Many people in the United States and around the world remember the horrific events of September 11, 2001, as some of the worst crimes against humanity of the 21st century. While the international community was united behind the United States’ call to bring those responsible to justice, the subsequent struggle against terrorism took a wrong turn, undermining the international legal frameworks and accountability mechanisms that were developed after World War II.

U.S. counterterrorism policies today often blur the distinction between the more permissive rules that regulate the use of force and treatment of fighters and civilians in theatres of war and the more restrictive rules that apply in all other contexts. The so-called “war on terror” has resulted in the erosion of hard-fought human rights achievements, including the absolute prohibition on torture, and undermined accountability mechanisms against governmental abuses of power.

After 9/11, anti-terror ends justified terrible means on the part of the United States. In pursuit of such ends, the government justified racial and ethnic profiling, baseless surveillance of religious communities, warrantless wiretapping, unfair trials, indefinite detention, and the egregious use of torture.

The legacy of a post-9/11 world must be reshaped from a narrative of violations of the rule of law into one in which the United States embraces human rights principles consistent with both the U.S. Constitution and international law. 

Stay Informed