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. vince

    All the bleating about the Bush Administration sanctioning use of "torture" to extract intelligence on terrorist activities is essentially irrelevant. 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 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  2. TRUTH

    It saved American lives and we have evidence. Read what the CIA said just today about the info we gained from Khaled Sheikh Mohammed. We were able to stop an attack on Los Angeles that was imminent. Liberals are nuts

    April 21, 2009 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  3. Gayle

    Here's one republican that says, "Bring it on." While we're at it let's start an investigation into the collapse of Fanney Mae, and Freddie Mac. Including any lawmakers, republican or democrat, that were on the take. Let's push further and investigate exactly what has happened to all of the stimulus and tarp funds that have been distributed. Let's find out where it was laudered before it went to pay off political favors.

    April 21, 2009 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  4. Kevin B

    The Obama adminsitration should avoid getting into this mess at this time, nothing from it will benefit the greater good.

    It will also give fodder to the extremes on both ends of the political spectrum and furthur polarize political discourse.

    Stay focused on the economy Mr President, leave it for history and the world to judge the Bush adminstration's failure of imagination and morals.

    April 21, 2009 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  5. wishing

    This split, no surprise, is why we have leaders. Sometimes they lead, sometimes the inspire and sometimes they do things for which they should be punished.

    April 21, 2009 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  6. esblofeld

    Not only is it not about score-settling, It's also not even primarily about justice. It's about deterrence. John Yoo's a tenured professor now, and Jay Bybee is a federal judge. Getting plum spots like that after engineering the torture and lawless detention of thousands, many of whom are demonstrably innocent (picked up via bounties or over simple feuds), will ensure that this will happen again.

    April 21, 2009 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  7. Alan

    Yes Obama has said that America has lost her moral compass due to the tortue issue.

    I guess all he as done to provide thousands of more abortions (killing of babies) across the world would make him qualified to speak about the loss of our 'moral' compass.

    Isn't ironic that both the left and right in this country can justify their own issues, when common sense tells you that torturing fellow humans and killing babies are wrong regardless of what political party supports it!!

    April 21, 2009 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  8. Kitty

    Well I think the people that lost family during the 911 attack should be polled and see what they think about torture. They themselves have been tortured by images of losing loves ones!!!

    The bible says an eye for an eye so what is wrong with torturing criminals? Next thing we will hear from Obama is instead of jail time for these criminals they will get to stay at a Motel Six as punishment and maybe be served a McDonalds Happy Meal instead of a Big Mac!!

    Give me a break!!!!

    April 21, 2009 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  9. Carl from MI

    It's torture... prosecute them!!!!

    If those in the CIA don't like it, start sending them all BURN NOTICES!!

    April 21, 2009 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  10. FromSTL

    So in "non liberal media land" the people do not want the investigation of people just defending the country.

    April 21, 2009 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  11. bill

    I think all of those that participated in the torture of the prisoners should be charged. It has always been said, that ignorance of the law has never been a defense.

    Just because some scum bag lawyer that gave a rubber stamped legal opinion from the Bush policy, doesn't give a get out of free jail card to the torturers.

    They did not give the jailers at abu ghraib a free pass for doing the same things that the cia operatives did.. Instead of getting the low men and women on the totem pole, try for the leaders

    April 21, 2009 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  12. Kevin in Ohio

    If Bush administration officials are prosecuted for these trumped up charges of torture, you can be sure of one thing..... the next administration will prosecute Obama for treason.

    April 21, 2009 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  13. Annette

    Everybody will have opinion on what the current administration should. But, the past President set in office for 8 years. Where was the outcry then? where was the accountability then? The damage has been done. No need to hassle this President about what is he going to do. What should have been done was not done, so media chill.

    April 21, 2009 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  14. Allen

    obama is a LOSER.......4 years of this BS......help us all.

    April 21, 2009 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  15. Ancient Texan

    This ill advised investigation, if it comes to be, will split this country right down the middle, into a even deeper divide than exists now. Riots in the streets wouldn't be surprising.

    April 21, 2009 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  16. Chi Town

    Obama is gutless... put it all on Eric so you can wash your hands...

    Oh but I'm fine with it... if it's done right and not as a political ploy.

    Open all the documents... including the information gotten, how it was used and the results... and list everyone who knew anything about it. To include all the Senate and House Armed Services Comittee members from 2002 to 2009.

    This could be fun...

    April 21, 2009 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  17. Allen

    Maybe obama should invite the bad guys, for tea next time too. Then he can supply them with more detailed information about the US.

    April 21, 2009 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  18. Liberal and Proud of It dot com

    Remember those "good Germans" we read about in school, who said they had no idea where all those Jews were going? Remember how we thought, "How could those people be so horrible?" Remember how we fantasized about how we would stand up to tyranny, no matter what they cost?

    Well?

    April 21, 2009 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  19. parker

    No, we are not. Stop defending Bush/cheney

    April 21, 2009 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  20. eric in texas

    Why don't they release the results of the technique?

    When I went through my training we were taught that "torture" is the least effective means of interrogations depending on how it is done. A one time interrogation technique that uses "torture" is ineffective. But if a person is held captive, they know a lie will just bring about more bad things. It is better to tell what you know. And I say "torture" because who defines what is and is not "torture"?

    You want a fair fight? No such thing. War is ugly and filled with nasty things.

    April 21, 2009 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  21. MJM

    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 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  22. sherry

    If the democrats had of okayed the torture there would surely be a inquiry by the GOP.

    April 21, 2009 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  23. Grimm

    The days of "do as I say, not as I do" or ending. American does not condemns the torture of its citizens held captive in foreign states. Yet torture is considered a "valuable tool" for interrogating enemies of the state. You can't have it both ways.

    April 21, 2009 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  24. J.P.

    And to those who kept us safe for eight years, your thanks will be in the form of endless investigations, harassment by congressional inquiry.

    Is it 2010 yet?
    DON'T RE-ELECT ANYONE!
    (republican or democrat)
    535 random people off the street couldn't possibly do any worse.

    April 21, 2009 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  25. John

    Prosecute them.

    We are Americans.

    If we are to have any moral high ground, or standing as defenders of Truth, Justice, and the American Way; then we need to prosecute the officials who legalized this.

    Americans should demand prosecution

    April 21, 2009 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
1 2 3 4 5