Plausible Legality: Legal Culture and Political Imperative in the Global War on Terror

ISBN : 9780190870553

Rebecca Sanders
248 ページ
156 x 235 mm

In many ways, the United States' post-9/11 engagement with legal rules is puzzling. Officials in both the Bush and Obama administrations authorized numerous contentious counterterrorism policies that sparked global outrage, yet they have repeatedly insisted that their actions were lawful and legitimate.

In Plausible Legality, Rebecca Sanders examines how the US government interpreted, reinterpreted, and manipulated legal norms and what these justificatory practices imply about the capacity of law to constrain state violence. Through case studies on the use of torture, detention, targeted killing, and surveillance, Sanders provides a detailed analysis of how policymakers use law to achieve their political objectives and situates these patterns within a broader theoretical understanding of how law operates in contemporary politics. She argues that legal culture—defined as collectively shared understandings of legal legitimacy and appropriate forms of legal practice in particular contexts—plays a significant role in shaping state practice. In the global war on terror, a national security culture of legal rationalization encouraged authorities to seek legal cover-to construct the plausible legality of human rights violations-in order to ensure impunity for wrongdoing.

Looking forward, law remains vulnerable to evasion and revision. As Sanders shows, despite the efforts of human rights advocates to encourage deeper compliance, the normalization of post-9/11 policy has created space for future administrations to further erode legal norms.


Chapter 1: The Politics of Plausible Legality
Chapter 2: Permissive Constraint: Law, Power, and Legal Culture
Chapter 3: Torture
Chapter 4: Deprivations of Life and Liberty: Detention, Trial, and Targeted Killing Policy
Chapter 5: Surveillance
Chapter 6: The Fate of Human Rights in the Global War on Terror


Rebecca Sanders is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Cincinnati, where she teaches and researches at the intersection of international law, international security, and international human rights.