Majority of Americans side with Dick Cheney, say torture was justified

A new Pew poll suggests that 51 percent of Americans back the CIA's use of harsh interrogation techniques, which many call torture, after 9/11.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
CIA Director John Brennan listens during a news conference at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., Thursday. Mr. Brennan defended his agency from accusations in a Senate report that it used inhumane interrogation techniques against terrorist suspect with no security benefits to the nation.

Half of Americans regard the Central Intelligence Agency’s harsh interrogation methods as justified, according to a new national survey from the Pew Research Center.

These are the same so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” – including waterboarding and sleep deprivation – that were outlined in the Senate Intelligence Committee torture report released last week.

The poll found that 51 percent of respondents believed the CIA’s methods were justified, versus 29 percent who said that they were not. Roughly one-fifth chose not to express an opinion.

It turns out, too, that the respondents’ opinions tended to fall closely along partisan lines. Roughly three-quarters of those who identified themselves as Republicans said that the interrogation methods were justified, versus 37 percent of Democrats.

The poll also asked whether the Senate Intelligence Committee should have released its torture report in the first place. On this point, respondents were closely divided, though more (43 percent), by just a hair, believed it was the wrong decision. (Forty-two percent thought it was the right thing to do).

Much of the debate surrounding the report has focused on whether these interrogation methods, which many say are torture, actually produced what is known in CIA parlance as “actionable intelligence.” 

The Senate report concludes that CIA officials and others in the Bush administration were not truthful when they said that the torture led to important intelligence breakthroughs. Often, it inspired detainees to make up stories in order to make the torture stop, which in turn led intelligence officials on wild goose chases, the Senate report argues.

The American public appears to disagree. The Pew poll found that 56 percent of people believe that the intelligence helped prevent terrorist attacks, while just half as many – 28 percent – said they did not think the methods helped provide this type of intelligence.

On the heels of the Senate report, former Vice President Dick Cheney and CIA Director John Brennan have pushed the idea that enhanced interrogation techniques – or EITs, as they prefer to call them – work. 

Sen. Ron Wyden (D) of Oregon would like to combat that notion by introducing legislation next year that would make torture – which he says includes “enhanced interrogation techniques” – a crime.

Such legislation would help “end this culture of denial,” Senator Wyden says, adding that he would like to see the entire 6,000-page Senate torture report declassified. So far, only the 500-word executive summary has been made public.

Of the respondents to the Pew poll who say they read the summary, 59 percent concluded that the CIA’s methods were justified.

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