Seven in 10 Americans Would Favor Death Sentence for bin Laden

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Prefer trial by U.S., not international, court

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- The hunt for suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden continues in Afghanistan, and U.S. officials admit that finding him will be difficult. So far, it is unclear what legal steps the United States would take with bin Laden if he is captured alive, including the type of trial he would face and the possible sentence for him if found guilty. The latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll assesses Americans' attitudes about these issues. It finds that Americans prefer that bin Laden be tried by the United States rather than by an international court, that he be tried in a military tribunal rather than a regular court of law, and that he be given the death penalty if convicted.

Vast Majority of Americans Believe bin Laden Guilty

Americans have little doubt that bin Laden is responsible for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. An earlier Gallup poll showed that 80% of the public has no doubt whatsoever that bin Laden is guilty, with an additional 19% thinking he is guilty but expressing some doubt. Despite these preconceptions, however, the videotape released last week by the Bush administration showing bin Laden discussing the Sept. 11 attacks did not convince all Americans of his guilt. When asked to evaluate the tape in the latest poll, conducted Dec. 14-16, 73% of Americans say the tape proves bin Laden helped plan the attacks. Roughly one in six say the tape proves he was pleased with the outcome of the attacks but does not show he helped plan them, and 10% have no opinion. By an 82% to 59% margin, conservatives are more likely than liberals to say that the tape proves bin Laden's guilt.

Given the overwhelming belief that bin Laden is guilty, it is not surprising that Americans prefer swift and severe justice for him. When offered a choice, 54% say bin Laden should be tried in "a military tribunal in which U.S. officers would examine evidence in secret hearings," while 41% say he should be tried in "a regular court of law in which evidence would be presented in a public trial." Roughly six in 10 Americans believe bin Laden should be tried by U.S. authorities, while 37% think an international court should try him.

Nearly seven in 10 Americans believe bin Laden should be sentenced to death if he is found guilty, while 28% believe he should be imprisoned for life with no chance of parole. This is somewhat higher than Americans' usual support for the death penalty when given a choice between it and an alternative of life in prison with no possibility of parole.

Death Penalty or Life in Prison Without Parole?

At the same time, Gallup polls conducted earlier this year showed that up to eight out of 10 Americans supported the execution of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

The prospects for a death penalty sentence are complicated by the fact that several European nations have said they would not hand over bin Laden or other suspects in their custody to the United States if they could face the death penalty upon conviction. These European nations would allow the United States to try bin Laden or other terrorists only if they received a guarantee that the terrorists would not be sentenced to death. In the latest poll, 52% of Americans say the United States should refuse to agree to these terms, in which case an international court (that would not give a sentence of death) would try terrorists. Thirty-six percent say the United States should agree to the terms so that terrorists can be tried in this country.

Americans Would Want to Try Other Terrorists as They Would Try bin Laden

The poll results also show that Americans' attitudes about possible legal action against terrorists more generally are very similar to those they express about bin Laden. A majority, 56%, would want U.S. authorities to try terrorists rather than having them tried in an international court (41%). Additionally, Americans show a preference to try terrorists in a military tribunal (53%) as opposed to a regular court of law (42%).

Only One in Five Think American Taliban Soldier Should Be Executed

Americans are more lenient on John Walker, the American citizen who was discovered in Afghanistan fighting for the Taliban against the Americans. There has been much speculation as to how he should be treated, and government officials are currently considering the possible crimes -- including treason -- with which Walker could be charged. According to the latest poll, a near majority, 47%, of Americans believe he should be imprisoned for crimes against the United States. Only 22% believe he should be executed for treason, while 3% think he should be released. A significant proportion, 28%, does not have an opinion on how the American Taliban soldier should be handled.

Punishment for John Walker?
Dec. 14-16, ‘01

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,019 adults, 18 years and older, conducted Dec. 14-16, 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.

Based on what you have heard or read about the videotape of Osama bin Laden, which of the following comes closer to your view -- [ROTATED: it proves beyond a reasonable doubt that he helped to plan the September 11th terrorist attacks, (or) it proves that he was happy the September 11th terrorist attacks occurred, but did not prove that he helped to plan them]?

 

 

Proves he helped
to plan attacks

Proves he was just happy attacks occurred

No
opinion

       

2001 Dec 14-16

73%

17

10



Suppose Osama bin Laden is captured alive and put on trial, do you think he should be tried by -- [ROTATED: an international court, (or by) U.S. authorities]?

BASED ON -- 485 -- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A; ±5 PCT. PTS.

 

 

International court

U.S. authorities

No opinion

       

2001 Dec 14-16

37%

59

4



Suppose Osama bin Laden is captured alive and put on trial by the U.S., would you rather see that happen in -- [ROTATED: a regular court of law in which evidence would be presented in a public trial, (or) a military tribunal in which U.S. officers would examine evidence in secret hearings]?

BASED ON -- 485 -- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A; ±5 PCT. PTS.

 

 

Regular court of law

Military tribunal

No opinion

       

2001 Dec 14-16

41%

54

5



If suspected terrorists are captured and put on trial, do you think they should be tried by -- [ROTATED: an international court, (or by) U.S. authorities]?

BASED ON -- 534 -- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM B; ±5 PCT. PTS.

 

 

International court

U.S. authorities

No opinion

       

2001 Dec 14-16

41%

56

3



If suspected terrorists are captured and put on trial by the U.S., would you rather see that happen in -- [ROTATED: a regular court of law in which evidence would be presented in a public trial, (or) a military tribunal in which U.S. officers would examine evidence in secret hearings]?

BASED ON -- 534 -- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM B; ±5 PCT. PTS.

 

 

Regular court of law

Military tribunal

No opinion

       

2001 Dec 14-16

42%

53

5



Suppose Osama bin Laden is captured alive, put on trial, and found guilty. Do you think he should be -- [ROTATED: sentenced to death, (or should he be) sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison with no chance of parole]?

BASED ON -- 485 -- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A; ±5 PCT. PTS.

 

 


Death

Life in prison with
no chance of parole

No
opinion

       

2001 Dec 14-16

69%

28

3



Some U.S. allies say they will not turn over suspected terrorists for trial in the U.S. unless the U.S. agrees to NOT seek the death penalty for them. What should President Bush do in this situation? Should he -- [ROTATED: agree to the terms to not seek the death penalty for those suspected terrorists so that they can be put on trial by the U.S., (or should he) refuse to accept these terms, in which case those suspected terrorists would be tried in an international court that would not seek the death penalty]?

BASED ON -- 534 -- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM B; ±5 PCT. PTS.

 

 


Agree to terms, try in U.S.

Refuse terms, try in international court

NO
DIFFERENCE
(vol.)


No
opinion

         

2001 Dec 14-16

36%

52

3

9

         

(vol.) Volunteered response



Based on what you know about the captured American Taliban soldier, what do you think the U.S. should do with him now? Should the U.S. -- [ROTATED: execute him for treason, imprison him for crimes against the U.S., or release him], or don't you know enough to say?

 

 


Execute
for treason

Imprison for crimes against U.S.


Release
him

Don't know enough
to say


No
answer

           

2001 Dec 14-16

22%

47

3

26

2



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