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

Polls: Americans split over torture investigations

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/21/art.getty.obama.2.26.jpg caption="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. So what

    Torture them if that's the term you choose to use. I have no problem with it. These terrorists are not humane and will not and have not acted humanely towards us and other free citizens they wish to wipe off the face of the planet. I say not only continue the torture but let them know we will not stop at any lengths to secure our safety. If we step back they will only laugh at our weakness and continue their ways, undeterred, because they know they will suffer no consequences. Obama is weaking our country on a daily basis. He is not in touch with the world reality. We need to continue to wield a big stick because if we don't we will surely perish as a nation. That will be Obama's legacy.

    April 21, 2009 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  2. 4 and No More

    38% favor criminal investigation.
    24% favor an independent investigation.

    100% have enjoyed living in the US free from more terror attacks during the Bush administration.

    The Obama Administration and the rest of America is enjoying the success we have had in Iraq that allows us to bring troops home because they are not needed there anymore.

    Don't publish half a story.

    April 21, 2009 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  3. mypitts2

    I finally see what Cheney is about, with all this recent running of his mouth. He is trying to win a battle of public opinion ahead of anything that might happen, prosecution-wise. I'm sure he won't be touched, either way. Probably just looking out for his boys.

    April 21, 2009 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  4. dmcd

    The last thing we need is a divisive investigation that will only tell us what we already know.
    The US broke from more than 200 years of rising above our enemies and participated in torture. Agree or disagree with the ideology or the semantics of what constitutes torture... the US govt. sanctioned what about half of us consider torture.
    We don't need a political investigation that will result in less than a half dozen low level prosecutions (sacrificial lambs)... what we need to do is stop torture and move forward.
    President Obama has done this. He had banned torture by all Americans. If an American participates in torture now, they should be prosecuted.
    I believe an investigation at this point will accomplish nothing more than a bunch of partisan bickering and name calling.
    Let us not forget that the rules that allowed for torture were implemented with the knowledge and support of the president and congress. If our leaders had been serious about preventing torture, they would have done something when the rules were changed (anyone remember how a filibuster works), not several years later under a new administration.

    April 21, 2009 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  5. Tom C in NY

    No one is above the law, so Obama should appoint a special prosecutor to investigate. If the Bush Administration officials are innocent, so be it. But at least have an official inquiry, with sworn testimony, as enough serious questions havbe been raised about the violation of the law.

    April 21, 2009 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  6. Joan

    I can't believe that otherwise intelligent people enter into lengthy debates over what constitutes torture. Torture is torture no matter how twisted the legal interpretation may be. If you have to inflict so much pain and/or suffering that a person is willing to say anything to make it stop.....it's torture, plain and simple.

    Those who asked for twisted "legal" interpretations (Bush, Cheney, and other Cabinet members) as well as those who twisted & pounded the clear meanings of words in order to justify torture (judges and the prior Attorney General) should be brought up on charges just as those who "justified" killing millions of innocent people in the Second World War faced the Nuremberg trials. NO ONE is above the law.....not even those who hold the highest offices in our nation!

    April 21, 2009 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  7. mike

    If I was a Somali Pirate, I would rather have been waterboarded or put in a box with a bug as opposed to being shot in the head.

    April 21, 2009 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  8. ali

    No CIA official should be prosecute for that crime.Its too risky to our national security.Who care for this enemy who terrorist us for long time.I will not give Obama a chance again.He behave than i do.Past is gone with with their own and now is new era for him to make change and that change can't go back to look for past mess.The CIA,thier effort make us safe everyday.Obama and holder need to know our feeling than showing other they think can turn to be good people.I vote for him but not anymore

    April 21, 2009 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  9. Freed_From_W

    No one is above the law.

    Do you really want to prove Nixon correct when he said "When the president does it, it's not illegal"?


    April 21, 2009 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  10. Mississippi Mike

    Are we really going to punish people for trying to define humane ways to interrogate our enemies? What we do today that is called "torture" is nothing like what islamo-fascists do to Americans they capture. We are fighting people who have sworn to kill, maim and ruin as many Americans as possible, regardless to the costs to themselves. The only way you fight barbarians like these is with similar tactics.

    April 21, 2009 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  11. Tim

    I'd be satisified with Dick Cheney going to jail.

    April 21, 2009 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  12. Jeff Spangler, Arlington, VA

    Enforcement of the exalted Rule of Law which Senior Lecturer Obama often lauds is not subject to polls of those who are governed by it, especially when it appears to have been broken by those responsible for executing it.

    April 21, 2009 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  13. Irene

    The only Americans who are for torture are right wingnuts. Anybody with an ounce of education and sanity knows that torture is a war crime and those who perpetrate torture need to be tried for this criminal act. Nothing justifies torture.

    What is wrong with this country that this is even a valid discussion?

    April 21, 2009 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  14. Erik S.

    OK Mods at CNN, I can see you aren't going to post my link showing proof that there is far more to this story than you are reporting. I am just disappointed that you aren't willing to report ALL of the news. Again, for those wanting to hear another part of the story, find "The CIA's Questioning Worked" anywhere else on the net where the full story is appreciated. Hope you Mods will at least post this.

    April 21, 2009 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  15. Rufus

    Pure hate politics and it is going to topple this country!

    April 21, 2009 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  16. Erik S.

    Thanks Guys.

    April 21, 2009 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  17. nes

    Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere

    April 21, 2009 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  18. Ray

    I love it... I am a republican and I would love for this administration to prosecute.... Love it!!!! That would absolutely ruin this administration it would split the country and nothing good would come from it... Nothing . I gotta tell ya I could not be happier with the way things are going right now because this bum of a president who is in way over his head will be a 1 term president. Even if this country still won't elect a republican they will elect another dem instead of this guy.

    April 21, 2009 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
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