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Behind the Numbers
Posted at 12:59 PM ET, 01/21/2009

On Torture

A majority of Americans in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll oppose the use of torture in terrorism investigations, backing Barack Obama's pledge that "under my administration, the United States does not torture." But there's an even split on whether he should investigate whether laws were broken in the way suspects were treated under the Bush administration.

Overall, 58 percent support the prohibition Obama declared before taking office, but there's a wide gap across party lines: 71 percent of Democrats and 56 percent of independents in the poll said torture should never be used, but most Republicans, 55 percent, said there are cases in which the U.S. should consider using torture against terrorism suspects.

The issue of torture has new prominence today after Obama's order to suspend judicial proceedings against terrorism suspects being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Last week, a top Bush administration official said plainly that the U.S. had tortured a Saudi national held there; the man allegedly intended to take part in 9/11 attacks. The politics of torture and Gitmo are now inextricably linked.

There's also a large political divide about whether the new administration should look into any illegality on the part of the previous one in terms of its handling of those suspected of terrorist activities, as 69 percent of Democrats said they'd like to see such investigations while 69 percent of Republicans said no. Independents divide 53 to 45 percent against investigations.

Put together, all Americans break 50 percent in favor of investigations, 47 percent opposed.

On the question of the use of torture, a gender gap spans party affiliation, as in all cases women are more apt than men to support Obama's position that torture not be used in any circumstance.

Q. Obama has said that under his administration the United States will not use torture as part of the U.S. campaign against terrorism, no matter what the circumstance. Do you support this position not to use torture, or do you think there are cases in which the United States should consider torture against terrorism suspects?

           Support not      There are cases
          using torture   to consider torture   No opinion
All            58                 40                 2

Democrats      71                 28                 2
Republicans    42                 55                 3
Independents   56                 43                 2

Men            49                 50                 1
Women          65                 31                 3

Dem Men        65                 33                 2
Dem Women      75                 23                 1
GOP Men        34                 65                 1
GOP Women      50                 45                 6
Ind Men        45                 55                 *
Ind Women      66                 31                 3

Liberal        72                 27                 1
Moderate       57                 42                 1
Conservative   47                 50                 3

By  |  12:59 PM ET, 01/21/2009

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