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When is a War Not a War? The Myth of the Global War on Terror

5 Pages Posted: 30 Mar 2006  

Mary Ellen O'Connell

Notre Dame Law School


It is essential to correctly classify situations in the world as ones of war or peace: human lives depend on the distinction, but so do liberty, property, and the integrity of the natural environment. President Bush's "war on terror" finds war where suspected members of al Qaeda are found. By contrast, war under international law exists where hostilities are on-going. To the extent there is ambiguity, the United States should err on the side of pursuing terrorists within the peacetime criminal law enforcement paradigm, not a wartime one. Not only does the criminal law better protect important human rights and other interests, it avoids elevating terrorists to the status of combatants in a war with the world's only superpower.

Keywords: War on Terror, Terrorism, International Law, War, human rights, combatants

Suggested Citation

O'Connell, Mary Ellen, When is a War Not a War? The Myth of the Global War on Terror. ILSA Journal of International & Comparative Law, Vol. 12, No. 2, 2005. Available at SSRN:

Mary Ellen O'Connell (Contact Author)

Notre Dame Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 780
Notre Dame, IN 46556-0780
United States
574-631-7953 (Phone)

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