The Legitimacy of American Human Rights Conduct in the War on Terror

  • Vincent Charles Keating

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis examines the effect American human rights conduct during the war on terror had on three international human rights norms: torture, habeas corpus, and rendition for the purposes of torture. It does so by analysing a large-n sample of public legitimation strategies of both the United States and other members of international society during the administration of President George W. Bush. The thesis asks three questions: First, has the defection of the United States from these human rights norms led to a "norm cascade" that delegitimized the norms? Second, did the United States run an exemptionalist argument for each, and was this successful? Third, did the material preponderance of the United States help it to legitimate its preferences in international society? The thesis argues that the United States was unsuccessful at overtly legitimating its preferences in the habeas corpus case study. In the torture case study the United States had some early success using a strategy of norm justification, but most international legitimation strategies were subsequently abandoned. It was relatively successful in the rendition case study where it pursued very few legitimation strategies, relying instead on secrecy and denial. Furthermore, there is no overt evidence that the United States either attempted or was successful in an exemptionalist strategy, though some of the conduct by the United States and other members of international society might imply that a covert strategy was in effect. Lastly, though the material preponderance of the United States allowed it to absorb the costs associated with its illegitimate behaviour, there was no evidence that it was useful in transforming international human rights norms.
Date of Award31 May 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SupervisorNicholas John Wheeler (Supervisor) & Andrew John Priest (Supervisor)

Cite this