Presidential Accountability in Wartime

President Bush, the Treatment of Detainees, and the Laws of War

Subjects: Political Science, Human Rights, Law, Supreme Court and Constitutional Law, Political History
Hardcover : 9780472076499, 294 pages, 6 x 9, November 2023
Open Access : 9780472903900, 294 pages, 6 x 9, November 2023
Paperback : 9780472056491, 294 pages, 6 x 9, November 2023
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Examines how and why holding US presidents accountable for war crimes is an obligatory but impossible task in the American constitutional system

Table of contents

1. The Law of War
2. The New Paradigm
3. Congress and an Unchecked Presidency
4. The Court versus the Commander in Chief
5. The Torture Debate
A: Presidential Memorandum
B: Common Article 3
C: War Crimes Act


The American presidency has long tested the capacity of the system of checks and balances to constrain executive power, especially in times of war. While scholars have examined presidents starting military conflicts without congressional authorization or infringing on civil liberties in the name of national security, Stuart Streichler focuses on the conduct of hostilities. Using the treatment of war-on-terror detainees under President George W. Bush as a case study, he integrates international humanitarian law into a constitutional analysis of the repercussions of presidential war powers for human rights around the world.

Putting President Bush’s actions in a wider context, Presidential Accountability in Wartime begins with a historical survey of the laws of war, with particular emphasis on the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the Nuremberg Tribunal. Streichler then reconstructs the decision-making process that led to the president’s approval of interrogation methods that violated Geneva’s mandate to treat wartime captives humanely. While taking note of various accountability options—from within the executive branch to the International Criminal Court—the book illustrates the challenge in holding presidents personally responsible for violating the laws of war through an in-depth analysis of the actions taken by Congress, the Supreme Court, and the public in response. In doing so, this book not only raises questions about whether international humanitarian law can moderate wartime presidential behavior but also about the character of the presidency and the American constitutional system of government.

Stuart Streichler has taught law and politics at the University of Washington and as a Fulbright scholar at Tohoku University in Japan. He is the author of Justice Curtis in the Civil War Era: At the Crossroads of American Constitutionalism. Learn more at

“President Bush unlawfully endorsed the use of torture after 9/11 despite categorical prohibitions in both US and international law. Stuart Streichler’s well-documented yet eminently readable new book recounts how Bush endeavored to work around the law while critically examining the larger issues of presidential wartime authority and the challenges of holding top officials accountable for law of war violations. A must-read for anyone concerned about executive war powers and compliance with the rule of law.”

- David Glazier, Loyola Marymount University

“I found that I kept wanting to turn the pages. Streichler manifests excellent scholarship and, just as importantly, a very accessible writing style.”

- Sanford V. Levinson, University of Texas

“Streichler does an admirable job of bringing together thousands of pieces of information into a coherent, lucid story. Presidential Accountability in Wartime is a page turner.”

- David Luban, Georgetown University

"What Streichler brings to the subject is extensive and up-to-date research, good organization and clear prose, and an unerring eye for the right interpretation."
--CHOICE Connect, rated recommended.

- CHOICE Connect

Watch: Streichler discusses Presidential Accountability in Wartime on WBGU-PBS's The Journal | 8/17/23
Watch: Streichler discusses Watergate's legacy in today's politics with Lisa Desjardins and Watergate prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks on PBS NewsHour | 7/13/23
Read: Streichler's take on Watergate's ironic legacy in the Boston Review | 6/16/22