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. Jackie in Dallas

    Waterboarding is torture, pure and simple. We as a nation failed to live up to our own high ideals by supporting those who sanctioned it. In particular, the use of it 266 times on two people alone was revenge, not information seeking.

    That being said, I agree that prosecuting those who set the policy is a very polarizing topic. As much as I would like to see VP Cheney, in particular, prosecuted, I cannot in good faith see much good come of it if we do.

    April 21, 2009 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  2. worriedmom

    Can most of us you remember how you felt on Sept 11th. I don't know about you but I was very scared and then mad when I realized how these ruthless terroists killed innocent people and bragged about it. Do you remember the country coming together (yes even Congress singing God Bless America) Do you remember people saying lets get these guys who did this to our people? are some of you the same people now saying lets get the President and his people for trying to keep our country safe from this ever happening again??? This serves no purpose on going back. Can anyone deny that we were safe the last 8 years??? So why can't people go forward. Look you elected this President to make change, but you don't call for change, you call for being vindictive because you think somehow you were wronged. If anyone on this board thinks that Sept 11th was justified then all we can do is pray for your lost soul. To this date, i still cry when I see reminders of Sept 11th. I hope that we never have to experience anything like that again in our life.

    April 21, 2009 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  3. s

    so much for moving forward. Just some election promises.

    April 21, 2009 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  4. Rose

    I wonder who is pulling Obama's strings. He says one thing and does something different. How can we possibly believe what he says today when tomorrow might be different He is letting Democratic Senators and Congress run the show. What a wimp!!!

    April 21, 2009 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  5. Dace Tucson AZ

    Of course republicans don't want their values of hate, war crimes, and torture aired in public. But this is who they are and they continue to love this sadistic practice (even thought it doesn't work) and flaunt it with joy in our faces. Look at the most disgusting and blatant sadist of then all Cheney with is proud smirk gleefully defending his and bushes war crimes. They all need to be in prison and or executed as we did in WW II for the same exact crimes.

    April 21, 2009 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  6. Hispanic in Dallas, TX

    Please this is just a political witch hunt; why does the government need to waste time with investigations on this; no one cares, people care about jobs, money to pay their mortages and not being in debt to the government over bailouts.

    All Obama did was to let the terrorist know how weak America is and is getting.

    April 21, 2009 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  7. geraldine

    Where's mention of the LA attack aborted as a result of KSM's waterboarding? That wouldn't fit the CNN storyline and agenda as well, would it?

    April 21, 2009 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  8. Sheila Wolfe

    Why would a poll be taken? Torture is a violation of our countries "Rule of Law" and against everything we stand for. Would we poll people to find out their thoughts on other crimes? e.g. Murder,rape,etc.? Obviously this should not be a partisan issue. It is the fundamental difference between right and wrong.

    April 21, 2009 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  9. David

    Yeah, maybe we should have asked the Al Qaeda detainees politely to give us information that would enable us to prevent further attacks to our country. Wake up people!! When our fellow American's lives are at stake we should want our government to do anything and everything in its power to protect US first. Let's say one of your family members were captured by a terrorist organization and we had in our custody someone that knew exactly where they were but would not talk. How do you feel about those tactics now? Not so bad anymore…

    April 21, 2009 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  10. Moderate Democrat

    Let's be clear, based on the numbers quoted...we aren't split. A majority FAVOR an investigation and prosecution of the cowards that were not willing to fight with honor and morals.

    It takes a true patriot to fight based on the fundamentals that guide your constitution. It takes a coward and/or anti-american to fight using tactics opposed and outlawed in your own country.

    April 21, 2009 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  11. Dale

    The Republican party– Representing waterboarding and other Christian values....

    April 21, 2009 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  12. Rick

    First of all it wasn't torture. Secondly, and this is the point that all you simpleton dumbocrats always fail to understand.....the interrogation methods worked and saved American lives. I know that the lives of the terrorists are much more important to dumbocrats then the lives of Americans but not everyone feels that way.

    April 21, 2009 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  13. Matthew

    Since this country is predominantly Christian, I don't see how their could really be much of a split. Surely every religious person would be against the practice of torture. If not, we've truly lost our way.

