Sizeable minority in U.S. condone torture

By Patrick Worsnip

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The number of Americans whowould condone torture, at least when used on terrorists inorder to save lives, has risen over the past two years and nowstands at over 40 percent, according to a new opinion poll.

The poll released by, a projectmanaged by the University of Maryland, found that a narrowmajority of Americans -- 53 percent -- think all torture shouldbe banned.

But 31 percent would accept it in terrorism cases to saveinnocent lives and a further 13 percent said it should beallowed in other circumstances as well, the nationwide poll of1,309 people found. The remaining 3 percent did not know or didnot answer. The margin of error was 3.3 percent.

WorldPublicOpinion said a 2006 poll found that 36 percentof Americans would accept torture in terrorism or other cases,compared with 44 percent now.

The latest poll was part of an international survey ofpublic attitudes to torture, which found that 57 percent ofrespondents in 19 countries opposed it under all circumstances.But in India, Nigeria, Turkey and South Korea, a majorityagreed with torture at least in some cases.

The findings were issued at the United Nations ahead ofInternational Victims of Torture Day on Thursday.

The issue is controversial in the United States because ofreports of tough questioning of terrorism suspects at U.S.detention centres in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay,Cuba.

President George W. Bush has said the United States doesnot practice torture. But the Central Intelligence Agency hasadmitted using "waterboarding", a form of simulated drowning,and a recent Justice Department probe cited cases of sleepdisruption, "short shackling" and other physical techniques.

People polled were asked to comment on the statement:"Terrorists pose such an extreme threat that governments shouldnow be allowed to use some degree of torture if it may gaininformation that would save innocent lives."


WorldPublicOpinion had little explanation for the apparentrise in U.S. public tolerance for torture except to say that"the U.S. public receives a steady stream of news reports aboutterrorist attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan."

In other countries, it said, events in the past 18 monthsmay have influenced the public. There had been attacks byKashmiri separatists in India and Kurdish separatists inTurkey, while two South Korean aid workers had been kidnappedand killed by Taliban rebels in Afghanistan.

But Steve Kull of WorldPublicOpinion told a U.N. newsconference on Tuesday that "the Bush administration taking theposition in defence of waterboarding ... I think probably hascontributed to some extent to a weakening of the normglobally."

Yvonne Terlingen, U.N. representative of rights groupAmnesty International, told the news conference, "The roleplayed by the United States in undermining the universalprohibition on torture cannot be underestimated."

U.S. mission spokesman Richard Grenell dismissed the claim,saying Terlingen "knows the United States does not torture. TheAmerican men and women who protect us deserve our support."

Some 145 of the 192 U.N. member states are parties to a1985 U.N. convention banning torture. But Amnesty says amajority of states either practice it secretly or are complicitin it by sending people back to countries where they know theywill be tortured.

India, which had the highest percentage -- 59 percent -- ofpeople condoning torture for one reason or another, has signedbut not ratified the convention.

Terlingen said it was "really shocking" that overall in the19 countries polled as few as 57 percent opposed torture.