspects. Another 24 percent favored an investigation by an independent panel that would issue a report of findings but not seek any criminal charges. Thirty-four percent opposed both a criminal investigation or an independent panel investigation.

An ABC News-Washington Post poll conducted about a week earlier, in mid January, also indicated that Americans were split on the issue. Half of those questioned favored investigations, while 47 percent opposed.

Both surveys found a partisan split, with Democrats generally calling for investigations and Republicans mostly opposed.

"This is a deeply divisive issue," says CNN Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider. "Democrats see it as justice. Republicans see it as score-settling."

"President Obama is being very cautious. He opposes any investigation of the CIA agents who believed what they were doing was legal. And he is trying to handle the issue in as non-partisan a way as possible. Congress may not be so cautious," added Schneider.

Obama's remarks came five days after the administration released several Bush-era memos detailing the use of terror interrogations such as waterboarding, a technique used to simulate drowning.

Most Americans appear to agree that waterboarding is considered torture. Nearly seven in ten questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll conducted in November 2007 said they thought that waterboarding is a form of torture, with 29 percent disagreeing.


Filed under: Polls
soundoff (118 Responses)
  1. Shadysider

    They absolutely need to be prosecuted. Why were the rules made in the first place? If it were another country that did this we would be calling for their heads. The majority of the people that are against pursuing criminal prosecution are also for torture and shouldn't be listened to anyway.

    April 21, 2009 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  2. Jim K

    I believe that if there is sufficient evidence to suggest criminal activity, no matter who is in office, it should be investigated. If there is no crime, then there is no need to worry.

    April 21, 2009 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  3. would it be better to just have the world brand us torturers?

    it is a tough call, but shedding light on our misdeeds does go some steps towards putting us back as a beacon on the hill for other democracies to admire

    In the Bush administration we wallowed in a bullying police state

    April 21, 2009 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  4. Jack in Florida

    Torture goes against American values and they all need to be prosectued to the fullest extent of the law!! PLUS Bush and Cheney need to be sent to the Hague for crimes against humanity.

    April 21, 2009 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  5. KC

    I guess we should have just taken those silly ole terrorist on a great big shopping trip and just hugged them and laughed with them and just had a big bunch of fun. Yes, golly gee that would have just been peachy. Silly ole Bush administration trying to keep this country safe....what in the world were they thinking?

    April 21, 2009 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  6. disgusted

    Republicans think that if you go after someone for breaking the law that is score settling? LOL How many of these guys were also involved in Iran-Contra? I really would like to know. Nothing was done about that blatantly illegal act either. So naturally one would assume this does not matter.

    April 21, 2009 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  7. bsmith171

    will add chaos and split the country.
    good-bye, economy, healthcare and energy.

    April 21, 2009 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  8. Jon in CA

    "Americans Split over Torture Investigations"

    Really?

    If Obama winning the election with 52% of the vote is considered (by liberals) a "landslide" or "mandate".

    What is it when 66% of Americans DON'T want prosecutions?

    Apparently CNN has to twist the headline to soften it for their liberal viewers. NO way could CNN write an article headlined,

    "Overwhelming majority of Americans oppose Prosecution!"

    April 21, 2009 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  9. George

    If laws were broken, why not investigate? The law is for all parties.
    No one backed away when Clinton was investigated. This is much
    more serious than his were. America has to pursue this or we will never again be trusted by the rest of the world. We need talk, as Obama has done, but we need action also.

    April 21, 2009 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  10. NewAmerican

    We must prosecute them for bringing our country to shame in the eyes of the international community. Lying about WMD, Saddam Hussain, 9/11, Iraq, and etc. We have become a laughing stock of the world for lying on everything we say to them. WE HAVE LOST OUR CREDIBILITY AND ITS TIME WE REPAIR IT.

    April 21, 2009 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  11. therealmarie

    CNN and other M$M will conduct all sorts of subjective polls to distort and distract this torture investigation, if it goes forward.

