The Consequences of a 'War' Paradigm for Counterterrorism: What Impact on Basic Rights and Values?

23 Pages Posted: 27 Aug 2011 Last revised: 27 Sep 2012

Date Written: August 27, 2011


Policymakers have used the rhetoric of “war” throughout the past century to describe a major governmental or societal effort to combat an evil that threatens society, national security or other communal good. It is both a rhetorical tool and a resource mobilization, and above all a coalescing of authority to meet the challenge, whether poverty, drugs or – most recently – terrorism. Soon after 9/11 made al Qaeda a household word, the Bush Administration characterized U.S. efforts to defeat al Qaeda as the “War on Terror.” Here, however, the terminology of “war” goes far beyond rhetoric, resource re-allocation and centralizing of authority. When it goes hand-in-hand with domestic and transnational counterterrorism operations and major military operations, this “war” rhetoric also has significant consequences for the protection and content of basic rights and values.

Indeed, the “War on Terror” rhetoric has facilitated and encouraged the growth of authority without the corresponding spread of obligation. Drone strikes, indefinite detention, prosecution of crimes like conspiracy and material support for terrorism in military commissions – these practices and others raise significant questions about the application of domestic and international law to counterterrorism operations, the long-term impact on executive authority, and the role of national security as a “trump card.”

Keywords: war, rhetoric, counterterrorism, law of armed conflict, al Qaeda, civil rights, detention, international law

Suggested Citation

Blank, Laurie R., The Consequences of a 'War' Paradigm for Counterterrorism: What Impact on Basic Rights and Values? (August 27, 2011). Georgia Law Review, Vol. 46, 2011-2012; Emory Public Law Research Paper No. 11-166; Emory Law and Economics Research Paper No. 11-113. Available at SSRN:

Laurie R. Blank (Contact Author)

Emory University School of Law ( email )

1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States
404-712-1711 (Phone)


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