Torture and the Commitment Problem

We study torture as a mechanism for extracting information from a suspect who may or may not be informed. We show that a standard rationale for torture generates two commitment problems. First, the principal would benefit from a commitment to torture a victim he knows to be innocent. Second, the principal would benefit from a commitment to limit the amount of torture faced by the guilty. We analyze a dynamic model of torture in which the credibility of these threats and promises is endogenous. We show that these commitment problems dramatically reduce the value of torture and can even render it completely ineffective. We use our model to address questions
such as the effect of enhanced interrogation techniques, rights against indefinite detention, and delegation of torture to specialists.

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