April 21st, 2009
02:30 PM ET
13 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. Ed, Santa Fe, NM

    Old enough polls? This is worthless information after more truth about the Bush-sanctioned torture of prisoners has become public.

    April 21, 2009 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  2. Grog in Ohio

    Okay... call me crazy, but a later poll with 38% FOR a DoJ investigation, 24% FOR an independent investigator... that sounds like 61% in favor of SOME KIND of investigation. That's not a "split decision". That's a solid majority wanting someone to be prosecuted, tried and convicted. The 34% that want nothing done is uncomfortably close to the 28% that still approved of the worst president in US history that we just got shed of.

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

    Every time I see Cheney on Tv I feel like vomiting.
    Put EVEL Cheney behind bars NOW!

    April 21, 2009 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  4. John in Ohio

    Polls and splits are irrelevant, torture is illegal. It is a violation of US and international law.

    April 21, 2009 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  5. elpelotudo

    Guarantee that if it was the other way around, Faux News and the right wing millionaire pundits would have the American Teabaggers out in the streets calling for prosecution. Prosecute Cheney, let all others go.

    April 21, 2009 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  6. JesseB

    I bet if you tried a little waterboarding on the 29% that think it's not torture, they'd probably change their mind.

    April 21, 2009 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  7. Constitution believer

    I'm OK with however Mr. Obama and Mr. Holder decide to pursue this case (or not).

    But, I do favor investigation, and criminal indictments if warranted. I also favor an indictment by the International Criminal Court, if indeed international law (to which the US is a signatory) has been broken (and I believe it has). Unfortunately the US did not sign on to the ICC, so if there is another legally authorized international body that can investigate and prosecute violations of international law, I favor that action.

    April 21, 2009 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  8. Da Professor

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

    Gee, I wonder why the Republicans want to hide their "happenings" under a rock? Do visions of Libby in jail make you nervous Mr. Cheney? Ya gotta wonder how many of the Bush – Cheney administration could go to jail if the International laws that carry our signature also were to be enforced?

    April 21, 2009 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  9. Sniffit

    Right. And the half or so that say we shouldn't prosecute are the same half that will say Obama should be impeached because he is a "soshulizt" and shook Chavez's hand in a polite, adult-like greeting.

    Do we really need polls to tell us that the GOP's "half" of the country has gone completely off the deep end? Enough already...

    April 21, 2009 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  10. Milo of Atlanta

    Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush edited those memos, according to what I've previously read, so wouldn't that make them co-authors?

    April 21, 2009 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  11. scott

    Waterboarding KSM thwarted another 9-11 style attack. Facts are facts. So the man who masterminded 9-11, and sawed Daniel Pearl's head off in front of cameras rolling, got waterboarded. Horrors! And now Obama just opened the door to prosecution of the CIA agents responsible for essentially saving the lives of thousands of Americans.

    Does anyone care? It's just sad. The state of affairs in our country. Just sad.

    April 21, 2009 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  12. Lori, Houston Texas

    Let's say a man abused my neice. I then track him down and waterboard him once a day for a month. If I got caught by the police, would I be arrested and tried in a court of law? If found guilty, would I be sent to jail? I believe the answer is yes. So, I ask, why wouldn't the person who approved the act and the persons who committed the act be treated exactly the same way as me? No one is above the law. Our laws, based on equality for all, make us the greatest country in the world. If we don't investigate and try the crime, we lose what little bit of credibility we have left after 8 years of Bush/Cheney. Let's not make the same mistake by allowing bad things to happen without consequences. We are NOT a third world country. But, if we ignore our laws, we will soon be one.

    April 21, 2009 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  13. dave

    This is water under the bridge it was nice to know but lets move on. I'm with Obama on this one.

    April 21, 2009 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  14. Heidi

    Torture doesn't work!!! It never has and it never will. It only provides false leads and confessions.

    April 21, 2009 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  15. L Berry

    This is just another example of Presidfent Obama making judgements based upon poll results. He originally said he was against prosecuting Bush members over torture. After public discussions and liberal "newmen" making waves, he is open to bring changes to certain individuals. This is not a way to run a country like America, this isn't France.

