Americans Call Torture ‘Immoral,’ Want Congress to Tighten Laws Against It

According to a new poll commissioned by TCP, an overwhelming bipartisan majority of Americans thinks that torturing people is immoral and should not be done if the government might have other ways to obtain information about terrorists.  More than two-thirds of them want Congress to strengthen laws prohibiting torture to make it clearer to the CIA and the military what behavior is legal and what is not when interrogating people who may have information about terrorists, with support for tightening the law cutting across party lines.

“When responding to facts – not hypotheticals, euphemisms or partisan propaganda – Americans of all stripes reject torture and want Congress to make certain it never happens again,” TCP President Virginia Sloan said in press release.

Last December, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a declassified version of the executive summary of its 6,700 page report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program after 9/11.  The summary described deplorable conditions of confinement and detailed the use of brutal interrogation techniques that most consider torture, such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation and confinement in a box the size of a small dog crate, among other abuses.

The poll found strong bipartisan agreement that such torture is immoral, with 78% of Democrats, 72% of independents and 56% of Republicans in accord with that position.  The survey displays even stronger bipartisan consensus that torture ought not be used when other interrogation methods might work to obtain information about terrorists: more than three-quarters of the respondents (76%) said they agreed with that sentiment, including 86% of Democrats, 78% of independents and 69% of Republicans.

Although President Obama formally ended the CIA detention and interrogation program in 2009, he did so by executive order.  Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has said she will soon introduce legislation to codify safeguards in that executive order and otherwise strengthen the ban on torture and cruel treatment to prevent a future administration from returning to those abuses.  The new poll shows that such legislation would enjoy broad support of the American people from across the political spectrum:  67% said they would approve of such a proposal, with 75% of Democrats, 69% of independents and 56% of Republicans backing the idea.

In April 2013, TCP’s own blue-ribbon bipartisan Task Force on Detainee Treatment found that the treatment of many suspected terrorists in U.S. custody after 9/11 constituted torture, and that torture and cruel treatment were authorized at the highest levels of government.  The findings of the Senate report closely parallel those contained in TCP’s Task Force report.

The survey was conducted January 8 to 11 by ORC International, and questioned 1,023 Americans over the age of 18.  It has an overall margin-of-error of +/- 3%.

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