    April 21, 2009 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  14. Bill in California

    YOU WANT AN OBJECTIVE POLL?? Ask the surviving families of 9/11 and the familie of all the innocent people beheaded by the TERRORISTS that this administration is trying to portray as VICTIMS.

    April 21, 2009 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  15. Veronica

    I haven't seen or heard of any proof that torture works (uh, it doesn't) from Bush and his cabal of criminals. Saying it works doesn't mean it does – I can very well say I'm next in line for the Throne of England, doesn't make it true ... besides, I take EVERYTHING from Bush and his cabal of criminals with a ROCK OF SALT.

    If we are to comply with the rule of law, our Constitution, and treaties that we have signed with other countries, we are legally bound to investigate and prosecute those who ordered torture. If we are to restore our worldwide respect, and our moral authority, we MUST investigate and prosecute. To sit on the sidelines, feigning innocence ("let's move on"), is criminal in itself. I know for a fact that we certainly wouldn't sit and allow another country to skate the law.

    The only way to move forward is to learn from the past – this seems like a great place to start.

    April 21, 2009 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  16. vince

    All the bleating about the Bush Administration sanctioning use of "torture" to extract intelligence on terrorist activities is essentially irrelevalent. A logical resolution is simply to use conducted energy weapons to get the cooperation of people suspected of having information needed for the protection against terrorist attacks. "Tasers" are widely regarded as legal and used extensively to force even totally innocent people to comply with the demands of law enforcers

    April 21, 2009 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  17. John

    Americans split???
    In my math world, the Gallup results of 62% support investigation vs. 34% oppose is not a split. This is another example of the sorry state of our media. Instead of providing analysis, they simply give each side "equal time" and allow lies to go unchallenged so as not to offend. I'm sick of fair and balanced. And don't say 2/3 to 1/3 is split!

    April 21, 2009 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  18. Micah

    Thanks to these memos we now know that only THREE people, all associated with Al Queda, received waterboarding – who were considered some of the worst of the worst. A plot of terrorist activities aimed at Los Angeles was uncovered from these interrogations, terrorist cell activities were revealed and shut down, terrorist bank accounts were seized or frozen, etc. All this information stemmed from these THREE terrorist – again, the only THREE who received waterboarding. No one of these THREE men were beaten, stabbed, electocuted, or inflicted with any form of physical pain. My hat goes off to the CIA and I would like to thank President Obama for letting me know the truth – that President Bush did make good decisions when it came to the security of our country.

    April 21, 2009 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  19. Simmy

    Republicans don't mind lying...they just don't want to get caught....I say leave it to the Attorney General....Let the truth be known....

    April 21, 2009 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  20. Kurt C.

    Sure, let's investigate people who learned information that saved peoples' lives. That sounds like a GREAT idea.

    April 21, 2009 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  21. Sniffit

    "score settling"

    LOL...of course they would see it that way, but guess what? A crime is a crime and a criminal is a criminal. Let a jury of their peers decide. This isn't a political issue, and despite Obama's clear attempts to keep it from being one, but the GOP will do its best to politicize the whole thing as much as possible (then claim it was Obama who did so), because that's their only hope of keeping Bush, Cheney and the rest of the evil regime from going to jail.

    April 21, 2009 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  22. Sharon Kitchen

    Obama is doing what he thinks is correct.

    I know that the ole' gang.......waterboarders(those that gave the orders)
    did Not do what was correct.

    I would not want any member of my family-serving in the military-to be tortured.Not anyone.

    April 21, 2009 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  23. KC ONYEMELIKE

    If Romney is all that the Republicans have,they might as well forget the Presidency. Despite his money bag he could not make out of the primary.What does he know about foreign policy? This is another case of one trying to stay relevant.

    April 21, 2009 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  24. seebofubar

    What is happening in this country? Dump this self righteous vindictive sad excuse for a president now.

    April 21, 2009 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  25. shucks

    that is because as we all know the republican christian right evangelical loonies are OK with torture, spewing hate, divisiveness, descrimination, racism, and war. Good christians one and all.

    April 21, 2009 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
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