Pew poll: Majority says CIA interrogation methods after 9/11 were justified, 51/29

I realize we’re throwing a lot of these interrogation polls at you lately but I find them fascinating as a long-running rebuke to elite opinion. Liberals in Congress and their friends in the press have spent the better part of 10 years pressing the point that enhanced interrogation, most notably in the practice of waterboarding, is not merely wrong but un-American.

Americans disagree. And not just the Americans you’d expect to disagree.


Note well: Even a few people who think EIT is unjustified think it helped produce intel that thwarted attacks. The core argument of EIT opponents, from the Senate Democrats who released last week’s report on down to rank-and-file lefties, is that torture never — never — works. Fifty-six percent believe not only that it does work but that it already has.

Among the groups that side with the majority: Republicans, of course — and women, Hispanics, and young adults, all mainstays of the Democratic coalition.


The last two rows are the most interesting. At this point, with the torture debate having been litigated and relitigated for years on end, you’d expect the only people still tuning in to be dedicated opponents of enhanced interrogation. Not so. People who are paying close attention to the news about Senate Democrats’ report on the CIA are considerably more likely to say post-9/11 interrogation is justified than people who aren’t.

How do you spin that if you’re on the other side of the issue and invested in the idea that Americans can’t support an idea you’ve deemed the epitome of un-Americanness? One way is to focus on the question’s wording. By mentioning 9/11 and using the word “interrogation” instead of “torture” or even “enhanced interrogation,” Pew’s arguably stacking the deck here. But then, YouGov omitted 9/11 and did use the word “torture” in asking last week whether torturing suspected terrorists to gain intel on future attacks was ever justified. Even there, 48 percent said torture was at least sometimes justified versus 42 percent who said it was rarely or never justified. If you include the “rarely” crowd with the first group, fully 66 percent say that torture is justified in at least rare occasions.

Going forward, EIT opponents might be better off avoiding the baseline “justified or not?” question altogether and focusing instead on specific practices that the CIA engaged in. YouGov found much more opposition to those than it did to the idea of torture in the abstract; among nine different methods they listed, only two were deemed more acceptable than unacceptable by respondents. Reminds me of ObamaCare in reverse, ironically: In that case, majorities support some of the individual provisions, like guaranteed issue for people with preexisting conditions, but disapprove strongly of the law overall. With EIT, the opposite is true — strong approval of the program overall but sharp disapproval of most of the components.

One more data point for you. This comes not from Pew but from the CBS poll that Noah wrote about earlier. Wow:


Amazingly consistent across parties. I wonder what explains the high number of Democrats who believe the CIA’s still engaged in EIT despite Obama having banned the practice years ago. Maybe that’s a reflection of their low opinion of the agency itself — i.e. sure, Obama banned it, but those darned sadists at Langley are probably doing it anyway for kicks. Or maybe it’s a reflection of their opinion of O himself on counterterror matters. Why would a guy who routinely kills suspected terrorists from the air, without ever identifying them positively, have qualms about letting the CIA slap them around so long as they do it quietly?