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It's Depressing How Many Americans Still Support Torture

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The release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report on Tuesday elicited well-deserved criticism of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program. With over 500 pages of evidence, the report affirmed that the torture program was exceedingly brutal and ineffective at eliciting useful intelligence. According to internal CIA documentation, prisoners exposed to enhanced interrogation techniques vomited, lost consciousness, and even died as a result of their treatment. The response to this report should be a resounding, unanimous rejection of torture, anytime, anywhere.

But a poll conducted by YouGov immediately after the release of the report shows that this is not the case—especially among Republicans. Only 11 percent of self-identified GOP-ers were willing to rule out the use of torture entirely, and over half approved of tactics like sleep deprivation, physical violence, forced nudity, waterboarding, and the threat of sexual violence. 

Political affiliation aside, the general approval of torture in America is alarmingly high and appears to be largely unaffected by the revelations of Tuesday’s report. Today, 24 percent of Americans say the use of torture against suspected terrorists is never justified—only a two percent increase from when this question was asked in April.

In 2009, President Obama banned the enhanced interrogation methods detailed in the Senate report. But in a press conference on Thursday, a reporter asked CIA Director John Brennan what would prevent a future president from authorizing a covert torture program in the case of another imminent terror threat. Given the chance to definitively rule out the use of torture, Brennan simply responded, “I defer to the policymakers in future times when there is going to be the need to be able to ensure that this country stays safe if we face a similar type of crisis.” His remarks were troubling—but then again, how can we expect the director of the CIA to unequivocally ban torture when 66 percent of Americans still envision a circumstance in which it is justified?