February 10th, 2010
01:04 PM ET
13 years ago

Polls: Majority want terror suspects tried in military courts

Washington (CNN) – A majority of Americans want terror suspects to be tried in military rather than civilian courts, according to two new national polls.

An ABC News/Washington Post survey released Wednesday morning indicates that 55 percent of the public would rather have suspects accused of taking part in the September 11 terrorist attacks tried in military tribunals rather than in the country's federal court system. That's a switch from last November, when the poll indicated that Americans were split.

According to a Quinnipiac University poll also released Wednesday morning, 59 percent want September 11 terror suspects tried in military courts, with 35 percent saying they should face trial in civilian courts. And nearly 7 out of 10 people questioned feel that terror suspects should not receive all of the constitutional protections afforded by a civilian trial.

The Quinnipiac survey suggests a partisan divide, with Democrats split, while nearly 3 out of 4 Republicans and 6 out of 10 Independents supporting military trials. The poll also indicates that 3 out of 4 voters think the suspect who allegedly tried to blow up a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day be tried as an enemy combatant rather than as an ordinary criminal, but by a 52 to 42 percent margin, they approve of the FBI's advice to the suspect of his right to remain silent.

"When it comes to how suspected terrorists should be treated by the American judicial system there is a significant gap between the American people and President Barack Obama," says Peter Brown, assistant Director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "Although they give the President a 49 to 44 percent approval rating on handling terrorism, the devil is in the details.

When it comes to his decision to treat suspected terrorists as common criminals deserving of civilian trials rather than as enemy combatants judged by military tribunals they are strongly in the other corner. There is a similar disconnect on the basic question of whether suspected terrorists should have the same rights as ordinary criminals. But voters agree, however, with the Obama administration decision to advise the suspect in the Christmas bombing attempt of his right to remain silent."

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll released last month also indicated that a majority of Americans think that the alleged suspect in the Christmas Day attempted airliner attack should be tried in military court. And a CNN poll released in November indicated that two-thirds of the public wants Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, to be tried in military court.

The ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted February 4-8, with 1,004 adults questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points. The Quinnipiac University poll was conducted February 2-8, with 2,617 registered voters questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus 1.9 percentage points.

- Follow Paul Steinhauser on Twitter: @psteinhausercnn

Filed under: Poll • Terrorism
soundoff (93 Responses)
  1. Darth Vadik, CA

    Majority also wanted segregation and slavery at one point, it doesn't make it right.

    February 10, 2010 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  2. Enough

    As does the majority hate the health care reform bill the Democrats proposed. The message is loud and clear..........this isn't the change we voted for. After a solid year of 100% Democratic control, we cannot wait until 2012 to undo the damage of the 2008 elections.

    February 10, 2010 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  3. ATL Guy

    If we take a poll of whether Americans are stupid or not, I think the answer would be surprisingly clear.

    February 10, 2010 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  4. Jimmy James

    Obama and Holder don't care what Americans want. They are smarter than us and need to tell us what we need and want. It's the Liberal way. Maybe he needs to do more speeches to explain it. After all he blames not getting his message out for the healthcare failure (well that and the republicans, oh and I am sure Bush too). He doesn't see it as people not liking the plan or it's backroom deals.

    If he doesn't listen to the public on this, he won't listen about anything. Unless you are a lobbyist or Union head.

    February 10, 2010 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  5. Len (Colorado)

    I wonder if these Americans realize that over 200 terriorists where tried in Federal court in the Bush administration. They have been convicted in Federal court and are serving life sentences. Only three have been convicted in Military courts.

    America please research before you answer a question in which you do not have the correct facts.

    CNN: you should be providing the correct FACTS!

    February 10, 2010 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  6. Super

    One more example of how this administration is not aligned with the people.

    Come 2012, the People will have Donald Trump deliver the poll results and tell Odumber, You're Fired !!!!

    February 10, 2010 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  7. Julia - Native American from Idaho

    Timothy McVeigh our home grown terrorist, (if he was alive today would be a tea party leader) was tried in the U.S. District Court in Denver, Colorado, presided over by U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch. Now didn't they do a lousy job of holding this terrorist accountable, do any of you tea baggers know where this guy is today? Probably not, since most of you read at a 1st grade level.

    February 10, 2010 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  8. JAMitchell

    I wonder how much of a gap there is between President Obama and the current LAW in regards to this situation? I would suspect it is not quite as big of a gap as the one between the President and the "American People".

    February 10, 2010 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  9. Mike in Tacoma

    Uh... Sure... But...

    A great country leads by example and follows the rule of law...proudly and bravely.

    A great country doesn't cower down to fear by lower itself by making legal exceptions that violate the law and reduce our stature and our societal pillars.

    Public Opinion is as fickle as the weather... And lately our attention span is about the same as a two year old.

    A great country is "weather proof"

    February 10, 2010 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  10. sandy

    I think the polled public so do some research into the topic before they respond to polls. They, the polled public doesn't know the difference!

    February 10, 2010 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  11. Julia - Native American from Idaho

    One more thing to add about Terrorist McVeigh, if he were alive today, he would probably not be a tea party leader, he would be the governor or the State of Racist Idaho.

    February 10, 2010 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  12. Eunice of Memphis


    I hear about polls all the time. I am a member of a large American Sorority and none off the members poll have been called. WHY?? The polls do not reflect our views or numbers. This a great concern of to me.

    February 10, 2010 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  13. disgustedwithgopintexas

    What nonsense, are we a nation of laws or a bunch of knee jerk weaklings?

    February 10, 2010 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  14. Donkey Party

    Americans don't know enough about either to make an educated decision, so they rely on the gobbledygoo they hear on the tv or radio. If Americans knew the success ratio between civilian and military courts, they would never even consider military court as a viable option.

    February 10, 2010 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  15. Jerry

    This poll is a joke – people who responded to this poll are in turn responding to sound bites to make their decision. How many people can even discuss the differences between civilian and military court? The REALITY is since Bush was in office 155 terrorists have been convicted in civilian courts while just 3 have been convicted in military courts.

    The voting public is so ignorant of the details in these type of issues.

    February 10, 2010 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  16. Mike Syracuse, NY

    Interesting that when Obama won with 53% of the vote it was the will of the people and a landslide. When 59% oppose his plans to hold civilian trials the people are misinformed, misguided and bamboozled by Republican lies; if not outright racist.

    February 10, 2010 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  17. ThinkAgain

    Contrary to the latest lies from the GOP – including coming from the mouth of Newt Gingrich – Richard "Shoe Bomber" Reid was tried in civilian court and afforded all the constitutional protections afforded by that – and he is not a U.S. citizen (he is a British citizen).

    So what's changed, folks? Where was all your concern when GW Bush tried a terrorist in U.S. civilian court?

    I'll tell you what happened – people have given in to all the hate and lies and fear spewed by the Republicans and their lackeys over at Fox.

    You should be ashamed of yourselves, they way you cower before these idiots terrorists! They must be laughing themselves silly over in their Pakistani and Afghan caves, the way they've so easily made Americans throw the U.S. Constitution under the bus.

    Time to grow a pair, folks, and stop acting like a bunch of ninnies!

    February 10, 2010 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  18. Four and The Door

    And a CNN poll released in November indicated that two-thirds of the public wants Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, to be tried in military court.
    So for the 1/3rd of people out there who feel that this terrorist deserves the full rights of a US citizen on trial, will you be satisfied if he is set free because of a technicality? It is entirely a possibility and given the situation, it is more probable than if you had gone on trial for a crime in the US.

    February 10, 2010 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
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