WASHINGTON – Just more than half of Americans say they believe the interrogation methods the CIA used against terrorism suspects in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were justified, polling data released Monday showed.
About 30 percent said they believed the tactics were unjustified, and the remaining 20 percent said they did not know, according to the survey by the Pew Research Center.
Opinion on the CIA’s torture of its prisoners differs notably by partisanship. Democrats were split, the poll found, with liberals much more likely to say the CIA’s tactics were not justified. Republicans across the board said the interrogations were justified.
President Barack Obama banned the CIA’s use of methods such as waterboarding, extended sleep deprivation and beatings, which had been authorized under President George W. Bush. Obama and other Democratic elected officials have referred to the CIA’s actions as ”torture.”
Most Republican elected officials have defended the CIA’s actions, with the exception of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and has denounced what the CIA did as a violation of American values.
By 56 percent to 28 percent, those polled said they believed the CIA’s tactics had produced intelligence that prevented terrorist attacks. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., insists that was not the case, and the committee report on the CIA’s actions released last week goes to great lengths to support her assertion.
On that question, too, a sharp partisan gap exists, with Republicans by 73 percent to 15 percent saying they believed that the interrogations helped prevent attacks, and Democrats split almost evenly, with 43 percent saying they did produce intelligence that helped prevent attacks and 40 percent saying they did not.
The poll was taken Thursday through Sunday after the release of the report, which sharply criticized the CIA’s actions. According to the poll, Americans were divided evenly over whether the intelligence panel was right to release its report.
On the question of whether the CIA’s acts were justified, 76 percent of people who identified themselves as Republicans said yes, and only 12 percent said no. Self-identified Democrats split, with 37 percent saying the interrogation tactics were justified and 46 percent saying they were not. Among liberal Democrats, 65 percent said the CIA’s actions were not justified, but among moderate and conservative Democrats, only 32 percent said so. A plurality of independents, 49 percent, sided with the CIA, and 30 percent said the agency’s actions were not justified.
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