New Survey Finds Tolerance Of Torture In The US

Simulated waterboarding torture © Amnesty International

Last week to mark the 150 anniversary of the American Civil War the American Red Cross released a survey of US attitudes to international humanitarian law which revealed a shocking tolerance of torture across American society.

The Red Cross survey found that 59% of the 502 teenagers and 51% of the 1,019 adults polled believed that it was sometimes acceptable to torture enemy fighters to obtain important military information.

41% of teenagers and 30% of adults also accepted the logical corollary that it might therefore sometimes be acceptable for enemy forces to torture captured American POWs. The survey powerfully suggests just how far the norm against torture in American public life has been eroded.

Giants of American public life like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln have spoken out against torture but the evidence seems to suggest that, for now at least, the ants have carried the day.

An American public weaned on a diet of hard-charging maverick cop shows like 24, video games like Modern Warfare, and the obfuscating legal maneuvers of Bush’s torture team has drunk the kool aid and, despite all evidence to the contrary, concluded torture works.

In the real world, torture carried out at Abu Ghraib and Bagram provided ammunition to Al Qaeda and the Taliban that got countless US servicemen, and Iraqi and Afghan civilians, killed and produced little or no intelligence of any value.

We all bear some of the responsibility for not pushing back harder against the moral compromises and outrages on human dignity born out of the ‘Global War on Terror’. We have not just let ourselves down in the process, we have also let down our children.

An America at ease with the torture of its prisoners and even its own servicemen is the real legacy of the Bush administration, and it is a legacy that President Obama has done little to redress.

Accountability matters. We can’t just turn the page – we need to make the change. Until those who broke the law are brought to book and justice is seen to be done what kind of example do we expect to set for our children?

A second interesting, albeit somewhat contradictory, finding from the Red Cross survey concerned support for holding war criminals judicially accountable for their actions. 66% of youths and 79% of adults supported the trial and punishment of individuals who broke the ‘rules of war’.

In a week where the Head of the Federal Aviation Authority’s Air Traffic Organization, Hank Krakowski, promptly resigned after several cases emerged of air traffic controllers sleeping on duty, the contrast between accountability in the FAA and that in the defense and intelligence community could not be more stark.

Accountability for torture is every bit as much a public safety issue as ringing the changes at the FAA. As Darius Rejali, author of Torture and Democracy, has demonstrated so convincingly in his work the bacillus of torture migrates inevitably from the battlefield to the precinct.

If we don’t want to want our kids to grow up thinking torture is as American as apple pie, we must redouble our efforts to press for justice. Torture is, and has always been, against the law. When laws are broken we punish the transgressors – it’s Civics 101.

We can’t afford to give torturers a free pass – thanks to the American Red Cross we now know precisely what kind of example that sets for our children.

AIUSA welcomes a lively and courteous discussion that follow our Community Guidelines. Comments are not pre-screened before they post but AIUSA reserves the right to remove any comments violating our guidelines.

20 thoughts on “New Survey Finds Tolerance Of Torture In The US

  1. How could I be more ashamed of my fellow Americans? Torture is ok…right. These must be the end of times for the U.S. I'm getting to the point where I hope so. The shame I bear as citizen of this evil country is getting to the point of no return.

  2. n o one no matter who he is should not be tortured to obtain information. so think about it , some day that just might be you being tortured for no reason

  3. Now I enjoy Bush-bashing as much as any old leftist, but I'm not so sure you should be reading so much into this study (ie, that our views have actually /changed/ due to Bush et al.): we might've been as big of bastards prior to 9/11, and this study–focusing only on present views–gives no solid ground to conclude otherwise.

    Frankly, I'm not even sure which of those possibilities is more frightening: that we've become more open to torture because of the past decade, or that we've /always/ been so open.

    (And, of course, there's a third but admittedly less likely possibliity, ie, that these views on torture are actually more anti-torture than they previously were).

  4. How could I be more ashamed of my fellow Americans? Torture is ok…right. These must be the end of times for the U.S. I’m getting to the point where I hope so. The shame I bear as citizen of this evil country is getting to the point of no return.

  5. I also feel indignant when I witness complacency towards torture, but scattered associations with popular culture or current events do not seem helpful. I entered a debate with a stranger about torture and I attacked the efficiency of the technique. My claim was that the tortured will say anything to make it stop. Once he suggested that there have been instances where multiple people have been tortured and their painful testimonies have been compared for verification, leading to operable action; my argument felt impotent.
    I personally find myself unwilling to support torture in any circumstance, but if it is indeed effective, then I can at least sympathize with those who consider it a tool to prevent harm to their peers.
    In order to change the paradigm of torture in our culture, we need to have a logical argument motivated by our love, not completely dependent on it. Because those who support torture do not love the people who are being tortured.
    Again, I refuse to condone any intentional harm to a restrained person; but I'm still trying to explain why.

  6. n o one no matter who he is should not be tortured to obtain information. so think about it , some day that just might be you being tortured for no reason

  7. Now I enjoy Bush-bashing as much as any old leftist, but I’m not so sure you should be reading so much into this study (ie, that our views have actually /changed/ due to Bush et al.): we might’ve been as big of bastards prior to 9/11, and this study–focusing only on present views–gives no solid ground to conclude otherwise.

    Frankly, I’m not even sure which of those possibilities is more frightening: that we’ve become more open to torture because of the past decade, or that we’ve /always/ been so open.

    (And, of course, there’s a third but admittedly less likely possibliity, ie, that these views on torture are actually more anti-torture than they previously were).

