36% favor, 38% oppose using torture on terror suspects

May 13, 2011, 5:00 PM GMT+0

Despite Osama bin Laden’s death, Americans are still concerned about the possibility of another terrorist attack in the near future. And in the latest Economist/YouGov poll, they are divided on whether the U.S. should use torture to get information from suspected terrorists, even though they are twice as likely as not to believe that torture can produce useful information.

More than a third of Americans support the use of torture; 38% do not. But when it comes to whether torture can produce useful information, 53% say it can, and just 25% say it cannot. 

There are sizable differences by party on these questions. 59% of Republicans but only 17% of Democrats support the use of torture.

The parties are also in disagreement on whether or not the prison at Guantanamo should remain open. President Obama had said he would close it, but then agreed to keep it open. Some of the information used in the killing of bin Laden may have come from inmates at Guantanamo — and potentially from the use of waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques, though this claim is in dispute. 

Overall, Americans support keeping Guantanamo open, as they did in 2010. But while 84% of Republicans favor that (along with 61% of independents), only 38% of Democrats would keep it open.

There has been one change in opinion in the last week. In an Economist/YouGov poll conducted just after the killing of bin Laden, but before the President announced that he would NOT release the pictures of bin Laden in death, twice as many Americans favored than opposed releasing the pictures. But now, Americans narrowly support the President’s decision, and say the photos should not be released. 

Terrorism remains a threat. 71% say a terrorist attack on the United States in the next 12 months is somewhat or very likely. Immediately after bin Laden’s killing, 66% agreed. 76% call al Qaeda a serious threat — though only 28% describe it as an immediate threat. 84% say al Qaeda will try to avenge bin Laden’s death, though just 5% think that will take place in the near future.

As for the attacks that set all this in motion, the events of September 11, 2001, about one in four Americans say that the country has recovered from them. But nearly as many think the U.S. will NEVER recover. 

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