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Life and Death in CaptivityThe Abuse of Prisoners during War$
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Geoffrey P. R. Wallace

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780801453434

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9780801453434.001.0001

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Prisoners by the Numbers

Prisoners by the Numbers

(p.73) 3 Prisoners by the Numbers
Life and Death in Captivity

Geoffrey P. R. Wallace

Cornell University Press

This chapter leverages the use of quantitative methods across a much larger number of cases to evaluate competing explanations for prisoner abuse. The evidence comes from the data set on the treatment of prisoners in interstate wars from 1898 to 2003. Results provide strong support for democracy and the nature of the conflict as key determinants of prisoner abuse. Wars aimed at territorial conquest, as well as those devolving into especially severe and drawn-out fighting, lead to higher levels of violence inflicted upon captives. Democracy has an overall constraining effect on the abuse of captured combatants, with domestic institutional forces playing a greater role in shaping decisions over the treatment of prisoners. Belligerents possessing distinctive cultural identities are slightly more likely to mistreat each other's prisoners than those coming from similar backgrounds, though the effect is not significant. The general impact of mutual deterrence from each side holding captives from the enemy is similarly weak, while others like international law and norms either operate in unexpected directions or are conditioned by other factors.

Keywords:   prisoner treatment, prisoner abuse, interstate wars, territorial conquest, democracies, domestic institutions

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