One-Third of Americans—and Nearly Half the People around the World—Fear Torture if Taken into Custody

Monday, May 19, 2014
(photo: James Lawler Duggan, AFP, Getty Images)

It has long been assumed in the United States that torture was something that went on in other countries, albeit at the hands of foreign jailers or by American soldiers (see Abu Ghraib) or U.S. spies (see Abu Ghraib again, or the secret prisons operated in many countries during the George W. Bush years). Now, a sizeable portion of the American population apparently fears they will be tortured if arrested in their own country.


That’s one of the findings in a new world survey commissioned by the international human rights group, Amnesty International.


Of Americans polled, 32% indicated they were not confident that they would be safe from torture after being arrested in the U.S. Torture in this country isn’t as uncommon as some might think. The wide use of solitary confinement in the U.S. prison system amounts to torture, according to Amnesty International.


Worldwide, the survey showed 44% of people are worried about the use of torture against them if they were taken into custody by local officials.


Despite China’s reputation elsewhere for torturing dissidents and others, only 25% of Chinese expressed concerns about being tortured.


The lower rate in China could be due to Beijing’s effective control over information in the Communist nation, according to Roseann Rife, Amnesty International’s East Asia director.

“Chinese citizens are essentially being told a one-sided story by the government when it comes to the use of torture,” Rife told Foreign Policy. She added that most citizens in China are unaware of the frequency of prisoner abuse.


That is not the case in countries like Mexico and Brazil, where the populations there know of the government’s penchant for punishing prisoners. This explains why only 18% of Brazilians and 21% of Mexicans said they felt safe from torture.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Why Do Americans Fear Torture More than Chinese? (by Catherine A. Traywick, Foreign Policy)

From Prisons to Black Sites, US Hand in Global Torture Exposed (by Sarah Lazare, Common Dreams)

Amnesty International Launches Worldwide Campaign to Expose Global Crisis on Torture (Amnesty International)

Torture In 2014: 30 Years of Broken Promises (Amnesty International)

Doctors Working for U.S. Military Took Part in Detainee Torture, and Army Field Manual Still Allows It (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Does Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons Qualify as Torture? (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Chicagoland Police Hit with Torture and Forced Confession Lawsuits (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

Obama: Torture Okay if Just Following Orders (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)


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