Restitution or Retribution? Detainee Payments and Insurgent Violence

65 Pages Posted: 22 Jun 2020 Last revised: 22 Nov 2021

Date Written: May 5, 2020

Abstract

Counterinsurgents frequently rely on mass arrests to impede rebel operations, but in so doing, risk detaining innocent civilians. Wrongful detention can backfire, fueling insurgent violence by alienating detainees and their kin. Can counterinsurgents mitigate wrongful detention through targeted compensation? I study this question using project-level data on US payments to individuals deemed innocent and released from Coalition custody in Iraq between 2004 and 2008. Leveraging plausibly exogenous variation in the allocation of detainee release payments, I document a robust, negative association between counterinsurgent compensation for wrongful detention and insurgent violence. The violence-reducing effects of detainee release payments were greatest in mixed and Sunni areas; for the types of insurgent attacks most prone to civilian informing; and when detainee release was complemented by other population-centric reforms to detention. These results suggest that post-harm mitigation helps shift civilian perceptions, inducing civilians to share more information with counterinsurgent forces.

Keywords: Counterinsurgency; Insurgency; Detention; Wrongful Detention; Post-Harm Mitigation

JEL Classification: F51, F52, H56

Suggested Citation

Blair, Christopher, Restitution or Retribution? Detainee Payments and Insurgent Violence (May 5, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3613437 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3613437

Christopher Blair (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

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