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Poll: Public Does Not Want Torture Probe

The recent release of detailed memos describing harsh interrogation techniques used on suspected terrorists under the Bush administration has fueled calls for a Congressional investigation.

But most Americans do not want an investigation, according to a new CBS News/New York Times poll.

Tonight's CBS News/New York Times Polls:
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Public Does Not Want Torture Probe
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Full Results (PDF): Obama | Race Relations | Waterboarding
Full Coverage Of Obama's First 100 Days

According to the poll, sixty-two percent of Americans do not think Congress should hold hearings to investigate the administration's treatment of detainees. Only a third of Americans thinks Congress should investigate. That's the same proportion as thought so in February.

Republicans overwhelming oppose Congress holding such hearings, and sixty percent of independents agree. Democrats - much like Democratic representatives in Congress -- are more divided. Forty-six percent say Congress should hold hearings, while fifty-one percent say they are not necessary.


These numbers do not mean the public agrees with the tactics used under the Bush administration to interrogate detainees, however. While 37 percent think waterboarding and other aggressive interrogation techniques are sometimes justified, 46 percent think these techniques are never justified.

And even more Americans - 71 percent - think the use of waterboarding and other aggressive interrogation techniques constitutes torture.

Most Democrats think the use of such tactics are never justified, while most Republicans think they sometimes are justified. Independents are divided.

Opinions on whether waterboarding constitutes torture affect opinions on its use. Sixty percent of those who consider waterboarding to be torture think it is never justified, while 74 percent of those who think it is not torture think it sometimes is justified.


The poll also finds that there is no indication that the release of the memos has hurt perceptions of the Obama administration's dealings concerning terrorism. Most Americans approve of the way Mr. Obama is handling the threat of terrorism: 55 percent approve, while only 28 percent disapprove. Most Democrats and independents approve of the way he is handling the issue, while most Republicans disapprove.

Forty-six percent of Republicans have charged the Obama administration with making the country less safe from the threat of terrorism, but only 19 percent of Americans overall think that is the case. Slightly more - 23 percent - think the Obama administration has made the U.S. safer. Half do not think there has been any change. Democrats give the president far higher marks for making the country safer than do Republicans.

This is one area in which Americans expressed general satisfaction with the previous administration's track record. Even as late as the beginning of September 2008 - when only 29 percent of Americans approved of the way George W. Bush was handling his job as president - 50 percent thought his administration had made the country safer.

In addition, one particular policy on which many Americans agree with the previous administration - and disagree with Mr. Obama -- is whether or not to continue to use the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to hold suspected terrorists. Forty-four percent of Americans think the base should be shut down, while 47 percent think it should remain operational.

Views on Guantanamo Bay have changed little in the past few months. Most Democrats want to close the base, while most Republicans and independents think the base should remain open.

Also of note in this poll is that Americans continue to hold a dim view of the Bush presidency overall. Just 23 percent of Americans approve of how George W. Bush handled his job as president and seventy percent disapprove - a standing that has not improved in the 100 days since he's been out of office.

Six in 10 Republicans approve of the way Bush handled his job as president, while the vast majority of Democrats and independents disapprove.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney - who has emerged recently as perhaps the Bush administration's most vocal defender - also remains unpopular with most Americans. Only 19 percent of Americans view Cheney favorably, while more than twice as many - 42 percent - hold an unfavorable opinion of him. Thirty-eight percent say they are undecided or don't know.

Cheney remains popular with many Republicans, however - 50 percent say they have a favorable opinion of the former vice president. Democrats and independents hold a negative opinion of him.

This poll was conducted among a random sample of 973 adults nationwide, interviewed by telephone April 22-26, 2009. Phone numbers were dialed from RDD samples of both standard land-lines and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups is higher.

An oversample of African Americans was interviewed, for a total of 212 interviews with African Americans. The results then weighted in proportion to the racial composition of the adult population in the U.S. Census. The margin of error for the sample of African Americans is 7 points.

This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

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