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.