    April 21, 2009 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  12. Scott AZ

    How about something closer to home like investigations into the Fannie-Mae and Freddie-mac meltdown which lead to the economic debacle we're now in?

    Guess we would just have to wait till 2010 when the republicans are back in the majority since the dems don't wish to investigate their own.

    April 21, 2009 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  13. Steph

    The information that has been made public so far has made me sick to my stomach. That is not the American I know and am proud of. I believe it is up to the justice dept. to decide to try anyone for these horrific acts (and please don't tell me they are all terrorists...do you know how many people have been quietly send home from Gitmo? Don't fool yourself into thinking that none of those innocent people were tourtured).

    April 21, 2009 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  14. PJP

    Are you kidding me? Compared to other countries, America's interrogations are just a slap on the hand! Other countries slice their heads off, buthcher them while they are still alive and all kinds of unspeakable things and investigate Bush and his adminstration? Are u really kidding me?

    Man, hell, meet handbasket!!

    April 21, 2009 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  15. katiec

    If there was criminal activity than they should be investigated and if
    warranted charged by the justice department. It is sad that it has
    come to this, but the arrogance and performance of the previous
    administration has left a black mark on the honor of our country.
    We, the people, expect justice no matter who is involved.

    April 21, 2009 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  16. Shirley In California

    Well, we all know how Keith Olbermann would vote. Maybe this will help him settle down a bit and get back to being the normal person I used to like. Lately, he has been real bitter regarding this subject.

    April 21, 2009 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  17. Annie

    Torturing goes against everything we stand for as a nation as well as illegal. The people who approved and carried it out need to be brought to justice. If we don't do it, another country can. Is that what we want?

    April 21, 2009 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  18. Rick

    Anything to help America's enemies......that's Obama's goal.

    April 21, 2009 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  19. Al-NY,NY

    Twenty-nine percent disagreed that waterboarding is torture. Where have we heard that percentage before in terms of enabling GOP behavior and agreeing to policy?

    April 21, 2009 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  20. Lynn

    Why use polls that are months old??

    April 21, 2009 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  21. Kelby In Houston, TX

    That's right, Americans are split over torture investigations.
    Soem of us are conservative repuglicans who have no interest in justice being served. They feel that it's okay and necessary for us to torture and that all of this should have been kept secret. These people are hurt from 9-11. They are afraid of those people who did this. They are angry. They hate all muslims and people who come in that shade of brown and their suffering is not only permissible but required.

    And then there are those of us who DEMAND that justice be done. People who realize that we are a nation of laws. There are those of us who refuse to abandon the core principals that make America The Greatest Country On Earth. There are those of us who demand that America do right and be right. They call us liberals. They say we hate America because we are so critical of her, pointing out every flaw, trying to correct every problem. Trying our very best to help our fellow man. Yes, this group demands that justice be done and I am one of them.

    LET JUSTICE BE DONE OR THE HEAVENS FALL!!!

    April 21, 2009 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  22. MESA MICK

    "and Republicans mostly opposed."

    To quote Casablanca "SHOCKED I tell you SHOCKED!"

    April 21, 2009 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  23. Mark

    Why is Obama tossing this to Eric Holder to decide? Obama campaigned on his having superior "Judgement". Or maybe this is superior judgement: let Holder decide (and take the fall if history views this as a colosal mistake). Good thinking!

    April 21, 2009 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  24. NOBAMA

    Obama should be impeached for disclosing State Secrets and harming the security of the USA, period!

    April 21, 2009 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  25. Suzan

    Why don't you cite a current poll, now that Americans know for sure that water boarding was not, as claimed by Bush, something that happened "about three times?" 266 times in two months for two suspects tells me that the intent was bodily harm, that these guys were not going to give up any information, and that the process is rightfully and morally, ILLEGAL!
    I say, prosecute them, and never let a fascist regime in the White House again.

    April 21, 2009 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
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