According to a new poll conducted by Rasmussen Reports, 58 percent of those surveyed said that they want the federal government to waterboard terror suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the man accused of trying to set off an explosive device on Northwest/Delta Flight 253 as it approached Detroit.
Congress voted to outlaw waterboarding in 2008, and Republicans like John McCain have often repudiated the practice. Yet a clear majority would use the procedure in an effort to get further information from the suspect, even though another clear majority of Americans has deemed the procedure to be torture.
A 2007 CNN/Opinion Research poll found that 69 percent of Americans considered waterboarding to be a form of torture. And at that time, 58 percent of them said waterboarding should not be used on terror suspects.
In April of this year, however, Gallup found that 55 percent of U.S. residents believed the technique and others like it were justified on those suspected of potential terrorist activity.
The discrepancy in the numbers may simply be a matter of the way one polling organization asks its questions versus another. Or it could be a consequence of ever-evolving attitudes. All three surveys make it clear, however, that a significant portion of the country has no problem with torturing those people identified as possible terrorists, regardless if they have given any sort of legal proceeding.
Back on March 2, Attorney General Eric Holder officially ruled out using waterboarding in future interrogation sessions. "Waterboarding is torture. My Justice Department will not justify it, will not rationalize it and will not condone it," he said.
President George W. Bush's administration authorized the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation practices after the 9/11 attacks. Those practices previously were restricted by the Army Field Manual and outlawed by the Geneva Conventions. But the thinking was that in extraordinary times, such measures were required.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney defended the practice as a "no-brainer" that has saved American lives and yielded valuable information.
Now, as the polls on waterboarding show, an ends-justify-the-means mentality has taken root in the American consciousness. The debate rages on as to whether these enhanced interrogation techniques actually yield reliable intelligence data. Or if they've made the country safer. But there is little doubt that ethical considerations weigh less heavily in times of increased threat levels.