Friday, November 18, 2005

Who Is Responsible for Detainee Abuse?

A fascinating poll on "America's Place in the World" was just published by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press (available here). The poll surveyed the general American public as well as opinion leaders in eight major categories. There is loads of information in the poll, but while we are on the subject of torture, it is worth pointing to this one nugget from the poll:

"The public, on balance, believes cases of U.S. prisoner mistreatment in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay were mostly the result of misconduct by American soldiers rather than the consequence of official policies. Opinion leaders are divided, with solid majorities in five of eight groups saying that the prison abuse scandal was the result of official policies."

More specifically, the poll shows that opinion leaders are far more likely to conclude that the abuse was the result of official policy than the general public. As discussed in this section of the poll:
"While influentials largely agree in opposing the use of torture, opinions differ widely on where the responsibility lies for cases of prisoner mistreatment in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay. By more than three-to-one (75%-21%) scientists and engineers say that these abuses were mostly the result of official policies. A majority of security (57%) and foreign affairs experts (58%) agree, along with about half of academics (53%) and news media leaders (53%). But most military (60%) and religious (67%) leaders believe cases of prisoner mistreatment were mostly the result of misconduct on the part of soldiers and contractors. The general public is divided over this question – 48% believe soldiers and contractors are mostly to blame, while 36% blame official policies. Not surprisingly, the public's views are highly differentiated by party. By a 67% to 20% margin, Republicans say these abuses mostly reflect misconduct by soldiers and contractors. Democrats and independents are more than twice as likely as Republicans to blame official policies (44% and 46% respectively)."
This disparity bears emphasis. Three out of four members of the National Academy of Sciences believes the mistreatment was the result of official policy, while three out of five of the top military brass believe it was not. The other interesting result: the average Democrat is less likely to believe that the mistreatment was the result of official policy than the average opinion leader in every category except leaders in the military, religion, and state/local government.


Blogger Adil Haque said...

The most interesting finding to me was the fact that torture was found to be justifiable to 68% of the general public but only 51% of military officers. Moreover, while 30% of officers said torture is only rarely justifiable and 19% said it is sometimes or often justifiable, 46% of the general public said torture is sometimes or often justifiable, and only 17% said it is only rarely justifiable.

The other finding that stuck out to me was that less than 50% of the general public said preventing genocide is a top priority. By contrast, stopping illegal immigration topped the 50% mark. 56% of journalists and 89% of religious leaders consider genocide prevention a top prioty; no other polled group topped the 50% mark.

11/18/2005 4:45 PM  

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