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Tortured Logic: Why Some Americans Support the Use of Torture in Counterterrorism


Tortured Logic: Why Some Americans Support the Use of Torture in Counterterrorism

Friday, September 18, 2020
12:00pm - 1:00pm


On Friday, September 18 at 12:00 p.m. ET, University of Alabama Assistant Professor Dr. Erin M. Kearns and American University Professor Dr. Joseph K. Young provided a virtual talk on their new book “Tortured Logic: Why Some Americans Support the Use of Torture in Counterterrorism.” A recording of this event can be found at this link. If you have any questions, please email the START events team at start-events@umd.edu.

 Experts in the intelligence community say that torture is ineffec­tive. Yet much of the public appears unconvinced: surveys show that nearly half of Americans think that torture can be acceptable for counterterrorism purposes. Why do people persist in supporting torture—and can they be persuaded to change their minds?

In Tortured Logic, Erin M. Kearns and Joseph K. Young draw upon a novel series of group experiments to understand how and why the average citizen might come to support the use of torture tech­niques. They find evidence that when torture is depicted as effective in the media, people are more likely to approve of it. Their analysis weighs variables such as the ethnicity of the interrogator and the suspect; the salience of one’s own mortality; and framing by experts. Kearns and Young also examine who changes their opinions about torture and how, demonstrating that only some individuals have fixed views while others have more malleable beliefs. They argue that efforts to reduce support for torture should focus on convinc­ing those with fluid views that torture is ineffective. The book fea­tures interviews with experienced interrogators and professionals working in the field to contextualize its findings. Bringing empirical rigor to a fraught topic, Tortured Logic has important implications for understanding public perceptions of counterterrorism strategy.

Dr. Erin M. Kearns’ areas of expertise include how media depict terrorism and counterterrorism and the influence this how on public perceptions; community-police relations particularly in counterterrorism; strategic communication decisions among groups that use terrorism; and, factors that increase support for violent and non-violent political action. She has a number of publications on each of these issues. Dr. Kearns’ work has been funded through a number of sources, including the National Consortium for the Study of and Responses to Terrorism (START). Her work has been featured on numerous media outlets including CNNThe Economist, NPR, the Washington Post, and Vox. She serves on the editorial boards of Studies in Conflict and Terrorism and Dynamics of Asymmetric Conflict and on the advisory board for the Terrorism Prosecution Project. She has also served as a consultant for the Police Foundation and the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing.

Professor Joseph K. Young's interests relate to the cross-national causes and consequences of political violence. He has published numerous peer-reviewed articles across academic disciplines, including political science, economics, criminology, and international studies. He has been invited to speak to organizations in the defense community and has consulted on a Department of Defense initiative focusing on countering violent extremism. The National Science Foundation and the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) have funded his research. More information on Professor Young can be found on his professional website.