In a shocking new poll it was revealed that American’s are more like 24’s Jack Bauer than ever before in their mindset about torture and ways to eliminate terrorists. This poll which was conducted for Foreign Policy revealed that American’s are much more in favor of torture and specific torture methods than they were during the Bush administration which put nearly all of these measures into place and when these torture methods were legal. The kicker is that American’s are also increasingly more in favor of using nuclear weapons to eradicate terrorists regardless of the harmful effects to the environment. It should also be noted that most terrorists don’t even congregate in large enough numbers to justify even a 2,000lb bomb never mind a nuclear bomb.
A quarter of all Americans are willing to use nuclear weapons to kill terrorists. No joke. This was among many surprising findings in a new national poll that YouGov recently ran for me on hot-button intelligence issues. (The poll, conducted between Aug. 24 and 30, 2012, surveyed 1,000 people and has a margin of error of +/- 4 percentage points).
To be honest, I threw in the nuclear bomb question on a lark, not expecting to find much. Boy, was I wrong. Aside from learning that 25 percent of Americans would stop the next terrorist plot with a several-hundred-kiloton atomic bomb, the poll numbers suggest that Americans have become more hawkish on counterterrorism policy since Barack Obama became president.
In 2007 only 27% of American’s surveyed said that the government should torture suspected terrorists and 53% said that the government should not. Today though 41% of American’s would like terrorism suspects to be tortured and only 34% said the government should not. Those numbers are pretty shocking when you take into account that America is now only at war with one country and most terrorists we find, we kill rather than capture.
Sure, the devil is in the details. Poll responses are highly susceptible to question wording. So I had the pollsters ask some of the exact same questions in the exact same way that appeared in a January 2005 USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll, the most detailed pre-Obama poll on interrogation techniques that I could find. It turns out that Americans don’t just like the general idea of torture more now. They like specific torture techniques more too.
Techniques such as the controversial waterboarding are gaining more support from Americans but the real interesting thing is that far less people are saying they’re against such methods which were highly controversial when they were announced. Now only 51% say they are against such methods which is a 28 point drop from 2005. Other “enhanced interrogation techniques” such as uncomfortable positioning while naked, religious humiliation and the use of dogs are also gaining support in America and the resistance to such techniques is also steadily declining. The only technique that American’s don’t really care for now is oddly one of the more common techniques; sleep deprivation. It’s ok to waterboard a terrorist as long as he’s getting his 8 hours!
Is this a reflection on Obama’s foreign policy?
Right after President Obama got settled into the Oval Office he banned all enhanced interrogation methods that are not listed in Army Field Manual 2-22.3. This executive order means that the now popular waterboarding is a crime but is increased support for such methods a sign that American’s don’t agree with Obama’s foreign policy or is it because the controversy around such techniques has faded away into the shadow of the Bush administration?
According to the data gathered it doesn’t have to do with any of that. In this instance you can truly blame television. According to the YouGov poll Americans who admitted to regularly watching spy themed television programs and movies are more likely to support extreme action against terrorists than those who don’t watch them as often or at all. The likes of Jason Bourne, Annie Walker and Jack Bauer could actually be influencing the way American’s feel about how we actually treat alleged terrorists and if other data is taken into account this isn’t actually as odd as it seems.
84 percent of frequent spy TV watchers are willing to assassinate terrorists vs. 70 percent of infrequent watchers
What does this mean?
This is the first poll of its kind and certainly more data will need to be collected but what it does show is a startling trend and if it is able to affect policy and politics this could do irreparable harm to America’s standing in the world. Watching spy movies and crime dramas can make us think that certain methods work 99% of the time but that just isn’t how it plays out in the real world and I am embarrassed that I actually have to say that. You can’t spot a fiber from across the room in broad daylight thanks to your super flashlight like on CSI Miami nor is “enhanced interrogation” any more effective than interrogation. Any expert (and politicians aren’t experts) will tell you that everyone breaks under torture and most will tell the interrogator whatever they want to hear regardless of fact just to get them to stop. Full on torture enhanced or not doesn’t work.
American’s might be more in favor of reviving Bush era torture techniques but if the reasoning behind it is because it worked for Jason Bourne then we should all do ourselves a favor and turn off the TV.
BTW for those 24 fans, like myself, a movie is due out this year.