“The problem is we have the Geneva Conventions, all sorts of rules and regulations, so the soldiers are afraid to fight,” he said at a town hall in Wisconsin. “We can’t waterboard but they can chop off heads.”
Legalizing torture and touting its efficacy has been a primary theme for Trump and other Republicans throughout this campaign season, so it probably shouldn’t come as a big surprise when we get headlines like this: “Most Americans support torture against terror suspects – poll.”
That’s what Reuters reported on Wednesday. “Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe torture can be justified to extract information from suspected terrorists,” the news outlet says, “a level of support similar to that seen in countries like Nigeria where militant attacks are common.”
Looking closer at the poll question gives some insight as to just why Americans may support torture. “How do you feel about the use of torture against suspected terrorists to obtain information about terrorism activities?” the Reuters/Ipsos poll asks. In other words, the question itself implies that torture works (“to obtain information”), and if torturing some terrorist we don’t care about anyway helps prevent the next attack, then why not?
Surveys on torture have regularly assumed it’s effective. Because of that, as Ryan Cooper at the Week once noted, “for the last decade mainstream American polling organizations have essentially been conducting pro-torture push polls.”
But the reality is that torture doesn’t work. A comprehensive Senate report on the Bush administration’s torture program came to that conclusion, and former interrogators themselves strongly oppose using torture. “In fact, torture is absolute garbage for intelligence work,” adds Cooper, “This fact is firmly established; look no further than Darius Rejali’s massive book on torture, which is the last word on the subject.”
What’s more, it’s more than likely that Americans actually don’t support torture because when they’re asked about specific techniques, such as waterboarding, forced nudity, or slapping, “public support mostly collapses.”
So not only is torture a total moral abomination, it’s completely useless. Yet with Republicans like Trump and Cruz continuing to promote it, polling firms pushing its efficacy, and the fact that past crimes haven’t been held to account, we’ll most likely continue to see headlines like the one in Reuters on Wednesday for the foreseeable future.
(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)