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Most Americans consider waterboarding to be torture: poll

A barbed wire fence surrounds a military area is in the forest near Stare Kiejkuty village, close to Szczytno in Northeastern Poland, in this January 24, 2014 file photo. Poland threatened to halt the transfer of al Qaeda suspects to a secret CIA jail on its soil 11 years ago, but became more "flexible" after the Central Intelligence Agency gave it a large sum of money, according to a U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee report released on December 9, 2014.

REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

By Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Anthony Salvanto, and Fred Backus

In the wake of last week's release of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on the CIA's detention and interrogation program, 69 percent of Americans consider waterboarding to be torture, but 49 percent think aggressive interrogation tactics like waterboarding are sometimes justified. 36 percent think they are not justified.

More than half (57 percent) think that such interrogation tactics provide reliable information that helps prevent terrorist attacks at least some of the time. Fifty-two percent of Americans think the release of information regarding the CIA interrogation tactics poses a threat to U.S. security; a third doesn't think it will have an impact.

Waterboarding and Aggressive Interrogation Tactics

Forty-nine percent of Americans think waterboarding and other aggressive interrogation tactics are sometimes justified to get information from suspected terrorists, but just over a third -- 36 percent -- think they are never justified. The percentage who thinks these tactics are justified has risen slightly from three years ago.

More than seven in 10 Republicans (73 percent) and half of independents (50 percent) think these tactics are sometimes justified. Most Democrats (54 percent) do not. Those who have heard or read a lot about the report are even more likely than Americans overall to say these tactics are justified.

One of the techniques highlighted in the report is the use of waterboarding, in which the sensation of drowning is created by either dunking a restrained prisoner in water or pouring water over the prisoner's face. As they did five years ago, most Americans consider this technique to be torture, including majorities of Democrats (83 percent), independents (67 percent), and half of Republicans. The percentage of Americans who do not consider waterboarding torture is unchanged, at 26 percent.

Among Americans who consider waterboarding torture, half think these practices are not justified. 87 percent of those who do not consider waterboarding torture think these tactics are justified.

The report outlined a number of other techniques used by the CIA to interrogate suspected terrorists in the years after the 9/11 attacks -- such as threatening to sexually abuse a prisoner's mother, forcing a prisoner to stay awake for up to 180 hours, and forcing them to bathe in ice water. Most Americans consider these tactics to be torture (by percentage, below):

  • Threaten to sexually abuse prisoner's mother (73 percent)
  • Forced to stay awake up to 180 hours (70 percent)
  • Waterboarding (69 percent)
  • Forced ice water bath (57 percent)
waterboarding.jpg
Depiction of waterboarding
CBS

Fifty-seven percent of Americans think these tactics provide reliable information that help prevent terrorist attacks at least some of the time, including 23 percent who think this happens often. Twenty-four percent think this rarely happens, while just 8 percent think these tactics never provide reliable information.

President Obama banned the use of waterboarding and several other aggressive interrogation methods in January 2009. However, 57 percent of Americans think waterboarding and other aggressive interrogation techniques are still being used by the CIA.

The Senate Intelligence Committee Report

Six in 10 Americans say they don't know enough about the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA interrogation program to assess its fairness, but among those with an opinion, more are inclined to say the report left important things out than say it was a fair representation. Forty-one percent of Americans who have heard or read a lot about it think the report left important things out.

Just over half of Americans (52 percent) think the release of information in the report regarding CIA interrogation tactics poses a threat to U.S. security; a third doesn't think it will have an impact. There are partisan differences: Most Republicans (64 percent) and more than half of independents (55 percent) think the release of the report does pose a threat, while Democrats are more divided.

There is some skepticism about whether the CIA told the President and Congress the truth about its treatment of prisoners. Only 18 percent think the agency was telling the truth about its interrogation program. 44 percent think the CIA was mostly truthful but hiding something, and 17 percent of Americans think the CIA was mostly lying about its treatment of prisoners.

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). Forty-seven percent of Democrats say suspected terrorists should have the same legal rights, while 41 percent think they should not.

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This poll was conducted by telephone December 11-14, 2014 among 1,003 adults nationwide. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups may be higher.

Data collection was conducted on behalf of CBS News by SSRS of Media, PA. Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

CBS News Poll-Senate Torture Report by CBS_News