Majority Says Military Action Not a Success Until bin Laden Captured

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Public believes it is better if he is killed rather than captured alive

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Now that that Taliban government has been removed from power in Afghanistan, the focus of the continuing war on terrorism has shifted to the search for Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. According to the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, a majority of Americans say the U.S. accomplishments in Afghanistan will not be a success until bin Laden is captured. About one in three Americans believe it is very likely that the United States will be able to capture or kill bin Laden. Additionally, a majority of the public feels it would be better for the United States if bin Laden were killed rather than captured alive, but if he were captured alive, Americans believe it would be better to put him on trial than to execute him immediately.

In recent weeks, U.S.-led military action in Afghanistan has caused the Taliban government to surrender its control of several major cities, including the capital, Kabul. While this is a key development in the war on terrorism, a majority of Americans view the capture of Osama bin Laden as crucial to the success of the military operations. According to the most recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted Nov. 26-27, 55% say that the U.S. accomplishments in Afghanistan will not be a success until bin Laden is captured, while 41% say the accomplishments represent a success even if bin Laden is not captured.

How likely is it that the U.S. will be able to capture or kill Osama bin Laden -- very likely, somewhat likely, not too likely, or not at all likely?
Nov. 26-27, ‘01

Women tend to think that capturing bin Laden is critical for success, with 60% saying it is necessary while 35% say it is not. Men are more evenly divided in their assessment -- 50% say he must be captured and 47% say he need not be. Additionally, Democrats are somewhat more likely to see bin Laden's capture as a requirement for success (63%) than are Republicans (53%) or independents (52%).

U.S. officials believe bin Laden is still in Afghanistan, and are searching the southern and eastern parts of the country in an attempt to find the leader of the al Qaeda terrorist network. The poll shows that Americans are generally optimistic that bin Laden will be caught. Thirty-four percent say it is "very likely" that the United States will be able to capture or kill bin Laden, and 44% say it is somewhat likely. Only 21% feel that bin Laden's capture is not very likely.

Which comes closer to your view -- the U.S. accomplishments in Afghanistan will be a success even if Osama bin Laden is not captured, or the U.S. accomplishments in Afghanistan will not be a success until Osama bin Laden is captured?
Nov. 26-27, ‘01

Public Thinks it Better if bin Laden Killed

By a 54% to 43% margin, the public believes it would be better for the United States if bin Laden were to be killed rather than captured alive. Younger Americans are much more likely to say that it is better for the United States to capture him alive, while older Americans believe that it is better if he were to be killed. However, if bin Laden is captured, Americans say it would be better for the United States to put him on trial (62%) than to execute him immediately (35%).

Recently, the U.S. government announced that it could opt to try suspected terrorists in military tribunals, which would be conducted in secret by military judges and would not allow for appeals of the verdict. While several polls have shown strong public support for military tribunals in the abstract, when given a choice, Americans prefer that bin Laden be tried in an international court. Among three options for trying bin Laden, 41% prefer he be tried in an international court, 29% prefer a secret military tribunal, and 17% prefer a regular civilian court, while 11% say it makes no difference to them.

Suppose Osama bin Laden is captured alive and put on trial, which of the following would you prefer -- that he be -- put on a public trial by an international court with judges from different countries, put on trial by a secret military tribunal by the U.S., or put on a public trial in a regular civilian court in the U.S., or would it make no difference to you?
Nov. 26-27, ‘01

It is safe to say Americans have strong expectations on the outcome of a bin Laden trial. When asked to assess his responsibility for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, 80% say they have no doubts whatsoever that he is guilty. Nineteen percent think he is guilty but say they have some doubts, and just 1% of Americans have no opinion or think that bin Laden is not guilty.


Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,025 adults, 18 years and older, conducted Nov. 26-27, 2001. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

How likely is it that the U.S. will be able to capture or kill Osama bin Laden -- very likely, somewhat likely, not too likely, or not at all likely?

 

 

Very
likely

Somewhat
likely

Not too
likely

Not at all
likely

No
opinion

           

2001 Nov 26-27

34%

44

15

6

1



Which comes closer to your view -- [ROTATED: the U.S. accomplishments in Afghanistan will be a success even if Osama bin Laden is not captured, (or) the U.S. accomplishments in Afghanistan will not be a success until Osama bin Laden is captured]?

 

 


Success


Not a success

BOTH/NEITHER (vol.)

No
opinion

         

2001 Nov 26-27

41%

55

2

2



In your opinion, which of the following would be better for the U.S. -- [ROTATED: if Osama bin Laden is killed, (or) if Osama bin Laden is captured alive]?

 

 

Killed

Captured alive

No opinion

       

2001 Nov 26-27

54%

43

3



Suppose Osama bin Laden is captured alive by the U.S., which of the following would be better for the U.S. to do to him -- [ROTATED: execute him immediately, (or) put him on either a civilian or a military trial]?

 

 

Execute him
immediately

Put him
on trial

No
opinion

       

2001 Nov 26-27

35%

62

3



Suppose Osama bin Laden is captured alive and put on trial, which of the following would you prefer -- that he be [ROTATED: put on a public trial by an international court with judges from different countries, put on trial by a secret military tribunal by the U.S., (or) put on a public trial in a regular civilian court in the U.S.], or would it make no difference to you?

 

 


International court

Secret military tribunal

Regular civilian
court


No
difference


No
opinion

           

2001 Nov 26-27

41%

29

17

11

2



Based on what you have heard or read, how do you feel about Osama bin Laden's role in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks -- [ROTATED: you have no doubts whatsoever that he is guilty, you think he is guilty but have some doubts, (or) you do not think he is guilty]?

 

 


No doubts that
he is guilty

Think he is
guilty but
have doubts


Do not think
he is guilty


No
opinion

         

2001 Nov 26-27

80%

19

*

1



* -- Less than 0.5%

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