Ruth Blakeley, Ph.D.

The University of Sheffield

Phone: +44114 222 8377

Address: University of Sheffield

City: Sheffield, England

Country: United Kingdom

About Me:

Ruth Blakeley joined the University of Sheffield in 2017 as Professor of Politics and International Relations, and Director of the White Rose Doctoral Training Partnership for the Social Sciences. After completing an MSc and PhD in International Relations at the University of Bristol, her first post was as a lecturer in International Relations at the University of Kent. In 2015, she was promoted to Professor. She held several leadership positions at Kent, including Head of School of Politics and International Relations (2016), and Sub-Dean and Director of Graduate Studies for the Faculty of Social Sciences (2012-2015). Professor Blakeley is the Lead Editor of the Review of International Studies, a journal of the British International Studies Association (BISA), published by Cambridge University Press. She was the Honorary Secretary of BISA from 2012 to 2015, and is a member of the editorial advisory boards for several journals. Professor Blakeley’s research and teaching focus on international security, terrorism and political violence, and human rights.

Research Interests

Human Rights

Conflict Processes & War

Political Violence


Research Methods & Research Design


Extraordinary Rendition

State Violence

Countries of Interest

United States

United Kingdom

My Research:

My research focuses on a range of issues across the areas of international security, terrorism and political violence, and the global governance of human rights. My interests include US power, imperialism, US and UK foreign policy, state violence and state terrorism, and torture. I am particularly interested in the relationship between the evolution of the international political economy and state violence. These interests lead me to frequently engage with questions on the potential of human rights norms and laws as vehicles for political and social change. My current research projects are: Rendition, Detention, and Torture in the War on Terror. Ruth is co-director (with Sam Raphael, University of Westminster) of The Rendition Project. This provides the most comprehensive analysis to date of the CIA’s Rendition, Detention and Interrogation programme. Funded by an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) grant, research findings are disseminated through an extensive and innovative project website ( that houses the world’s only comprehensive database of flights known or suspected to have been involved in rendition. The aim now is to draw on this extensive empirical research on one of the most controversial state-led security programmes in the 21st century, to begin addressing pressing questions about the global governance of human rights. 


Journal Articles:

(2018) Drones, State Terrorism and International Law, Critical Studies on Terrorism

The conventional wisdom among US foreign policymakers is that drones enable precise strikes, and therefore limit collateral damage. In contrast, critics point out that many civilian casualties have ensued, and they variously cite poor intelligence and imprecision of the strikes as reasons for this. Critics have also raised concerns that the US and its allies are engaging in “lawfare” to legitimise violations of human rights law. As such, some have questioned whether academic engagement with the legal questions surrounding targeted killings amount to collusion with state attempts to legitimise human rights violations. This article will argue that by conceptualising the targeted killings programme as a form of state terrorism, we are better equipped to provide a critical analysis of the drones programme within the context of a long history of violence and terrorism which has underpinned the imperial and neo-imperial projects of the UK and US. The article will then argue that there are important similarities between the targeted killings programme, and previous UK and US counterinsurgency operations, including prior uses of air power, and operations involving the internment of terror suspects, and the targeting of specific individuals for interrogation and torture or disappearance. Common to these programmes is that they are forms of policing aimed at crushing rebellions, stifling disorder and constructing or maintaining particular political economies, through terror. Also common to these programmes are the attempts made either to conceal illicit actions, or in the event they are exposed, to shroud them in a veil of legitimacy. The article concludes by offering some brief reflections on why we should not abandon the quest to resolve the thorny legal questions around the targeted killings programme.

(2017) British Torture in the “War on Terror”, European Journal of International Relations

Despite long-standing allegations of UK involvement in prisoner abuse during counterterrorism operations as part of the US-led ‘war on terror’, a consistent narrative emanating from British government officials is that Britain neither uses, condones nor facilitates torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment. We argue that such denials are untenable. We have established beyond reasonable doubt that Britain has been deeply involved in post-9/11 prisoner abuse, and we can now provide the most detailed account to date of the depth of this involvement. We argue that it is possible to identify a peculiarly British approach to torture in the ‘war on terror’, which is particularly well-suited to sustaining a narrative of denial. To explain the nature of UK involvement, we argue that it can be best understood within the context of how law and sovereign power have come to operate during the ‘war on terror’. We turn here to the work of Judith Butler, and explore the role of Britain as a ‘petty sovereign’, operating under the state of exception established by the US executive. UK authorities have not themselves suspended the rule of law so overtly; indeed, they have repeatedly insisted on their commitment to it. Nevertheless, they have been able to construct a rhetorical, legal and policy ‘scaffold’ that has enabled them to demonstrate at least procedural adherence to human rights norms while, at the same time, allowing UK officials to acquiesce in the arbitrary exercise of sovereignty over individuals who are denied any access to appropriate representation or redress in compliance with the rule of law.

