Poll Suggests That Public Support of Harsh Interrogation Techniques in Terrorism Cases Greater Now Than in 2005

The story is here. An excerpt:

It turns out that Americans don’t just like the general idea of torture more now. They like specific torture techniques more too.

Respondents in 2012 are more pro-waterboarding, pro-threatening prisoners with dogs, pro-religious humiliation, and pro-forcing-prisoners-to-remain-naked-and-chained-in-uncomfortable-positions-in-cold-rooms. In 2005, 18 percent said they believed the naked chaining approach was OK, while 79 percent thought it was wrong. In 2012, 30 percent of Americans thought this technique was right, an increase of 12 points, while just 51 percent thought it was wrong, a drop of 28 points. In 2005, only 16 percent approved of waterboarding suspected terrorists, while an overwhelming majority (82 percent) thought it was wrong to strap people on boards and force their heads underwater to simulate drowning. Now, 25 percent of Americans believe in waterboarding terrorists, and only 55 percent think it’s wrong. The only specific interrogation technique that is less popular now than in 2005, strangely enough, is prolonged sleep deprivation.

Support for assassinating terrorists has also grown, though not as much as for torturing them. In part this is because assassinations have always been quite popular. In that same 2005 poll, 65 percent were willing to assassinate known terrorists. Today, 69 percent are. Perhaps more interestingly, the percentage of Americans who say they are unwilling to assassinate known terrorists has declined dramatically, from 33 percent in 2005 to just 12 percent today.

At first this seems like a very surprising result, but I suppose it is consistent with polls showing broad public support for keeping open Gitmo. It’s hard to know exactly what explains the trend. My guess is that it has a lot to do with Presidential trust. For some people, at least, whether they want the government to have certain powers depends on who is in charge of exercising them. And it’s worth noting that a bunch of these negative numbers are still very negative: A policy that has gone from 16% support to 25% support is still a policy with relatively little support.