It was heartening to hear the following from Senator McCain at the first debate especially after his support for allowing the CIA to use torture during interrogations.
I have opposed the president on spending, on climate change, on torture of prisoner, on – on Guantanamo Bay. […] And we’ve got to — to make sure that we have people who are trained interrogators so that we don’t ever torture a prisoner ever again.
And Obama said:
And this is the greatest country on Earth. But because of some of the mistakes that have been made — and I give Senator McCain great credit on the torture issue, for having identified that as something that undermines our long-term security — because of those things, we, I think, are going to have a lot of work to do in the next administration to restore that sense that America is that shining beacon on a hill.
To my utter dismay, torture hasn’t become an issue in the US election. Today I want to focus on how popular or unpopular torture has been among the people of the United States and the world, which explains why Senator Obama hasn’t brought up the use of torture by the Bush administration more often and why Senator McCain has been sliding away from his opposition to torture.
Here is a poll from May 2004.
Given pro and con arguments, 63 percent in an ABC News/Washington Post poll say torture is never acceptable, even when other methods fail and authorities believe the suspect has information that could prevent terrorist attacks. Thirty-five percent say torture is acceptable in some such cases.
There’s more of a division, though, on physical abuse that falls short of torture: Forty-six percent say it’s acceptable in some cases, while 52 percent say not.
Majorities identify three specific coercive practices as acceptable: sleep deprivation (66 percent call it acceptable), hooding (57 percent) and “noise bombing” (54 percent), in which a suspect is subjected to loud noises for long periods.
Far fewer Americans accept other practices. Four in 10 call it acceptable to threaten to shoot a suspect, or expose a suspect to extreme heat or cold. Punching or kicking is deemed acceptable by 29 percent. And 16 percent call sexual humiliation — alleged to have occurred at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad — acceptable in some cases.
[…] Whatever their personal tolerance for various practices, 51 percent of Americans believe the U.S. government is employing torture “as a matter of policy” as part of the war against terrorism. And two-thirds think the government is using physical abuse that stops short of torture.
[…] Regarding the Abu Ghraib case, which has resulted in charges against some U.S. soldiers and calls for congressional investigations, the public is twice as likely to see what occurred there as abuse (60 percent) rather than torture (29 percent).
In December 2005, an opinion poll tried to measure attitudes to torture around the world.
In America, 61 percent of those surveyed agreed torture is justified at least on rare occasions. Almost nine in 10 in South Korea and just over half in France and Britain felt that way.
[…] In Canada, Mexico and Germany people are divided on whether torture is ever justified. Most people opposed torture under any circumstances in Spain and Italy.
A Harris Poll in December 2005 makes the American populace look quite pro-torture.
55 percent of all adults believe that rendition is justified either often (14%) or sometimes (41%), when interrogating suspected terrorists. 60 percent of adults believe that the use of “secret prison camps in Europe or elsewhere” is justified either often (14%) or sometimes (46%). 52 percent of all adults believe that the use of torture is justified either often (12%) or sometimes (40%).
82 percent of all adults believe that the U.S. uses rendition, as defined above, often (25%) or sometimes (58%). 81 percent believes that the U.S. uses secret prison camps outside the country often (23 ) or sometimes (58). 83 percent believe that the U.S. uses torture often (17%) or sometimes (66%).
At least it seems that the public doesn’t take Bush’s statements about “we do not torture” at face value.
A BBC Global Poll in October 2006 found that majorities in 19 countries are in favor of clear rules against torture. In order of decreasing popularity, those countries are Italy, France, Australia, Canada, Britain, Germany, South Korea, Spain, Egypt, Turkey, Poland, Chile, Brazil, United States, Philippines, Iraq, Ukraine, Kenya, Indonesia. Note the position of the United States in that list; it’s near the bottom with developing countries. torture is more popular here than in most of the developed world.
