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

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 November 2018


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.

Copyright © American Political Science Association 2018 

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Data replication sets are available in Harvard Dataverse at:

A list of permanent links to Supplementary Materials provided by the authors precedes the References section.

The authors would like to thank Dara Cohen, Max Goplerud, Robert Keohane, Gary King, Leslie Vinjamuri, Kala Viswanathan, Steven Worthington, David Yanagizawa-Drott, Ista Zahn, and three anonymous reviewers, as well as participants in the conference on the Strategic Consequences of the U.S. Use of Torture at the Harvard Kennedy School and the annual meeting of the Northeastern Political Science Association, for their valuable feedback. They also thank Douglas Johnson, Alberto Mora, Nicole Deitelhoff, Lisbeth Zimmermann, Richard Price, and Henry Farrell for their contributions to the broader research project. Meg Kumar and Jessica Tueller provided excellent research assistance. Any and all errors are our own.


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