  8. I also feel indignant when I witness complacency towards torture, but scattered associations with popular culture or current events do not seem helpful. I entered a debate with a stranger about torture and I attacked the efficiency of the technique. My claim was that the tortured will say anything to make it stop. Once he suggested that there have been instances where multiple people have been tortured and their painful testimonies have been compared for verification, leading to operable action; my argument felt impotent.
    I personally find myself unwilling to support torture in any circumstance, but if it is indeed effective, then I can at least sympathize with those who consider it a tool to prevent harm to their peers.
    In order to change the paradigm of torture in our culture, we need to have a logical argument motivated by our love, not completely dependent on it. Because those who support torture do not love the people who are being tortured.
    Again, I refuse to condone any intentional harm to a restrained person; but I’m still trying to explain why.

  9. I don't know why people are getting their knickers in a twist because the US tortures terrorist suspects. They do it because it (mostly) works. We all know that in international relations ends always justify the means, especially when super powers interests are concerned.

    The intelligence business is like any other. What doesn't work (e.g. tickling the soles of your feet) is discarded and what does work (e.g. waterboarding, sleep deprivation etc) is retained and refined. It's no different to marketing strategies used to sell computers.

    The BBC's Peter Taylor's done a fantastic two-part documentary called "The Secret War On Terror" and credit to the US spokesmen for being honest, unlike the slimy, dissembling Brits who pretend that they haven't used information gained through torture. :)

    Both episodes are here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOXLJTiEU68

  10. I don't know why people are getting their knickers in a twist because the US tortures terrorist suspects. They do it because it (mostly) works. We all know that in international relations ends always justify the means, especially when super powers interests are concerned.

    The intelligence business is like any other. What doesn't work (e.g. tickling the soles of your feet) is discarded and what does work (e.g. waterboarding, sleep deprivation etc) is retained and refined. It's no different to marketing strategies used to sell computers.

    The BBC's Peter Taylor's done a fantastic two-part documentary called "The Secret War On Terror" and credit to the US spokesmen for being honest, unlike the slimy, dissembling Brits who pretend that they haven't used information gained through torture. :)

    Both episodes are here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOXLJTiEU68

  11. I don't know why people are getting their knickers in a twist because the US tortures terrorist suspects. They do it because it (mostly) works. We all know that in international relations ends always justify the means, especially when super powers interests are concerned.

    The intelligence business is like any other. What doesn't work (e.g. tickling the soles of your feet) is discarded and what does work (e.g. waterboarding, sleep deprivation etc) is retained and refined. It's no different to marketing strategies used to sell computers.

    The BBC's Peter Taylor's done a fantastic two-part documentary called "The Secret War On Terror" and credit to the US spokesmen for being honest, unlike the slimy, dissembling Brits who pretend that they haven't used information gained through torture. :)

    Both episodes are here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOXLJTiEU68

  12. I don’t know why people are getting their knickers in a twist because the US tortures terrorist suspects. They do it because it (mostly) works. We all know that in international relations ends always justify the means, especially when super powers interests are concerned.

    The intelligence business is like any other. What doesn’t work (e.g. tickling the soles of your feet) is discarded and what does work (e.g. waterboarding, sleep deprivation etc) is retained and refined. It’s no different to marketing strategies used to sell computers.

    The BBC’s Peter Taylor’s done a fantastic two-part documentary called “The Secret War On Terror” and credit to the US spokesmen for being honest, unlike the slimy, dissembling Brits who pretend that they haven’t used information gained through torture. :)

    Both episodes are here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOXLJTiEU68

  13. To lessen the chance of discovery, the CIA ships their victims, men and women alike, to Uzbekistan to be boiled alive or have their skin peeled away. Many never leave. Can we consciously condone this? No, I think not.

  14. To lessen the chance of discovery, the CIA ships their victims, men and women alike, to Uzbekistan to be boiled alive or have their skin peeled away. Many never leave. Can we consciously condone this? No, I think not.

  15. My only issue is, how is it right only when USA does it and not when another country does it ?

    How come when in war, killing civilains is OK by all standards of War Laws when USA, West and Israel is involved and not when Russia or China attacks their opponents ?

    So people really wanna believe that USA is acting as the protector of HR when the most shameful acts against humanity happen via USA ??

  16. My only issue is, how is it right only when USA does it and not when another country does it ?

    How come when in war, killing civilains is OK by all standards of War Laws when USA, West and Israel is involved and not when Russia or China attacks their opponents ?

    So people really wanna believe that USA is acting as the protector of HR when the most shameful acts against humanity happen via USA ??

  17. Exactly Rip. I wonder how USA supports the Anti Government protesters in Libya, but, not get involved in situations in Syria and basically support the government of Bahrain when there are video evidence of Bahrain government forces killing civilians.

    There is some kind of Hypocrisy going on and the sad aspect is that so called independent bodies as UN, HRW and AI are also keeping shut about them or drafted in to support such brutality.

    Before long, the world will see USA and a Big Bully than a big brother who's out there to protect us.

  18. Exactly Rip. I wonder how USA supports the Anti Government protesters in Libya, but, not get involved in situations in Syria and basically support the government of Bahrain when there are video evidence of Bahrain government forces killing civilians.

    There is some kind of Hypocrisy going on and the sad aspect is that so called independent bodies as UN, HRW and AI are also keeping shut about them or drafted in to support such brutality.

    Before long, the world will see USA and a Big Bully than a big brother who’s out there to protect us.