Elizabeth Grimm Arsenault is a visiting assistant professor and director of teaching in the Security Studies Program at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.


A scholar of international relations, international security, terrorism, and international law, she has worked in the defense and security sectors of the U.S. government.



How the Gloves Came Off: Lawyers, Policy Makers, and Norms in the Debate on Torture

About the Book

The treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison, Guantánamo Bay, and far-flung CIA "black sites" after the attacks of 9/11 included cruelty that defied legal and normative prohibitions in U.S. and international law. The antitorture stance of the United States was brushed aside. Since then, the guarantee of American civil liberties and due process for POWs and detainees has grown muddled, threatening the norms that sustain modern democracies. How the Gloves Came Off considers the legal and political arguments that led to this standoff between civility and chaos and their significant consequences for the strategic interests and standing of the United States.

Unpacking the rhetoric surrounding the push for unitary executive action in wartime, How the Gloves Came Off traces the unmaking of the consensus against torture. It implicates U.S. military commanders, high-level government administrators, lawyers, and policy makers from both parties, exposing the ease with which powerful actors manipulated ambiguities to strip detainees of their humanity. By targeting the language and logic that made torture thinkable, this book shows how future decision makers can craft an effective counternarrative and set a new course for U.S. policy toward POWs and detainees.


Whether leaders use their influence to reinforce a prohibition of cruelty to prisoners or continue to undermine long-standing international law will determine whether the United States retains a core component of its founding identity.

Praise for the Book

Arsenault's book provides a much-needed historical context for the torture policy that emerged during the post-9/11 years. It is comprehensive, well researched, and, at the same time, digestible.

Karen J. Greenberg, Director, Center on National Security at Fordham Law School

One of the most perplexing and disturbing outcomes of the 9/11 attacks and the rise of global terrorism was America's adoption of torture against captured suspected terrorists―so-called detainees. This outstanding book by Elizabeth Grimm Arsenault lays out―in a reliable, scholarly, and readable manner―how this overreach occurred, how it profoundly violated U.S. norms and devotion to human rights, and what might be done to ensure a more appropriate balance between security and liberty for the United States in the future. For my own teaching and research endeavors, I keep this important volume close at hand.

Loch K. Johnson, Regents Professor, University of Georgia

This is a thoughtful and provoking account of how the United States abandoned its own―and the world's―legal and normative prohibitions against the use of torture. At its core are a compelling story about how once-cherished legal norms can unravel and the poignant observation that there is no single culprit but rather a system of actors―including top policy makers, their lawyers, and interrogators―aided by shifting public attitudes and cultural norms.

Emilie Hafner-Burton, University of California, San Diego

  • Twitter Social Icon
  • Twitter Clean Grey
  • LinkedIn Clean Grey

Proudly created with Wix.com