(2017) Conducting Effective Research into State Complicity in Human Rights Abuses, Contemporary Social Science

This paper explores how to conduct effective research into state complicity in human rights abuses. This type of research is challenging: the secretive nature of state violence presents considerable difficulties for the researcher, in terms of both access to evidence, and the safety and security of the researcher and victims. Recent developments in the methods and types of data available present new opportunities for strengthening research. Drawing on our own experience, specifically our work to map the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation programme, we aim to show how we have navigated the difficult terrain of human rights investigation. The paper begins by exploring a number of challenges involved. We then discuss recent developments in human rights investigation techniques, as well as the emerging body of critical scholarship that is beginning to shape this kind of work among practitioners and academics alike. We consider some of the imbalances of power that affect this type of research. We then demonstrate how we tried to embrace new opportunities, while being mindful of the risks involved and the limitations of what we can achieve. We close with some reflections on ways forward for this type of research.

(2015) Tracking rendition aircraft as a way to understand CIA secret detention and torture in Europe, The International Journal of Human Rights

We examine how the tracking of rendition aircraft has provided a much fuller understanding of the CIA's rendition, detention and interrogation programme. In particular, we show how this illuminated the role played by European states. Through various investigative methods, new rendition aircraft were identified, significant amounts of flight data were gathered, and data on all known and suspected rendition flights were collated into one public, searchable database. We show that examining logistical elements of covert programmes can prove fruitful for security and human rights research. Furthermore, we demonstrate the benefits of close academic–practitioner collaboration in the field of human rights.

(2013) Human Rights, State Wrongs and Social Change: The Theory and Practice of Emancipation, Review of International Studies

This article demonstrates the significance of human rights for challenging state violence and terrorism. It is intended to enhance understanding of the concept of emancipation. Critical Security Studies has tended to focus on the individual as the agent of her/his own liberation. Yet many victims of oppression are not able to free themselves. Drawing on historical materialism, it is argued that collective agency on behalf of the oppressed has a necessary role to play in emancipatory politics. Emancipation is contingent on the capacity of specific agents, located socially and historically, to identify practices that might bring about change, structures that might be transformed, and appropriate agents that are in the best position to facilitate such change. This article shows how such collective social action has forced a reversal of some of the Bush administration's repressive policies, and has partially succeeded in curtailing the arbitrary use of US state power. This has been achieved through the national and international human rights architecture. Therefore, Marxian claims that human rights should be eschewed are mistaken, since they fail to acknowledge the emancipatory potential of human rights, the opportunities they provide for collective social action, and the role they can play in transformative social change.

(2011) Dirty Hands, Clean Conscience? The CIA Inspector General’s Investigation of “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” in the War on Terror and the Torture Debate, Journal of Human Rights

The War on Terror has generated fierce debate on torture as a means of thwarting terrorist threats. The argument is polarized between those who take a utilitarian position and those who seek to uphold the absolute prohibition on torture. Within the utilitarian camp, there are those who argue that torture, while immoral, should be legalized for use in the fight against terrorism, so that it can be better controlled and regulated. This article will provide new insights through its analysis of the CIA Inspector General's 2004 Special Review of Counterterrorism, Detention and Interrogation Activities, declassified in 2009. This offers important evidence that counters the key assumptions of contemporary torture apologists. Specifically, the Inspector General's findings reinforce the argument that torture is not effective, that efforts to legalize its use under controlled conditions are futile, and that, even where torture is permitted by higher authorities, recriminations against the perpetrators are still likely to ensue. Furthermore, torture tends not to be aimed at thwarting imminent threats. Its use by the CIA in the War on Terror is no exception. In any case it has yielded little evidence that could not have been obtained through legitimate means.

(2007) Why Torture?, Review of International Studies

I develop a framework to account for torture, which I argue should be understood with reference to international relations. I show that torture is intended as a tool to ensure the security, stability and legitimacy of elites, often transnationally, but there is often a disjuncture between its intended and actual outcomes. Despite dominant claims that torture is used to defeat security threats, most torture is intended to deter political opposition and secure legitimacy for elites. I conclude that torture should be renounced, both on moral grounds, and because it is not necessary for the functions it is intended to serve.

(2006) Still Training to Torture? US training of Latin American military forces, Third World Quarterly

It is widely assumed that the School of the Americas (soa), a US training school for Latin American military forces, advocated repression during the Cold War. To demonstrate this, previous research has tended to focus on establishing correlations between training and specific human rights abuses by individuals trained at soa. A stronger case can be made through detailed analysis of soa training manuals within the context of US foreign policy towards the global South. Public protest led to soa's re-launch in 2001. Most protestors assume that this change was purely cosmetic. Based on extensive fieldwork, I argue that changes were genuine, and the School now has a commendable human rights programme. This is in contrast to most US military training, domestic and foreign, which remains secretive and devoid of adequate human rights instruction. The paper argues that a resurgence of support for repression since 9/11 undermines progress at the School.