The United States has a higher tolerance for torture than any other country on the U.N. Security Council, and Americans are more comfortable with torture than citizens of war-ravaged countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Ukraine.
Those are two key findings reported by the International Committee of the Red Cross on Monday, in a new report highlighting global perspectives on war.
The data comes during a renewed debate over torture in the United States. In the presidential election in November, Americans picked Donald Trump, who has endorsed the use of waterboarding and, he said in February, “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding” to extract information from terrorism suspects.
Trump appears to have backed away from his commitment to torture since consulting with his nominee for defense secretary, retired Gen. James N. Mattis. But in an interview with the New York Times last month, Trump said obliquely that if waterboarding was “important to the American people, I would go for it. I would be guided by that.”
Pakistan has lost a lot more lives to terrorism in the last 15 years than the number of Israeli casualties in the last 70 years, but there is no public support for torture.
Here’s what the American people think, according to the ICRC report:
Researchers found that 33 percent of Americans surveyed said torture was a “part of war.” And 46 percent of Americans said that enemy combatants could be tortured “to obtain important military information.”
By comparison, 16 percent of Afghans and 14 percent of Ukrainians said torture was “part of war.” While 18 percent in South Sudan and 15 percent in China said they would tolerate the torture of enemy combatants.
The ICRC interviewed more than 17,000 people from 15 countries and the Palestinian Territories.
That data raises a number of questions about the support for torture and an apparent decrease in respect for international humanitarian law. One of those questions is why Americans are more supportive of torturing enemy combatants than those living in countries in the midst of deadly wars.