The End of Reciprocity

Terror, Torture, and the Law of War


Why should America restrain itself in detaining, interrogating, and targeting terrorists when they show it no similar forbearance? Is it fair to expect one side to fight by more stringent rules than the other, placing itself at disadvantage? Is the disadvantaged side then permitted to use the tactics and strategies of its opponent? If so, then America's most controversial counterterrorism practices are justified as commensurate responses to indiscriminate terror. Yet different ethical standards prove entirely fitting, the author finds, in a conflict between a network of suicidal terrorists seeking mass atrocity at any cost and a constitutional democracy committed to respecting human dignity and the rule of law. The most important reciprocity involves neither uniform application of fair rules nor their enforcement by a simple-minded tit-for-tat. Real reciprocity instead entails contributing to an emergent global contract that encompasses the law of war and from which all peoples may mutually benefit.
  • Cambridge University Press; March 2009
  • ISBN: 9780511512483
  • Read online, or download in secure PDF format
  • Title: The End of Reciprocity
  • Author: Mark Osiel
  • Imprint: Cambridge University Press

In The Press

'Many books have now been written about the law and ethics of how states should respond to terrorists who respect neither. This book may be the most impressive of them all: a hardheaded, clear-eyed, unsentimental argument for observing humanitarian restraints in the law of armed conflict even when adversaries do not. Drawing on deep reservoirs of learning in the law, history and sociology of armed conflict, Osiel challenges both critics and defenders of the Bush Administration's anti-terror policies: idealist human-rights advocates who prescribe absolute adherence to moral norms regardless of what enemies do, and 'realists' who want to calculate in each case whether adherence will yield more benefits to national self-interest than costs. Ultimately he suggests that acting upon national self-conceptions of civilized conduct rooted in honor may induce the cooperation of other nations in building the networks that constitute a social contract. Neither blinding himself to the savagery and brutality of modern conflict nor falling into a shallow cynicism, Osiel offers a penetrating analysis of current policies and the controversies over them and a grounded, carefully reasoned, basis for hope for something better.' Robert W. Gordon, Yale University