an unanticipated consequence of
Jack M. Balkin
Jack Balkin: jackbalkin at yahoo.com
Bruce Ackerman bruce.ackerman at yale.edu
Ian Ayres ian.ayres at yale.edu
Mary Dudziak mary.l.dudziak at emory.edu
Joey Fishkin joey.fishkin at gmail.com
Heather Gerken heather.gerken at yale.edu
Abbe Gluck abbe.gluck at yale.edu
Mark Graber mgraber at law.umaryland.edu
Stephen Griffin sgriffin at tulane.edu
Bernard Harcourt harcourt at uchicago.edu
Scott Horton shorto at law.columbia.edu
Andrew Koppelman akoppelman at law.northwestern.edu
Marty Lederman msl46 at law.georgetown.edu
Sanford Levinson slevinson at law.utexas.edu
David Luban david.luban at gmail.com
Gerard Magliocca gmaglioc at iupui.edu
Jason Mazzone mazzonej at illinois.edu
Linda McClain lmcclain at bu.edu
John Mikhail mikhail at law.georgetown.edu
Frank Pasquale pasquale.frank at gmail.com
Nate Persily npersily at gmail.com
Michael Stokes Paulsen michaelstokespaulsen at gmail.com
Deborah Pearlstein dpearlst at princeton.edu
Rick Pildes rick.pildes at nyu.edu
Alice Ristroph alice.ristroph at shu.edu
Neil Siegel siegel at law.duke.edu
Brian Tamanaha btamanaha at wulaw.wustl.edu
Mark Tushnet mtushnet at law.harvard.edu
Adam Winkler winkler at ucla.edu
The location and killing of Osama bin Laden could increase popular support for torture as a way to track down terrorists.
Initial news reports indicate that the identification of the compound at Abbottabad resulted from tracking bin Laden's most trusted courier. The identity of that courier was obtained after interrogation of a detainee at Guantanamo produced the courier's nickname. We don't know (and will likely never know) what sorts of interrogation techniques were used to obtain that information from the detainee but it is probably safe to assume the techniques were not pleasant.
Support among Americans for torturing suspected terrorists in order to gain information has varied over time (and depending upon the survey question). One recent study has demonstrated that throughout the years of the Bush administration, a majority of Americans opposed torture; a majority in favor of torture did not emerge until after the first six months of the Obama administration. Consistent with that study, a Pew Center Poll at the end of 2009 found that 54% of Americans agreed that torture is at least sometimes justified to gain important information from suspected terrorists. Perhaps most striking, a Red Cross survey earlier this year suggested a generational divide on the legitimacy of torture, with 60% of American teenagers taking the position that torture is at least sometimes acceptable.
One of the main arguments against torture has always been that it doesn't work. Writing at the Daily Beast in April 2009, for example, a senior military interrogator complained that torture failed to produce information to find Osama bin Laden. But here we are, two years later, and interrogation (enhanced or otherwise) of a detainee unlocked the door that led yesterday to the raid at Abbottabad.
It will be useful to see polling data in the next few months on Americans' views about torture. It's reasonable to imagine that support for torture will increase. One question suggests itself:
Using information obtained through coercive interrogation of a suspected terrorist at Guantanamo, the U.S. military was able to locate and kill Osama bin Laden. Do you believe that torture is justified in order to locate terrorists?