War and Torture as 'Just Deserts'

41 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 12 Aug 2011

Date Written: 2011


This article tests the hypothesis that ordinary people favor punishing badly behaved foreign actors to make them “pay” for their crimes, rather than purely to protect national security interests. In an online survey administered to a random national sample of U.S. citizens, individual differences in retributive principles predicted support for punishing transgressor states, but only when human casualties were explicitly mentioned. Retributiveness also predicted support for the torture of terrorist detainees. These relationships controlled for partisanship, ideology, humanitarian and security values, and beliefs about the efficacy of force. Retributiveness was not related to support for torture or for punishing international transgressions among political sophisticates, for whom beliefs about deterrence were more salient than among less politically aware citizens.

Keywords: Coercive interrogation, torture, support for war, foreign policy, public opinion, retributive justice, values

Suggested Citation

Liberman, Peter, War and Torture as 'Just Deserts' (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1900432

Peter Liberman (Contact Author)

Queens College CUNY ( email )

Flushing, NY 11367
United States

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