(Angus Reid Global Monitor) – Most people in the United States are against the use of a procedure known as waterboarding on suspected terrorists, according to a poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion. 49 per cent of respondents disapprove of the U.S. military and intelligence agencies relying on this practice, while 39 per cent approve.

In May 2005, a 308-page report by Amnesty International criticized the U.S. government for its handling of prisoners in several detention centres, including one at Guantanamo Bay where about 400 "enemy combatants"—most of them from Afghanistan—were being held. In January 2009, U.S. president Barack Obama ordered the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility by January 2010. To this day, the detention centre remains in operation.

In November 2005, the Washington Post reported on the existence of secret U.S. prisons for purported terrorism suspects located in Eastern Europe. Then U.S. president George W. Bush declared, "Anything we do to (protect the American people), any activity we conduct, is within the law. We do not torture."

In September 2006, the U.S. Congress authorized the Military Commissions Act of 2006. The legislation prevents the United States from resorting to torture in order to get information from terrorist suspects, allows these suspects to be held indefinitely without being charged with a crime, and forbids them from challenging their confinement in U.S. courts.

The 1949 Geneva Convention defines prisoners of war as members of rival armed forces captured during a conflict. Since the start of the war on terrorism in October 2001, there have been contradictory arguments after captured members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban were defined as "unlawful combatants" who were not subject to the Geneva Convention.

In the procedure known as waterboarding, a prisoner is immobilized and interrogators pour water over the face into breathing passages, to generate the sensation of drowning.

Earlier this month, former U.S. vice-president Dick Cheney discussed his views on waterboarding, saying, "I think you ought to have all of those [interrogation] capabilities on the table. Now, President Obama has taken them off the table. He announced when he came in last year that they would never use anything other than the U.S. Army manual, which doesn’t include those techniques. I think that’s a mistake. (…) I was a big supporter of waterboarding. I was a big supporter of the enhanced interrogation techniques."

Polling Data

In a procedure known as "waterboarding", a prisoner is immobilized and interrogators pour water over the face into breathing passages, to generate the sensation of drowning. Overall, do you approve or disapprove of the U.S. military and intelligence agencies relying on this procedure when they interrogate suspected terrorists?

Approve

39%

Disapprove

49%

Not sure

12%

Source: Angus Reid Public Opinion
Methodology: Online interviews with 1,010 American adults, conducted from Feb. 19 to Feb. 21, 2010. Margin of error is 3.1 per cent.

Complete Poll (PDF)