As Attorney General Eric Holder moves forward with his decision to try accused Sept. 11 terrorists in a U.S. civilian court, a slim majority of the public thinks the detainees should be tried by a military tribunal instead. Half of Americans are very concerned key evidence will be thrown out on a technicality, and roughly equal numbers think the government's interrogation techniques will be the focus of the trials as think the terrorist attacks will be.
The latest Fox News national poll finds 52 percent of Americans think the appropriate place to try the five detainees is in a military tribunal, while 40 percent think they should be tried in the U.S. system. Democrats are more likely to favor having the trial in a U.S. court (55-37 percent). For Republicans, it's just the opposite, as a majority thinks a tribunal is the right way to go (64 percent tribunal/29 percent court). Among independents, 60 percent say a tribunal and 33 percent U.S. court.
When the question is framed as Attorney General Holder's decision to transfer the detainees to New York City to stand trial in a civilian court, more voters say it was a bad idea than a good idea by 49-42 percent. Republicans (60 percent) and independents (60 percent) are much more likely than Democrats (32 percent) to view this action as a bad idea.
A 28 percent minority sees political motives behind Holder's decision and believes the Obama administration wants the trial to be held in U.S. court to put the Bush administration's anti-terrorism policies and the practices of the CIA on trial. The largest number though — 50 percent — think the administration truly believes the U.S. trial is better than the military tribunal.
Americans are fairly evenly divided on whether the Sept. 11 detainees can get a fair trial in New York City — 46 percent say yes and 43 percent no. And while 41 percent say they could truly be an impartial juror at the trial of an accused terrorist, over half — 54 percent — say they couldn't.
Several issues have been raised surrounding the trials being held in the civilian court system. The largest concern for Americans is that key evidence in the trial will be thrown out on a technicality (50 percent are very concerned). Related to that, many are "very concerned" that for some reason, one or more of the defendants could be set free (48 percent) and secrets about how the government protects the country will be disclosed (45 percent).
There is also concern that the trial will "turn into a circus" (48 percent very concerned) and New York City will become a target (43 percent very concerned).
Opinion Dynamics Corp. conducted the national telephone poll of 900 registered voters for Fox News from Nov. 17 to Nov. 18. For the total sample, the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Almost all Americans — 78 percent — view the Sept. 11 attacks as an "act of terrorism" rather than a "violent crime" (6 percent). A month after the attacks the U.S. military took action in Afghanistan. All in all, 33 percent of Americans think the U.S. and its allies are winning the war against terrorism, down from 41 percent in 2006 and a high of 67 percent in the month after the military action in Afghanistan began (November 2001).
President Obama is currently considering next steps in Afghanistan, including the option of sending additional U.S. troops as requested by Gen. Stanley McChrystal. The American public remains divided on this issue: 42 percent support sending more troops and 45 percent oppose it. Last month, 46 percent of Americans supported and 46 percent opposed sending additional troops (October 2009).