12/17/2014 12:39 pm ET Updated Feb 16, 2015

What Americans Think About Torture

The 500-page executive summary released by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hit Washington and the rest of the country like a bomb. And the committee's findings on the CIA's Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation Program, written by the Democratic staff, were as definitive as the report was graphic.

Confronted with stopping another catastrophic terrorist attack on a scale similar to 9/11, the CIA was under presidential orders to improvise on the fly and create a worldwide capture program to take Al-Qaeda militants off the battlefield. Unfortunately, according to the Senate Democrats on the Intelligence Committee, that program was seriously mismanaged as soon as it began. Not only did the CIA use heinous tactics to acquire information from captured detainees, but CIA leadership misrepresented the utility and effectiveness of the RDI program to Bush White House officials, the Justice Department, the CIA Inspector General, and the American people--all in the name of keeping the program alive. Chairwoman Diane Feinstein, who led the five-year study, was unequivocal on the Senate floor: the agency used torture, and there are no "if's, and's, or but's" about it.

The defenders of the enhanced interrogation program were just as vehement in their rebuttals. Sitting down last Sunday on Meet the Press, Vice President Dick Cheney called the Senate Democratic report "seriously flawed" in its conclusions and a piece of work that can at best be described as shoddy. Former CIA Director Michael Hayden, who has been making the rounds on television and leading the agency's public defense, expressed outrage that the Democrats on the committee failed to speak to even one CIA officer involved in the program. The tactics that were used on Al-Qaeda detainees were not only lawful and approved by the Office of Legal Counsel, Hayden argued, but were instrumental in getting the kind of intelligence that prevented terrorist attacks on Americans, led to the capture of high-level terrorists like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Osama bin Laden, and generated a cumulative understanding of the broader Al-Qaeda network that the agency then used to dismantle its leadership.

But where do the American people fit in all of this?

If three recent polls are any indication of the overall trend, it appears that more Americans side with the Cheney/Hayden camp than Feinstein and company. Sure, CIA operatives may have used techniques that can be categorized as torture, but the tactics were justified in keeping the United States safe from another terrorist attack.

The results will no doubt come as a surprise to Feinstein and Intelligence Committee Democrats -- all of whom hoped that the declassification of the RDI program would be the final word on the torture debate.

Below is a sample of the results. Please know that for space constraints, I have only included several questions that I found to be the most interesting. It's highly worthwhile to read the entire list of results from each of these survey's (YouGov, CBS News, and Pew included).

Do you think it is sometimes justified to use water boarding and other aggressive interrogation tactics to get information from a suspected terrorist, or are these tactics never justified?

Justified: 49%
Never Justified: 36%
*CBS News Poll, December 11-14, 2014

In a procedure known as waterboarding, interrogators produce the sensation of drowning in a restrained prisoner either by dunking him in water or pouring water over his face. Do you consider this procedure a form of torture, or not?

Torture: 69%
Not Torture: 26%
*CBS News Poll, December 11-14, 2014

% saying CIA's interrogation methods were...

Justified: 51%
Never Justified: 29%
Don't Know: 20%
*Pew Research Center Poll, December 11-14, 2014

Do you think the use of torture against suspected terrorists who may know details about future terrorist attacks against the US is ever justified?

Always: 20%
Sometimes: 28%
Rarely: 18%
Never: 24%
Don't Know: 11%
*YouGov Poll, December 10-11, 2014