There are some uncivilized countries where there is no clear majority for or against torture: Israel (43-48), Nigeria (39-49), Russia (37-43), China (37-49), India (32-23), and Mexico (24-50).
According to a CNN poll of the US in November 2007,
Asked whether they think waterboarding is a form of torture, more than two-thirds of respondents, or 69 percent, said yes; 29 percent said no.
Asked whether they think the U.S. government should be allowed to use the procedure to try to get information from suspected terrorists, 58 percent said no; 40 percent said yes.
In the procedure, water is used on restrained prisoners to make them feel like they are drowning.
A World Public Opinion Poll in June 2008 found that:
A WorldPublicOpinion.org poll of 19 nations finds that in 14 of them most people favor an unequivocal rule against torture, even in the case of terrorists who have information that could save innocent lives. Four nations lean toward favoring an exception in the case of terrorists.
However, large majorities in all 19 nations favor a general prohibition against torture. In all nations polled, the number saying that the government should generally be able to use torture is less than one in five.
On average across all nations polled, 57 percent opt for unequivocal rules against torture. Thirty-five percent favor an exception when innocent lives are at risk. Just 9 percent favor the government being able to use torture in general.
The four publics that favor an exception for terrorists when innocent lives are at risk include majorities in India (59%), Nigeria (54%), and Turkey (51%), and a plurality in Thailand (44%).
Support for the unequivocal position was highest in Spain (82%), Great Britain (82%) and France (82%), followed by Mexico (73%), China (66%), the Palestinian territories (66%), Poland (62%), Indonesia (61%), and the Ukraine (59%). In five countries either modest majorities or pluralities support a ban on all torture: Azerbaijan (54%), Egypt (54%), the United States (53%), Russia (49%), and Iran (43%). South Koreans are divided.
Again, notice where US public opinion lies. Near Russia, Egypt and Azerbaijan! Is that what we aspire to be? As Andrew Sullivan said:
So America’s peers in the fight against torture, in terms of public opinion are Azerbaijan, Egypt, Russia, and Iran. This is what America now is: a country with the moral values of countries that routinely torture and abuse prisoners, like Egypt and Iran. Even the Chinese, living in a neo-fascist market state, oppose torture in all circumstances by 66 percent, compared to Americans where only 53 percent do! More horrifying: a higher percentage of Americans – 13 percent – believe that torture should generally be allowed than in any other country save China, Turkey and Nigeria. And in the last two years, as the American president celebrates and authorizes the torture of people who have not been allowed a fair trail, support for torturing terror suspects has increased from 36 percent to 44 percent.
Why are so many Americans morally bankrupt about torture now? It turns out it might be the fault of the religious, or more specifically the Southern Evangelicals.
A new poll released Thursday (Sept. 11) finds that nearly six in 10 white Southern evangelicals believe torture is justified, but their views can shift when they consider the Christian principle of the golden rule.
The poll, commissioned by Faith in Public Life and Mercer University, found that 57 percent of respondents said torture can be often or sometimes justified to gain important information from suspected terrorists. Thirty-eight percent said it was never or rarely justified.
But when asked if they agree that “the U.S. government should not use methods against our enemies that we would not want used on American soldiers,” the percentage who said torture was rarely or never justified rose to 52 percent.
[…] The findings of this poll, which did not define torture, compared to a Pew Research Center poll from February that found that 48 percent of the general public think torture can be justified.
The new poll found that 44 percent of white Southern evangelicals rely on life experiences and common sense to determine their views about torture. A lower percentage, 28 percent, said they relied on Christian teachings or beliefs.
[…] Pollsters also found that 53 percent of white Southern evangelicals believe the government uses torture in its anti-terrorism campaign, despite claims by government officials to the contrary. About one-third, or 32 percent, said the government does not use torture as a matter of policy.
Wow, so a majority of white Southern evangelicals are not only pro-torture, but they do not rely on Christian teachings either. Who would have thought they would be so immoral?