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Americans are increasingly likely to say torture is acceptable, according to polls

Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans think torturing suspected terrorists is justifiable at least some of the time, according to a new poll.

As the torture scandals of the Bush administration recede into memory, Americans are increasingly likely to say the US should — by any means necessary — get information out of terrorists, despite a pile of evidence that torture does not work.

The new poll, conducted online by Reuters and Ipsos, found 63 percent of respondents said torturing suspected terrorists "to obtain information about terrorism activities" could be justifiable "all of the time" or "some of the time." Among Republicans, 82 percent supported torture.

That's a high share, perhaps because the question about torture was preceded by a question about the Brussels attacks. But the result is in line with previous surveys from other groups, which have consistently found that Americans, never totally united against torture, have been more likely to view it favorably in recent years.

The Pew Research Center periodically asks about torturing suspected terrorists, and found that starting in 2008, Americans were more likely to say it could be often or sometimes justified, rather than rarely or never:

Chart from Pew Research Center Pew Research Center

And in 2015, a global survey, also from Pew, found that Americans were more likely to support torture in their country than people in other regions of the world. Fifty-eight percent of Americans said torture could be justified "to try to gain information about possible attacks in our country," higher than in all but a handful of other nations.

Go deeper:

  • The CIA's post-9/11 torture program wasn't just an ethical catastrophe. It had a fatal flaw: It was based on a Chinese interrogation protocol meant to elicit false confessions, Vox's Max Fisher wrote in 2014.
  • The Reuters/Ipsos poll didn't about specific torture techniques. Here are 16 things the US really did, including putting hummus in a detainee's rectum.
  • The Senate report on the CIA's torture program, explained by Vox's Andrew Prokop.

One sentence that proves the American torture program was a national disgrace