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The Counterterrorism War Paradigm versus International Humanitarian Law: The Legal Contradictions and Global Consequences of the US “War on Terror”

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 March 2019

Abstract

Since 2001, we have witnessed the development of a counterterrorism war paradigm built to advance claims about the post-9/11 scope and discretion of US executive power and to articulate specific interpretations of national security interests and strategic objectives in the “war on terror.” What makes this a paradigm rather than merely a conglomeration of evolving policies is the cohesiveness and mutual reinforcement of its underlying rationales about the rights of the US government to prosecute a territorially unbounded war against an evolving cast of enemies. Drawing on Bourdieu’s concept of a juridical field, the article focuses on how officials who constructed a legal framework for this paradigm, rather than disregarding international law wholesale, have engaged in interpretations and crafted rationales to evade some international humanitarian law (IHL) rules and norms while rejecting the underlying logic or applicability of others. This article traces the counterterrorism war paradigm’s development and explains how it now competes with and threatens to supersede the customary law principles enshrined in IHL.

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© 2019 American Bar Foundation 

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