Most Americans and a majority of people in Britain, France and South Korea say torturing terrorism suspects is justified at least in rare instances, according to AP-Ipsos polling.
The United States has drawn criticism from human rights groups and many governments, especially in Europe, for its treatment of terror suspects. President Bush and other top officials have said the U.S. does not torture, but some suspects in American custody have alleged they were victims of severe mistreatment.
The polling, in the United States and eight of its closest allies, found that in Canada, Mexico and Germany people are divided on whether torture is ever justified. Most people opposed torture under any circumstances in Spain and Italy.
“I don’t think we should go out and string everybody up by their thumbs until somebody talks. But if there is definitely a good reason to get an answer, we should do whatever it takes,” said Billy Adams, a retiree from Tomball, Texas.
In America, 61 percent of those surveyed agreed torture is justified at least on rare occasions. Almost nine in 10 in South Korea and just over half in France and Britain felt that way.
Accusations of torture, reports of secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe and claims of shadowy flights carrying terrorist suspects have further strained U.S. relations with some European countries.
Mariella Salvi, who works for a humanitarian organization in Rome, said: “Human beings, as well as their rights, have to be defended, no matter what individuals are suspected of, or charged for.”
The disagreements make cooperation on law enforcement and counterterrorism more difficult, said Lee Feinstein of the Council on Foreign Relations, a group of scholars and other specialists in foreign policy.
During a visit to Germany on Tuesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was peppered with questions about U.S. anti-terrorism policies, including the five-month imprisonment of Lebanese-born Khaled al-Masri and reports of secret CIA prisons and use of European airports and airspace to move terrorist suspects.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the United States had admitted making a mistake in the case of al-Masri, in Alexandria, Va., on Tuesday that he was wrongfully imprisoned by the CIA and tortured.
Officials with the European Union and in at least a half-dozen European countries are investigating reports of secret U.S. interrogations in Eastern Europe.
Rice defends tactics
Rice aggressively defended U.S. tactics against terrorism as tough but legal. She has refused to comment publicly on the reports of secret CIA prisons.
In the poll, about two-thirds of the people living in Canada, Mexico, South Korea and Spain said they would oppose allowing U.S. officials to secretly interrogate terrorist suspects in their countries. Almost that many in Britain, France, Germany and Italy said they felt the same way. Almost two-thirds in the United States support such interrogations in the U.S. by their own government.
The Bush administration has taken the position that some terrorism suspects are “enemy combatants” not protected by the Geneva Conventions, international treaties on the rights of prisoners of war.
“The Bush administration policy is against torture of any kind; it’s prohibited by federal criminal law,” said John Yoo, a University of California-Berkeley, law professor. As a Justice Department lawyer, he helped write internal memos in 2002 designed to give the government more leeway in aggressive questioning of terrorist suspects.
“The debate is whether you can use interrogation methods that are short of torture,” he said. “Some who have been critical of the Bush administration have confused torture with cruel, inhumane treatment.”
McCain seeks outright ban
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is among those pushing to ban the use of torture as well as “cruel and inhumane treatment.” His legislation was approved in the Senate by a wide margin and will be considered in House and Senate conference committees as an amendment on two defense bills.
The polls of about 1,000 adults in each of the nine countries were conducted between Nov. 15 and Nov. 28. Each poll had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.