Civil Society and 
Political-Intelligence Elites

From manipulation to public accountability

Authored by: Vian Bakir

The Routledge Companion to Media and Human Rights

Print publication date:  June  2017
Online publication date:  July  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138665545
eBook ISBN: 9781315619835
Adobe ISBN:


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Intelligence agencies are used by political elites to further the national interest and protect national security. Despite the existence of international human rights treaties, sometimes, human rights get in the way, and are sacrificed. Nation-states can be upfront about sacrificing certain human rights via the process of ‘derogation’ from human rights treaties, but this requires a specific set of circumstances. For instance, it is only in times of public emergency threatening the life of nation, that nations can adjust their obligations under human rights treaties. Furthermore, derogation is only temporary and only allowed for certain types of human right (such as the right to privacy). Other human rights are non-derogable: They cannot be compromised or reduced, at least in theory, because they are considered as too important – for instance the right to be free from torture and other inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment (Rule of Law in Armed Conflict Project n.d.) and the right not to be disappeared (United Nations 2006). However, nation-states may still wish to sacrifice such human rights if they perceive their nation to be sufficiently threatened. In such circumstances, the human rights sacrifices occur in secret, raising challenges for civil society in holding political-intelligence elites to account. It is this relationship between civil society and political-intelligence elite accountability that this chapter centrally addresses, paying particular attention to the secretive torture-intelligence policies of the George W. Bush administration ( Jan. 2001–Jan. 2009).

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