More Americans Are Expressing Support for Torture and War Crimes
December 7, 2016
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & Vincent Haiges / Deutsche Welle & Spencer Ackerman / The Guardian
Most people polled in 16 countries rejected war crimes. Yet, in the US, UK, Russia, China and France, the number of people who view torture and bombing civilians as legitimate has grown since the last 'People on War' poll was taken in 1999. Roughly half of the Americans polled seeing torture as an acceptable way to gather information. No other permanent UN Security Council members were anywhere near this. The only other countries with comparable pro-torture figures are Nigeria and Israel.
Red Cross Poll Shows Alarming US Tolerance for War Crimes
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(December 5, 2016) -- The most recent version of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) "People on War" poll has shown an alarming shift in attitudes, particularly among the populations of the five permanent UN Security Council members, toward accepting war crimes as just "part of war." No nation saw a bigger shift, however, than the United States.
Deliberate military attacks conducted knowing civilian casualties will result were supported by all five permanent members, and each of them was disturbingly okay with the idea of attacking hospitals, even though that is illegal under international law.
Tolerance for torture, however, is increasingly a uniquely American phenomenon, with roughly half of the Americans polled seeing torture as an acceptable way to try to gather information. None of the other permanent Security Council members were anywhere near this, and the only other countries on the planet with comparable figures were Nigeria and Israel.
The broadest opposition to war crimes, unsurprisingly came from respondents to the poll in countries ravaged by war, with people in Yemen uniformly against torture and against attacking hospitals. The Afghan public, similarly was overwhelmingly opposed to both.
Red Cross Poll: People More Tolerant Toward War Crimes
Vincent Haiges / Deutsche Welle
(December 5, 2016) -- The International Red Cross Committee (ICRC) polled more than 17,000 people in 16 countries about their views on a range of issues relating to war. The survey, entitled "People in War," shows a strong disconnect between public opinion on the one hand, and politics and actions of states and armed groups on the other, especially in permanent members of the UN Security Council.
DW: What are the most worrying findings from the report?
Ewan Watson: People agree that war should have limits, but if you ask them specific questions it gets more difficult for them to see clearly what the right answer should be. One is that 36 per cent of respondents believe that it is okay to torture captured enemy combatants, despite the fact that this contravenes international law. And only 40 per cent in the P5 countries -- USA, UK, France, Russia and China -- think that it's wrong to attack an enemy in populated areas, knowing that many civilians will be killed.
How do you explain this shift in public opinion?
With all the images we receive from the world front lines via internet we, in countries not affected by war, have a distance to the reality of people's suffering.
People must hold onto their empathy and not become numb to what is happening on the front lines.
It's also important for our politicians to avoid rhetoric that demonizes the enemy. Instead, we have to remember that the enemy is ultimately also a human being and deserves to be treated accordingly.
How did the whole "War on Terror" rhetoric affect public opinion on torture?
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.
The International Humanitarian Law should constrain state and non state actors in war, for example not to attack healthcare infrastructure. However, this is exactly what we see on a daily base, be it in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan or elsewhere. How can IHL be more applicable?
States and non-state groups have to realize that the law won't stop them from winning. The law is not a constraint to win a particular battle, or even a war. On the contrary, it provides a framework.
We all need a framework in life, if you don't have a framework, then what is there? Especially in war, what are you left with? You are left with complete chaos, you are left with impunity. When we discuss this with all types of groups and states there is awareness that such a framework is necessary.
More efforts have to be made to find ways to respect the law. That also leads to an understanding that: a) It doesn't stop you from winning, and b) It helps the rehabilitation in a country after a war because if certain violations have been avoided, if the law has been respected, then it's easier to go back to peace because this feeling of revenge and hatred has not been built up.
So, for us, it's about persuading people about the value of this law and to convince states to get behind it and see the value and usefulness of it. The study shows clearly that people do see the usefulness of having limits on war. So what we are saying, states please act on that.
Ewan Watson is Head of Public Relations at ICRC in Geneva.
The interview was conducted by Vincent Haiges.
Almost Half of Americans See Torture
As Acceptable, Red Cross Survey Finds
Spencer Ackerman / The Guardian
NEW YORK (December 5, 2016) -- Nearly half of Americans believe it acceptable to torture enemy combatants, according to a new survey which suggests that 15 years of warfare have significantly recast American attitudes on torture.
The poll, conducted by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), found that 46% of Americans believe it acceptable to torture enemy combatants, with just 30% opposed to the practice and another 24% unsure or unwilling to answer.
Only Nigeria and Israel record higher rates of support for torturing captured enemy fighters, with 70% and 50% endorsements, respectively.
By contrast, in 1999 -- the last time the ICRC conducted its "People on War" poll -- 65% of Americans said the US could not torture captured enemy fighters, and 57% favored permitting an independent monitor to observe detention conditions.
The survey found a coarsening of attitudes towards obligations to civilians in wartime among people in the US, UK, Russia, China and France -- the permanent members of the United Nations security council, which possess disproportionate power to set the global governance agenda.
As Donald Trump, who has endorsed torture enthusiastically, prepares to take the White House, some 33% of Americans consider torture "a part of war", with another 13% unsure or unwilling to answer.
The poll found that 54% of Americans consider torture "wrong", a lower proportion than in any other population save for those of Israel and Palestine. Only 44% of Israelis and only 35% of Palestinians considered torture to be wrong.
The poll comes as rising tides of illiberalism have washed over the world's great powers. In addition to Trump's election, the UK has voted to leave the European Union and in France, the leader of the far-right Front National has led in a number of polls ahead of next year's presidential elections.
Russia and China have become more expansionist than they have been in decades, with Russia destabilizing Ukraine and China pressing maximalist territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Absolute opposition to torture was recorded by 100% of Yemeni respondents, 73% of Syrians, 68% of Iraqis, 80% of Ukrainians, and 58% of South Sudanese.
Across the so-called Permanent Five countries on the security council, 46% of respondents advocated additional assistance to migrants and refugees fleeing conflicts, an urgent question seized upon by rightwing politicians in Europe and the US in response to an influx of Middle Eastern refugees. But 79% of respondents from conflict-wracked nations urged greater help.
"There is a higher degree of acceptance amongst people living in the [Permanent Five Security Council] countries and Switzerland that the death of civilians in conflict zones is an inevitable part of war," found the ICRC, which polled 17,000 people in 16 countries.
Across those countries, 48% of people believe that a captured enemy combatant cannot "be tortured to obtain important military information", a figure sharply lower than the 66% opposition recorded in 1999.
Areas in active conflict record greater urgency over questions of civilian protection in wartime than do the great powers that often conduct or participate in those conflicts. In Ukraine, 83% believe everyone wounded and sick during a conflict has a right to health care, compared with 62% of Russians.
A full 100% of Yemenis endorse the proposition, as do 81% of Afghans, 66% of Syrians and 42% of Iraqis -- compared with 49% of Americans, 53% of Britons, 37% of the Chinese and 67% of the French.
Only 59% oppose attacking a target with the knowledge that civilians will be killed, down from 68% in 1999, the ICRC found. While the 2016 study did not break the finding down by country, in 1999, its predecessor poll found that 52% of Americans believed the US ought only attack enemy combatants, while 42% believed the US should leave civilians alone "as much as possible".
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