    April 21, 2009 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  16. The Rule of Law .... Right?

    Now that his hindparts is in the cross-hairs of the Justice Department, Ex-VP Dick Cheney (and that "ex" is not for executive) claims that good things came from torture.

    I don't believe him and even if I did, we don't live in a country where we operate under the premise that the "ENDS justify the MEANS".

    That would be Somalia .... where because of extreme poverty, poor farming conditions, and OVERFISHING by Russian, Chinese, Japanese commercial fleets, former Somali fishermen have turned to PIRACY to earn a living. Things there are so bad, a guy is smiling at the prospect he'll end up in a US jail.

    Perhaps this puts Cheney's continued comments in perspective? Do we still accept that the "ends justify the means"?.

    April 21, 2009 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  17. gary

    Must be a slow news day for CNN to pull out surveys done 4 months ago and try to some how make them relevant with todays republican whining.

    April 21, 2009 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  18. jrzshor


    lets see; liberals want to prosecute, conservatives don't.

    'nuff said!

    April 21, 2009 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  19. Anthony R. Seta

    I'm a strong supporter of Obama and I want this presidency to succeed. This is a contentious issue for the nation. There is nothing to be gained by digging in the past. Let's acknowledge that Bush and company did what they thought had to be done in the early days of the War on Terror. Similar stuff happened in WWI and WWII. We've had to have a historical review of Japanese internment for example and eventually we'll have to have a reckoning about this torture issue. But now is not the time. We have big issues in front of us and we need to bury the hatchet. Sure, I know it will be tough for many to just swallow this stain on the national image. But we've got elected governors openly talking about secession and many rightwing conservatives quietly and not so quietly talking insurrection... I think that we should just let this go. We can learn from the past and move forward with a renewed moral emphasis and hopefully build a better world of tomorrow.

    April 21, 2009 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  20. vince

    All the bleating about the Bush Administration sanctioning use of "torture" to extract intelligence on terrorist activities is essentially irrevalent. The 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 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  21. Kathleen Hopkins

    Those responsible for clandestine torture should be brought to justice. It does not matter their rank or station. Allowing this to go unpunished leaves the door open for other countries to follow suit. These tactics are illegal and completely unacceptable in any country, especially America. We hold ourselves up as the "Superpower" and "The Best Country" while utilizing the most heinous methods which puts us in the same league as the Barbarians. Allowing these crimes to go unpunished makes all Americans less safe in America and abroad. It also makes our "democracy" highly questionable, especially when America feels justified in exporting democracy abroad at any cost. This is not enlightened or humanitarian in any sense.

    April 21, 2009 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  22. Deb

    I didn't see the poll because I would have voted prosecute them all including George Bush, Dick Chaney and the Judge that said it was legal.

    April 21, 2009 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  23. geraldine

    I would support a comprehensive investigation, but not the current one-sided farce coming out of the White House. I want to know what techniques were employed, and what information they yielded. Maybe then we call make a balanced, unemotional and apolitical assessment of the decisions made by the Bush administration. If it turns out that waterboarding prevented attacks, I'll be curious to see how the left continues its attack.

    April 21, 2009 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  24. Baze

    Any American who wants to prosecute another American for torturing an enemy of the state should turn over his passport and report to another country IMMEDIATELY!!!!

    April 21, 2009 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  25. rob

    If the Justice Dept of the Obama Admin decides to charge former members of the Bush Admin for trying to protect our country from further 9/11 attacks it will cause un imaginable damage to our country that will never be repaired in my opinion. What possible good can come from something like this. It will tie the hands of leaders who are trying to keep us safe and start a a dangerous downward spiral of criminalizing policy by political parties who want nothing but power.

    When the Obama Admin released the report on "Right Wing Extremist" right before the Tea Parties and since infered that these peaceful protests could become "Unhealthy" they are insidiously trying to silence speech that does not conform to the policies they are pursuing.

    President Obama needs to take a stand and live up to his campaign promise of bipartisanship before we go down a road that we may not be able to come back from.

    April 21, 2009 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
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