POLITICS
12/19/2014 12:22 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Americans Aren't Quite As Comfortable As Dick Cheney With The CIA's Wrongful Detentions

Most Americans agree with former Vice President Dick Cheney's sentiments on the CIA's post-9/11 detention program: "Bad guys who got out and released" and returned to the battlefield are more of a concern than "a few that, in fact, were innocent" and detained, Cheney said on "Meet the Press" Sunday after the Senate released a summary of a report detailing serious errors and abuses in the program.

But the high percentage of wrongfully detained prisoners -- at least 22 percent, according to the report -- gives many people pause, a new HuffPost/YouGov poll finds.

Fifty-five percent of Americans say it's worse to release from detention terrorists who could harm the U.S., while just 35 percent say it's worse to wrongly detain innocent people. Another 9 percent are unsure.

Intensity is on the side of those who agree with Cheney, with 37 percent saying it would be much worse to release terrorists, and just 19 percent that it's much worse to detain innocent people.

But after being told about the Senate report's estimate of how many people were wrongly detained -- and that some of those people were tortured -- just 27 percent thought the wrongful detentions were acceptable, while 66 percent said they were unacceptable.

Those in the latter camp were split, with 33 percent saying some mistakes are unavoidable but that the number was too high, and 30 percent that the U.S. should never subject an innocent person to torture.

As in other recent polling on torture, Americans were divided by party. Republicans were 30 points more likely than Democrats to say the level of wrongful detentions was acceptable, while Democrats were 30 points more likely than Republicans to say torturing an innocent person is never acceptable.

The survey also finds a serious disconnect between Americans' support for civil liberties in general and their reluctance to see terrorists go free. Despite the majority preference to err on the side of overreach when detaining suspected terrorists, fewer were willing to to take that stance when the question was framed in terms of the Constitution.

Americans said by a 14-point margin that it's more important to ensure people’s constitutional rights even if it means that some suspected terrorists are never found than it is to find every potential terrorist even if some innocent people are seriously hurt. That represents a significant shift from a 2002 NPR/Kaiser/Kennedy School poll taken less than a year after 9/11, in which catching terrorists was more important by a 3-point margin.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll was conducted Dec. 16-18 among 1,000 U.S. adults using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov's nationally representative opinion polling. Data from all HuffPost/YouGov polls can be found here. More details on the poll's methodology are available here.

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