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Torture in counterterrorism: Agency incentives and slippery slopes


  • Mialon, Hugo M.
  • Mialon, Sue H.
  • Stinchcombe, Maxwell B.


We develop a counterterrorism model to analyze the effects of allowing a government agency to torture suspects when evidence of terrorist involvement is strong. We find that legalizing torture in strong-evidence cases has offsetting effects on agency incentives to counter terrorism by means other than torture. It lowers these incentives because the agency may come to rely on torture to avert attacks. However, it also increases these incentives because other efforts may increase the probability of having strong enough evidence to warrant the use of torture. Legalizing torture in strong-evidence cases is more likely to reduce non-torture efforts if these efforts are more effective at stopping attacks and less effective at turning up strong evidence when the suspect is guilty. If it reduces non-torture efforts, it can reduce security and is more likely to do so if the attack threat is higher. Moreover, if torture is used in strong-evidence cases even if torture is banned, legalizing torture in strong-evidence cases necessarily reduces security if it reduces non-torture efforts. Lastly, it can increase incentives to torture even in weak-evidence cases—a slippery slope.

Suggested Citation

  • Mialon, Hugo M. & Mialon, Sue H. & Stinchcombe, Maxwell B., 2012. "Torture in counterterrorism: Agency incentives and slippery slopes," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 96(1), pages 33-41.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:pubeco:v:96:y:2012:i:1:p:33-41
    DOI: 10.1016/j.jpubeco.2011.07.011

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Sandeep Baliga & Jeffrey C. Ely, 2010. "Torture," Levine's Working Paper Archive 661465000000000258, David K. Levine.
    2. Berman, Eli & Laitin, David D., 2008. "Religion, terrorism and public goods: Testing the club model," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(10-11), pages 1942-1967, October.
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    6. Chen Kong-Pin & Tsai Tsung-Sheng, 2015. "Judicial Torture as a Screening Device," The B.E. Journal of Theoretical Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 15(2), pages 277-312, July.
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    Cited by:

    1. Abdulrahman ALRASSI, 2014. "Counterterrorism Efforts Of Saudi Arabia In Create Stability Of The World," SEA - Practical Application of Science, Fundația Română pentru Inteligența Afacerii, Editorial Department, issue 5, pages 117-122, November.
    2. Giovanni Dosi & Luigi Marengo & Alessandro Nuvolari, 2016. "Institutions Are neither Autistic Maximizers nor Flocks of Birds: Self-organization, Power, and Learning in Human Organizations," LEM Papers Series 2016/38, Laboratory of Economics and Management (LEM), Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, Italy.
    3. Chen Kong-Pin & Tsai Tsung-Sheng, 2015. "Judicial Torture as a Screening Device," The B.E. Journal of Theoretical Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 15(2), pages 277-312, July.

    More about this item


    Torture policy; National security; Agency incentives; Slippery slope;

    JEL classification:

    • H1 - Public Economics - - Structure and Scope of Government
    • K4 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior


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