According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, nearly two-thirds of Americans believe torture can be justified to extract information from suspected terrorists, a number that may be linked to pro-torture rhetoric in the US presidential race.
In the aftermath of the deadly San Bernardino shootings, US Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump forcefully pushed the debate over whether it is legitimate to torture terror suspects into the election campaign.
Trump said he would seek to roll back President Barack Obama's ban on waterboarding - an interrogation technique that simulates drowning that human rights groups contend is illegal under the Geneva Conventions. Trump has also vowed to "bring back a hell of a lot worse" if elected.
The March 22-28 online poll asked respondents if torture can be justified "against suspected terrorists to obtain information about terrorism." About 25 percent said it is "often" justified while another 38 percent it is "sometimes" justified. Only 15 percent said torture should never be used.
Republicans were more accepting of torture to elicit information than Democrats: 82 percent of Republicans said torture is "often" or "sometimes" justified, compared to 53 percent of Democrats.
Surveys by other polling agencies in recent years have shown US support for the use of torture at around 50 percent. A 2014 survey by Amnesty International, for example, put American support for torture at about 45 percent, compared with 64 percent in Nigeria, 66 percent in Kenya and 74 percent in India.
"The public right now is coping with a host of negative emotions," said Elizabeth Zechmeister, a Vanderbilt University professor who has studied the link between terrorist threats and public opinion. "Fear, anger, general anxiety: [Donald Trump] gives a certain credibility to these feelings," she said.
"Half these guys [say]: ‘Torture doesn’t work.’ Believe me, it works," real-estate mogul Trump said during a campaign event.
An 2014 Senate report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program found that detainees were subjected to now banned "enhanced interrogation techniques" amounting to torture, which either produced no intelligence or led to "fabricated information, resulting in faulty intelligence."
Former Guantanamo Bay prison detainee and torture victim Shaker Aamer said he had to "agree whatever his captors accused him of doing" after being subject to psychological and physical torture, according to non-profit human rights advocacy organisation Reprieve.
Aamer was detained in the US military prison for 13 years without being formally charged.
In November terror replaced the economy as the top concern for many Americans in Reuters/Ipsos polling, shortly after DAESH terrorists killed 130 people in Paris.
During the same time Trump surged in popularity among Republicans, who viewed him as the strongest candidate to deal with terrorism. Besides his advocacy of waterboarding, Trump said that he would "bomb the hell out of ISIS," using an alternative acronym for DAESH.
"You’re dealing with people who don’t play by any rules. And I can’t see why we would tie our hands and take away options like waterboarding," said Jo Ann Tieken, 71, a Trump supporter.