The U.S. Department of Defense and Its Torture Program

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How did the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) develop its torture program and, in so doing, stray so significantly from its existing standard operating procedures (SOPs) around humane prisoner treatment? This model of organizational decision-making examines both the ambiguous structural environment that interrogators faced after 9/11 and the ways in which actors used their agency to challenge the procedures and rules that had governed DoD decision-making and actions for more than six decades. By building off the work on organizational theorizing pioneered by Graham Allison and James March, this study process traces the ways in which the DoD’s institutional procedures protecting detainees were developed, challenged, and then ultimately reaffirmed. This research helps organizations ultimately understand the power—and the weaknesses—of their SOPs.




Arsenault, E. G., & Chiang, C. (2020). The U.S. Department of Defense and Its Torture Program. Armed Forces and Society, 46(2), 191–213.

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