Human Rights and the War on Terror

Imagine this scenario: a terror attack has just been committed in your country. The police carried out raids on suspected perpetrators. There might be another attack coming, but you have in custody those allegedly responsible for the previous one. What do you do? Do you use torture to elicit information, and possible save lives?

What would you do?

Use torture
Stick to international standards preventing torture
Try to prevent the attack in another way
Created with Survey Maker

 The problem:

The reason why torture is so controversial is because its use by nation-states is technically illegal under international law. The 3rd Geneva Convention, to which most states are ratified signatories, has clear standards on the interrogation of detainees captured in war. The United States has used torture, in the aftermath of the September 11th , 2001 attacks, despite being a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, and having military interrogation laws prohibiting torture. So, how did the US get around such standards?
In two ways: One, the Bush administration claimed that those capture who were al-Qaeda or Taliban fighters were not “lawful combatants”, meaning they weren’t entitled to protections under the Geneva Conventions; and two, the government also claimed that the methods they were using didn’t amount to torture. Now, when Obama took office in 2009, he outlawed the use of torture by US forces, effectively ending a dark chapter in American history. But, US allies in the War on Terror are still known to use torture. Specifically, Jordan.
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a reliable and vital US ally for counter-terrorism. The country has also been accused by numerous human rights organizations of using torture in its jails.
Amnesty International, in its 2017 report on Jordan, says:

“Detainees were denied access to a lawyer during interrogations, and faced torture and other ill-treatment.” (Amnesty Int’l).

Unlike the US, Jordan is situated in the Middle East. Therefore, the country faces a higher threat of terrorism, especially from groups like Daesh (ISIS). Given this threat, how should Jordan respond?

How should Jordan respond to terrorism?

Airstrikes in Syria/Iraq
Use torture
Police raids on suspected terrorists
Execution of convicted terrorists
Increased surveillance (both online and physical)
Created with Survey Maker

We now essentially have two players: Jordan, and groups like Daesh. How do you think Daesh would respond to Jordan’s actions?

How do you think Daesh would respond?

Suicide bombing
Execution of prisoners
Dissemination of propaganda
Created with PollMaker
To each player, Jordan and Daesh, all of the available strategies are ranked in order to preference, and then assigned a value based on that preference. Here are the strategies for each player again, but with an explanation for their preference.


Jordan’s strategies:

Airstrikes – Jordan 15, Daesh-10

This is one of the most preferred strategies for Jordan, as it is cost effective, and will inflict heavy losses on ISIS fighters

Police raids – Jordan 15, Daesh -5

This is another preferred strategy for Jordan, as the raid will deal with both the accused terrorists and will elicit intelligence on other terrorists. However, since these terrorist cells in Jordan are decentralized, ISIS won’t suffer as many losses in terms of fighters.

Torture – Jordan -10, Daesh +5

This is Jordan’s least preferred strategy, as it loses the moral high ground and invites future UN investigations into Jordan’s counter-terrorism activities. Furthermore, it gives ISIS material it could use in propaganda.

Execution of terrorists – Jordan 10, Daesh 3

This is Jordan’s second preferred strategy, as it sends a message to ISIS and is cost effective. However, the execution also gives ISIS material it could use for propaganda as well.

Surveillance – Jordan -5, Daesh 3

This is not a preferred strategy for Jordan, as it takes up a lot of resources, and violates the right to privacy of its citizens, giving ISIS material for propaganda.

Dabiq Magazine was the primary source of Daesh propaganda.

Daesh’s strategies:

Suicide bombing – Jordan -3, Daesh +5

This is Daesh’s second preferred strategy, as it doesn’t take a lot of resources to inflict massive damage. Jordan loses here due to the inevitable civilian deaths.

Execution of prisoners – Jordan -1, Daesh -10

Both players lose in this strategy, with ISIS losing more by giving up any semblance of having morals, therefore not attracting people to their cause. Jordan also loses due to the civilian/military deaths.

Propaganda – Jordan -7, Daesh +10

This is Daesh’s preferred strategy, as it allows for more recruitment, while simultaneously making Jordan look bad.

The Game:

Suicide bombing Executing prisoners Spreading propaganda
Jordan Airstrikes 12, -5 12, -15 12, 0
Execution of terrorists 7, 8 9, -7 7, 13
Surveillance -8, 8 -6, -7 -8, 15
Police raids 12, 0 14, -15 12, 5
Torture -13, 5 -11, -5 -12, 15









This is the game matrix once we combine Jordan’s strategies and Daesh’s response to them. This game actually has a solution or a pure Nash equilibrium: Jordan should conduct police raids, and ISIS should disseminate more propaganda, with the payoff being 12,15. But we want ISIS to suffer the most losses, with Jordan essentially winning. With that in mind, the ideal strategy for defeating ISIS would be for Jordan to conduct police raids and/or airstrikes.


In the context of the game, the solution that should be used in reality means Jordan is always the winner with the larger payoffs, which is a good thing. Airstrikes aren’t perfect, but they do tend to fall in the realm of appropriate action under international law. This means that Jordan isn’t violating human rights with this action, as doing that would give ISIS more material to use in their propaganda.

Policy proposal

I propose a policy initiative to defeat terrorist groups like ISIS while still adhering to international standards. 1) Jordan should halt the use of torture in jails run by the Kingdom’s intelligence service, the GID. 2) Jordan should also create new rules of engagement for their air force to minimize civilian casualties. 3) Jordan should overhaul its system for authorizing surveillance on citizens, making sure that the government only spies when it is absolutely necessary and will most likely lead to actionable intelligence. 4) Jordan should create a parliamentary oversight committee to ensure the previous proposals are carried out.

Share this project
  1. April 28, 2018 by Katie Beason

    I think that this was a very interesting approach to the issue at hand. I do think that Jordan desperately requires external, international aid, as in any scenario, simplified game or not, the conflict will result in many deaths on both sides that may be avoided. I hope that as the issue progresses, we avoid another Yemen or Somalia and try to earn peace without destabilizing regions or killing hundreds of people. Thoughts?

    • April 28, 2018 by Nidal.Morrison

      Yes I definitely agree! Syria becoming another Yemen or Somalia would only fuel more extremism.

  2. April 28, 2018 by Kamal Fakhoury

    I loved the solutions you gave: they do not violate international law and adheres to it. They are also effective and can be easily adopted here in Jordan. However, do you think it is ethical to compare Jordan to a terrorist organization?

    • April 28, 2018 by Nidal.Morrison

      I don’t think I necessarily compared Jordan to a terrorist organization. I did, however, put the two on similar footing in terms of a game. But, no, I do not think it is ethical to compare Jordan to a terrorist organization, as they are not on equal moral footing at all.

  3. April 28, 2018 by Trinity.Rollins

    I hadn’t realized that this project was based on the game theory until reaching the strategies, but this is a super interesting approach to the conflicts in the Middle East. Besides potentially a more specific title, I don’t have any suggestions. I really enjoyed how interactive your project was and how concise you made the necessary information. Well done!

  4. April 29, 2018 by Aidan.Pak

    Wow! Very powerful messsage, and it is a new cool way to discuss how to solve the problems in the Middle East!

  5. May 07, 2018 by Ryan

    What a great exploration! I really like how your project was based on real-life actions; it connects public policy with game theory. It was super interesting to see how game theory can be applied to so many events!

  6. May 07, 2018 by Ryaa gn

    What a great exploration! I really like how your project was based on real-life actions; it connects public policy with game theory. It was super interesting to see how game theory can be applied to so many events! Great job!

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