Poll: Most Americans back torture of ‘terror’ suspects

Poll reflects an American public on edge after California massacre and large-scale attacks in Europe in recent months.

A demonstrator is held down during a simulation of waterboarding in Washington DC in 2007 [Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]

Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they believe torture can be justified to extract information from those suspected of planning attacks, a survey released Wednesday found.

The March 22-28 online Reuters/Ipsos poll asked respondents if torture can be justified “against suspected terrorists to obtain information about terrorism”.

About 25 percent said it is “often” justified, while another 38 percent it is “sometimes” justified. Only 15 percent said torture should never be used.

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The poll reflects an American public on edge after the massacre of 14 people in San Bernardino in December, and large-scale attacks in Europe in recent months – including a bombing claimed by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) last week that killed at least 32 people in Belgium.

Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, has forcefully injected the issue of whether terrorism suspects should be tortured into the election campaign.

Trump has said he would seek to roll back President Barack Obama’s ban on waterboarding – an interrogation technique that simulates drowning that human rights groups contend is illegal under the Geneva Conventions.

Trump has also vowed to “bring back a hell of a lot worse” if elected.

Trump’s stance has drawn broad criticism from human rights organisations, world bodies, and political rivals. But the poll findings suggest many Americans are aligned with the billionaire businessman on the issue, although the survey did not ask respondents to define what they consider torture.

“The public right now is coping with a host of negative emotions,” said Elizabeth Zechmeister, a Vanderbilt University professor who has studied the link between attack threats and public opinion.

“Fear, anger, general anxiety: [Trump] gives a certain credibility to these feelings,” she said.

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About two-thirds of respondents also said they expected an attack on US soil within the next six months.

“You’re dealing with people who don’t play by any rules. And I can’t see why we would tie our hands and take away options like waterboarding,” said Jo Ann Tieken, 71, a Trump supporter.

In November, terrorism replaced the economy as the top concern for many Americans after ISIL attackers killed 130 people in Paris, another poll found.

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Source: Reuters