Americans think ‘torture’ is often necessary, while Democrats are deeply divided

One of the more irresponsible aspects of the reporting on the Senate Select Intelligence Committee’s long-awaited report on the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques is the prevalent suggestion that there is little debate over the efficacy of the tactics the report exposed, particularly among Democrats. A new poll suggests that there is a robust debate ongoing outside of America’s newsrooms over both the value of and the justification for the CIA’s interrogation methods.

While 69 percent of those surveyed in a recent CBS News Poll said they believe controversial tactics like waterboarding are “torture,” 49 percent also said they think that enhanced interrogation methods like those are sometimes justified – an slight increase from a poll taken three years ago. 57 percent said they believed the CIA when they claim that those tactics can often yield actionable information that can prevent terror attacks. Moreover, another 52 percent believe that the release of the information contained within the SSCI report will pose a threat to American national security. Only 36 percent say that “torture” tactics are never justified under any circumstances, and one-third add they think the SSCI report will not threaten American security interests.

Unsurprisingly, 73 percent of Republicans and 50 percent of self-identified independents believe enhanced interrogation is often necessary. Shockingly, however, only 54 percent of Democrats told CBS pollsters they do not think these tactics are ever justified. That indicates that there is significant, contentious debate over these tactics among the Democratic Party’s rank and file. None of that tension was reflected in the SSCI report by the Democrats who crafted it with the primary aim of servicing the preconceptions of the liberals who would later consume it.

The justification of these methods was not the only area in which CBS found conflict within Democratic ranks.

“More broadly, when asked if suspected terrorists should have the same legal rights as other criminal suspects, 56 percent don’t think they should, particularly Republicans (79 percent),” CBS News reported. “Forty-seven percent of Democrats say suspected terrorists should have the same legal rights, while 41 percent think they should not.”

CBS did not ask about the use of drone strikes on suspected militants that have resulted in the collateral deaths of hundreds of civilians. If they had, CBS might have found more uniform Democratic support for at least one counter-terror tactic.

This poll’s findings were perhaps predictable. With the rise of the Islamic State in the Middle East, a slow but constant trend in which Americans had begun to value their civil liberties over security concerns reversed itself.

The Pew Research Center’s polling showed that, in 2009, 58 percent of the public did not believe federal authorities had gone far enough in their efforts to protect the country while only 27 percent told pollsters federal authorities had “gone too far restricting civil liberties.” That figure flipped in 2013 in the wake of revelations facilitated by the defection of Edward Snowden to Russia. 47 percent told pollsters that the government had “gone too far” while only 35 percent still valued security over the safeguarding of their liberties.

As ISIS has dominated the headlines, and aspiring “lone wolf” militants around the globe look to this terror state for inspiration to carry out attacks on soft targets in the West, Americans once again are valuing security over privacy. By 50 to 35 percent, the most recent Pew survey found the public did not believe America’s “anti-terrorism policies” had gone far enough.

These trends suggest that it was perhaps an inopportune time for the SSCI to release its findings. One year ago, Americans might have been more amenable to introspection and self-flagellation over the early conduct of the War on Terror. Today, they are apparently more predisposed to extend to the government the benefit of the doubt.

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David Strom 6:41 PM on January 26, 2023