With the release of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA detention and interrogation procedures today, we are at the start of what promises to be a long national process of pundits of various political persuasions yelling past each other. But before we get into the full swing of the inevitable shouting match, it’s probably a good time to look at what polling has looked like on the subject in the past.Here, for example, is some historical data courtesy of Pew from 2011, which asked people to complete the following sentence: “Torture to gain important information from suspected terrorists can be justified…”:
Taking into account just how reliant these results are on how the question is asked—the word used explicitly is “torture”, so people have to be willing to tell a stranger that they favor torture under certain circumstances—the striking thing is that 71% of those polled told researchers that there were some circumstances under which they would support the use of torture. And indeed, it’s also worth noting that the “never” number went down between 2004 and 2011, even though the shock of 9/11 would presumably have been wearing off.With the story gaining national prominence with the release of this report, we are sure to get updated polls soon enough. But in the meantime, it’s important to remember that the question of whether torture is acceptable isn’t a black-or-white issue for a fair number of people—a subtlety than our national public discourse is unlikely to admit in the coming days and weeks.