Aggressive Interrogation and Retributive Justice: A Proposed Psychological Model

Avani Mehta Sood and Kevin M. Carlsmith

in Ideology, Psychology, and Law

Published in print January 2012 | ISBN: 9780199737512
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199918638 | DOI:

Series: Series in Political Psychology

Aggressive Interrogation and Retributive Justice: A Proposed Psychological Model

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The use of aggressive interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects is typically justified on utilitarian grounds. This chapter presents evidence that those who support such techniques are actually fuelled more by retributive motives. One experimental study conducted with a broad national sample of US residents found that interrogation recommendations are more sensitive to manipulation of the target’s history of bad acts than to manipulation of his likelihood of useful knowledge. Moreover, the desire for harsh interrogation is largely isomorphic with the desire to punish, and both effects are mediated by the perceived moral status of the target. A second study demonstrated conditions under which nationality and geographical proximity of the detainee make a difference to interrogation and morality judgments. The implications of our results are discussed with regard to national policy on torture-interrogation.

Keywords: torture; interrogation; retributive justice; just deserts; deterrence theory; utilitarianism; punishment motives; moral status; morality; nationality; in-group; out-group; plausible deniability; black sheep effect

Chapter.  11714 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social Psychology

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