Poll: One-Third of French Public Now Supports Torture of Terror Suspects

(The Washington Post) -

More than one-third of French adults now support the use of torture in “exceptional circumstances” against terror suspects, according to a poll commissioned by the French human-rights group Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture.

The poll of 1,500 people, conducted by the private firm Institut Francais d’Opinion Publique (IFOP) in April, showed a significant rise in public acceptance of torture compared to a similar poll conducted by Amnesty International in France in 2000, when only 25 percent responded similarly.

The survey was taken several weeks after the March 22 terror attacks in Brussels that killed 32 people at an airport and train station, and less than six months after the massive, coordinated bombings and shootings in Paris last November that killed 141 people and wounded hundreds more.

The survey was reported by Reuters Tuesday. An official at ACAT in Paris said the poll was conducted via the Internet. Officials of IFOP could not be immediately reached.

The poll found that more than half of respondents would accept electric shocks being administered to someone suspected of having planted a live bomb and 45 percent agreed that torture is an efficient method of obtaining reliable information that can prevent terror attacks. It also found that 18 percent could envision themselves torturing someone, and that the level rose to 40 percent among respondents who identified themselves as supporting the far-right National Front party.

Of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture called the findings of the new poll “especially disturbing.” Jean-Etienne de Linares, the group’s general delegate, called it “very worrisome to confirm that more than one-third of French people think that special circumstances justify resorting to torture.” Even more shocking, he said in a statement Tuesday on the group’s French language website, “is the fact that confronted with the scenario of a potential bomb, more than half of those surveyed accept the use of torture.”

Linares also noted that half of French respondents said they believed that armed groups and guerrillas were the most frequent practitioners of torture. “The French don’t realize that 1 in 2 states is a torturing state that daily uses these methods to oppress their opponents.”

Even at 36 percent, the level of French public opinion endorsing torture remains typical of European countries and far lower than that of the United States and much of the world. According to a global survey by the Washington-based Pew Research Center in February, 58 percent of Americans said they considered torture by their governments justifiable against suspected terrorists to gain information about possible terrorist attacks.

Globally, the median percentage was 40, with African countries averaging 55 percent, the Middle East 45 percent, Asia/Pacific 42 percent, Europe 36 percent, and Latin America 25 percent. Aside from the United States, public acceptance was highest in the two global regions most dominated by authoritarian governments, and lowest in Latin America, a region that is now mostly democratic but that experienced a period of military rule in the 1970s and 1980s by regimes that practiced torture.

In Europe, the Pew survey found that support for torture correlated with political ideology, with 28 percent on the left and 52 percent on the right. It also found that French responders had a higher level of accepting torture than any other Western European country. It said that people’s views on their own country’s use of torture “strongly correlated with their views about the U.S. government’s post-9/11 interrogation practices.”