Deconstitutive rhetoric: The destruction of legal personhood in the global war on terrorism

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This essay examines a set of memoranda, speeches, and other official discourse issued during the Global War on Terrorism that transformed the legal paradigm under which the enemy was defined and authorized new norms of conduct previously prohibited by law. It argues that these texts employ “deconstitutive rhetoric,” defined as discursive action that undermines the existing legal status of those to whom it refers and produces a disarticulate, destitute subject by denying the individual access to the civic forums in which rhetorical agency may be exercised. The essay begins with an analysis of the use of deconstitutive rhetoric in the decision to legally re-define Afghanistan as a “failed state” in order to absolve the United States of treaty obligations with that nation. It then addresses the emergence of “unlawful enemy combatant status,” a new legal category not recognized under the international laws of war. The essay concludes with a discussion the Obama administration’s detention and drone strike policies, which have continued to use deconstitutive rhetoric to undermine the legal status of those captured and killed in the Global War on Terrorism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)333-352
Number of pages20
JournalQuarterly Journal of Speech
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education


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