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Monday, December 12, 2016

Fully one third of Americans believe torture is just part of war

A recent poll by the International Red Cross (ICRC) shows more Americans and other westerners are more likely to accept torture, harsh interrogation techniques and indiscriminate bombing than they were in 1999.

A majority among those surveyed including in the U.S. still believe that bombing of populated areas and torturing detainees is wrong, but compared to an earlier survey rising numbers especially in the U.S. and the U.K. are willing to accept less humane practices if it means winning the battle quicker. However, those in areas subjected to the worst effects of wars were strongly in favor of the laws of war.
The survey was carried out between June and September of 2016, and involved 17,000 people in 16 different countries. A similar survey was carried out in 1999. Overall two-thirds of respondents thought torture was wrong but more approved harsh interrogation techniques than in 1999. ICRC Director-General,Yves Daccord, said: “In the U.S. in the last 15 years, torture seems like something which is accepted, as something that you use as a tool to get information, whereas the military interestingly enough will tell you this is not at all the tool you need to use. Not only is it not good for human dignity, but it doesn’t provide you with the right information.”
Ironically, President-elect Donald Trump, who has spoken in favor of torture, has nominated Marine General James Mattis for Secretary of Defense. In contrast to Trump, Mattis said he got further with a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers compared to using pain. In a statement Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff said:“The United States will never go back to waterboarding or any form of torture, something I believe the vast majority of the military, intelligence community and American public would never condone. Not only is it immoral, but it is also unconstitutional, ineffective and violative of both U.S. and international law."
In spite of the illegality of torture and its condemnation by many political and military officials, many in the American public accept it. One third of Americans consider torture simply part of war. 46 per cent believe an enemy combatant could be tortured to obtain important information. Just over half of Americans thought torture was wrong. Americans were more accepting of torture than Syrians, Afghans, Russians, Chinese and French.
More positive were the views of more than two thirds of those surveyed who believed that war should have limits. More than half of the respondents also felt that the Geneva Conventions kept wars from becoming worse. Three quarters of those surveyed believed attacks on hospitals and health-care providers were wrong. Russian respondents were even more disapproving of such acts than were Americans or the British. However, the actions of states with respect to the laws of war are often in contrast to majority public opinion on the matter.
Ewan Watson, who is head of Public Relations at the ICRC said of the effect of "War on Terror" rhetoric on public opinion:That definitely has gripped into popular culture. If you look at films which show torture in action, this notion of the ticking time bomb, that you must torture somebody to reveal information that will stop something tragic happening. All that provides a kind of rational framework for torture to happen. In fact, studies have shown that torture is not a method to obtain valid information. What it does, is just create enemies for life. This is in a sense ironic that people are more receptive to torture, which then creates the potential for hatred and revenge. Hence, it creates a vicious circle.Watson notes also that while International Humanitarian Law prohibits attacking healthcare facilities such attacks are seen on a daily basis on TV. He said states and non-state actors should realize that following the laws of war will not prevent them from winning and actually makes it easier to rehabilitate a country after a war is over since feelings of hatred and revenge have not been exacerbated by violations of the laws of war.
A more positive aspect of the survey is that the views of more than two thirds of those surveyed believed that war should have limits. More than half of the respondents also felt that the Geneva Conventions kept wars from becoming worse. Three quarters of those surveyed believed attacks on hospitals and health-care providers were wrong. Russian respondents were even more disapproving of such acts than were Americans or the British. The entire survey can be found on the IRC website.

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