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The Prohibition Against Torture [ Wednesday, 07 Jan 09 | 10:12 ]
ursine1
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[My Location |El Masnou (Barcelona) España]
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Heavily redacted from a report from WorldPublicOpinion.org.

  • As a general principle, large majorities in all nations reject the government using torture.
  • However, in a few nations there is support for making an exception in the case of terrorists who may have information that could save innocent lives.

WorldPublicOpinion.org (WPO) is an international collaborative project, managed by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, with the aim of giving voice to public opinion around the world on international issues.

A challenge to one of the principles of the UDHR (Universal Declaration of Human Rights)—the prohibition on the use of torture—has surfaced in the context of the struggle with terrorism. An argument made says that if a detained person is thought to be withholding information about an impending terrorist attack that would take innocent lives, it would be morally justified to use torture to gain information. How do ordinary people view the prohibition against torture when they are asked about this “ticking bomb” scenario?

Here are some of the findings of the poll:

  • In fifteen nations, a majority or plurality opted for the unequivocal view in favor of fully maintaining the norm of prohibition. On average across all nations polled, 57% opted for unequivocal rules against torture, while 34% favored an exception when innocent lives are at risk.
  • Support for the unequivocal position was highest in Spain, Great Britain, and France (all at 82%). In five countries either modest majorities or pluralities supported a ban on all torture, in the United States (53%).
  • Older people were more likely to support an unequivocal prohibition on torture. People 60 years and older were 8 points more likely to reject the argument for making an exception in the case of terrorists than those 18 to 29 years old.
  • Those who said they have no religious preference were more likely to support an unequivocal prohibition on torture (66%) than were the members of major religions.

All of the nations polled on this topic are signatories to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and parties to the Geneva Conventions forbidding torture and other forms of abuse.

A June-July 2006 poll conducted for the BBC World Service asked 16 of the 21 nations polled in the present study the same question about making an exception to rules against torture in the case of terrorists. While there has been little change overall, there have been some dramatic shifts within specific countries:

  1. Five countries included in both surveys showed substantial increases in support for allowing the torture of terrorists: the United States (36% to 44%).
  2. At the same time, there were equally dramatic increases among those favoring a complete ban on torture. Support grew substantially in Spain (65% to 82%) and Britain (72% to 82%).
  3. On average, support for an exception went up 6 points, while support for an unequivocal rule went up 1 point. Thus the net increase in favor of an exception was just 5 points.
Opinions on Torture
Country Prohibited Limited Allowed
Mexico 73 17 7
US 53 31 13
Spain 82 6 6
Britain 82 11 4
France 82 12 4
Average 57 26 9
Legend
Prohibited All torture should be prohibited
Limited Accept limited torture of terrorists to save innocent lives
Allowed Torture should be generally allowed.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: gorkabear
Wednesday, 07 Jan 09 | 10:48 (UTC)
Ok... This shows what we already know: The US has conservative population and a long-standing culture of "bad" used for "good".

This doesn't mean that other countries don't apply torture. In fact, Spain is usually related as one country where torture is sometimes used by police forces.
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[User Picture]From: ursine1
Wednesday, 07 Jan 09 | 11:23 (UTC)

This shows what we already know

Agreed. But many people in the US are not aware of how their opinions differ from other "civilized" countries.

The same could be said about México and the US where torture is sometimes used by police forces.

Chuck, brr! it's cold here!
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[User Picture]From: gorkabear
Wednesday, 07 Jan 09 | 11:51 (UTC)

Re: This shows what we already know

Well, most US media has little to nothing information about foreign affairs. Ditto for press and news websites. Most people here use BBC as their source when pointing to "international news" instead of, let's say, CNN. But again, how many foreign films or TV productions are available in the US?
Another case of US exceptionalism.
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