- The Washington Times - Friday, April 24, 2009

Americans are not very interested in seeing the government investigate interrogation tactics used on suspected terrorists by Bush administration officials, according to pollsters.

“They don’t seem to be that riled up as far as seeing some kind of retribution or truth commissions. They want the administration to focus on fixing the economy. They see this whole interrogation thing as a diversion,” said pollster David E. Johnson of Strategic Vision in Atlanta.

Recent polls that he conducted in several states from New Jersey to Florida “showed they seem to be opposed to the White House’s release of memos detailing aggressive interrogation techniques used on terrorists, that they feel that everything that happened was done in a time of war and they want to move beyond 9/11 and the Bush administration,” Mr. Johnson said.

President Obama on Tuesday refused to rule out the possibility of taking legal action against Bush administration officials who authorized severe interrogation practices such as waterboarding, but said that was a question Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. would have to answer. His remarks ignited new debate in Congress over whether investigative hearings should be held or an independent commission be appointed to re-examine the interrogation methods and find out who authorized them.

But recent polls suggest there was relatively little support among Americans for revisiting rules that allowed CIA agents to deprive suspects of sleep and to employ the waterboarding technique that creates the sensation of drowning.

“Only 28 percent of U.S. voters think the Obama administration should do any further investigating of how the Bush administration treated terrorism suspects,” a new Rasmussen poll reported Thursday.

Rasmussen found that 58 percent of Americans were opposed to an investigation. Democrats were evenly divided on the issue, but 77 percent of Republicans and 62 percent of unaffiliated voters were against further inquiry.

Other pollsters and polling analysts surveyed by The Washington Times said they sensed relatively little support for reopening the issue to further scrutiny in the midst of a severe recession, especially with polls showing Americans putting terrorism at the top of their list of national security concerns.

“I don’t have the sense that people are that riled up about it. People see the economy front and center above everything,” said Tom Baxter, editor of the Atlanta-based Insider Advantage polling group.

Bernie Porn, president of EPIC/MRA polling in Lansing, Mich., agreed.

“People are just so wrapped up with our economic problems here that I’m not sure they are excited by the interrogation issue, at least not right now,” he said.

Others said Americans were wary that further investigation could turn into a partisan political fight to settle old scores.

“People want investigations when they think a law has been broken,” said Karlyn H. Bowman, a veteran analyst of polling trends at the American Enterprise Institute. “But when the question even hints, as many do, that an investigation is political point-scoring, people generally say it isn’t warranted.”

American views about torture have changed in recent years. A Newsweek poll in November 2005 found that 58 percent supported torture “if it might lead to the prevention of a major terrorist attack.”

But Gary Langer, director of polling at ABC News, noted in his blog on abcnews.com Thursday that his last poll on the issue in January showed that 58 percent “favored Obama’s position prohibiting the use of torture under any circumstances - while 40 percent again said therre are cases in which it should be considered.”

Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of the Gallup Poll, said he will release the results of a new poll on Monday that asked Americans “whether people think what was done was justified or not, and should it be investigated?”

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