Book Review: Karen J. Greenberg creates a timeline of constitutional injustice in “Rogue Justice”

For the common American citizen, the threat of terrorism looms constantly overhead, punctuated by horrifying news reports and overseas tales of the latest disaster. There was likely never a time where the nation held its breath longer than following the events of 9/11. Just moments after the terrorist attack that took the world by surprise, the Bush administration was scrambling to figure out how to prevent another such event in the future. Very quickly, panic and fear began to seep its way into the Bush administration’s operations, kicking off the war on terror and opening up a Pandora’s box of invasive policies which threatened the constitutional protections of their citizens.

Director of Fordham University’s Center on National Security Karen J. Greenberg, in her meticulously researched Rogue Justice, masterfully constructs a timeline of the United States government’s war on terror, beginning just moments after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and spanning through two presidential administrations to the passing of the USA Freedom Act in 2015. The Freedom Act set in motion a restored effort towards the reversal and correction of invasive and unconstitutional policies which the government had enacted in the name of the war on terror.

Drawing on extensive interviews with Bush and Obama administration officials, Greenberg gets to the root of the creation of the security state, determining that the policies created in the name of national security are fundamentally unconstitutional and violate citizens’ privacy on the most intimate levels. Driven by fear and an unchecked sense of urgency, high-level government officials enacted policies that allowed the government to collect, monitor, and use the personal data of citizens, such as phone records, emails, etc., without telling them, and sometimes without even a warrant.

Behind closed doors, a few key individuals were crafting policies which allowed the American government to wage war on its own people. By using tricky wording and intentional lawmaking, the government made it possible to declare American citizens enemy combatants in the war on terror and shunt them into what Greenburg refers to as the “Twilight Zone,” bereft of legal representation, constitutional rights, or the protection of international human rights law.

Greenburg forms her definitive account by looking behind closed doors and into the courtrooms and furtive meeting rooms which would become ground zero in the war on terror, supplying a seemingly never-ending list of individuals, court cases, and legal battles which are testament to the executive branch’s efforts to fight terrorism at all costs – even the rights of its own citizens.

Greenburg creates an extremely compelling argument for the unconstitutionality of policies created out of fear and panic, pulling back a curtain to reveal the utter disregard of citizens’ rights that was occurring as a norm in the highest offices of government. The timeline flows seamlessly, while also providing appropriate background and contextual information.

Because much of the policies were developed in a legal setting and then battled out in court, the book can seem at times to be too heavily steeped in legal jargon and begin to wear on the attention span. Just when the legality of the matter begins to feel like too much for a person not educated in law and government, Greenburg takes a step back to examine the ways in which the issues were unfolding on the public stage, providing relief. Her knack for drawing clear, captivating lines between what had the potential to be a banal jumble of information is impressive.  

Her conclusion is the only instance in which Greenburg’s argument falls short. While she is right to acknowledge the sprawling and frustratingly complex nature of terror networks, she offers up a suggestion that policymakers should instead focus on the underlying factors that allow terrorism to exist. While this argument in itself is good, she provides vague examples of what these causes may be and provides no actual definitive proposals for how they should be approached.

However, the strength of her construction and the depth of her research allows Rogue Justice to stand as a valuable resource in revealing the machinations of the war on terror and how they have and still are affecting American citizens.


336 pages. Published May 24, 2016. Broadway Books.

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I received this book through Blogging for Books, but all thoughts and opinions are my own.