Partners in Crime: An Empirical Evaluation of the CIA Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation Program

Partners in Crime: An Empirical Evaluation of the CIA Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation Program

by Averell Schmidt, Harvard Kennedy School and Kathryn Sikkink, Harvard Kennedy School

In the years following the attacks of 9/11, the CIA adopted a program involving the capture, extraordinary rendition, secret detention, and harsh interrogation of suspected terrorists in the war on terror. As the details of this program have become public, a heated debate has ensued, focusing narrowly on whether or not this program “worked” by disrupting terror plots and saving American lives. By embracing such a narrow view of the program’s efficacy, this debate has failed to take into account the broader consequences of the CIA program. We move beyond current debates by evaluating the impact of the CIA program on the human rights practices of other states. We show that collaboration in the CIA program is associated with a worsening in the human rights practices of authoritarian countries. This finding illustrates how states learn from and influence one another through covert security cooperation and the importance of democratic institutions in mitigating the adverse consequences of the CIA program. This finding also underscores why a broad perspective is critical when assessing the consequences of counterterrorism policies.

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Perspectives on Politics, Volume 16Issue 4, December 2018,  pp. 1014-1033

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