Dirty Hands and Guantanamo Bay

November 6, 2011

Political Theory

With the election only a short year away Obama and his presidency is currently under the microscope and even more than usual. Every single bill that is passed or act that Obama does, will be criticized by some and cheered by others. The killing of Osama Bin Laden is definitely something that has gained Obama some more support across America. What many people do not know, is that the whereabouts of Bin Laden were discovered from a captured terrorist who was in Guantanamo Bay. One of Obama’s first significant acts as president was signing something that would dismantle Guantanamo Bay and release the prisoners somewhere else. However, Guantanamo Bay never was closed and remains open with few select prisoners; these people are captured terrorists and criminals that have caused detrimental damage to society. There is speculation that the information on where Bin Laden was hiding was obtained by torturing a specific prisoner until he released the information. This made me think about the dirty hands theory and its practice. Is it worth torturing terrorists for useful information? Do they lose their right to safety after they kill and destroy people’s lives and facilities? These are all moral questions but also relate directly to political theory. Obama may be at fault for allowing Guantanamo Bay to continue to operate yet he also may be responsible for the death of one of the most destructive people in the world. Which one is more important? Do you support his decision to keep the prison open?

Guantanamo Bay would be different on American soil but because it is not, rules and policies are different. There are little to no protections for prisoners there while in American jails, prisoners rights and safety are protected under law.This aspect about the jail itself is where the theory of dirty hands is most prevalent. Guards and investigators are recorded to have done terrible things to prisoners in order to get valuable information quickly. One of the main reasons Obama wanted to shut it down was because he wanted to return America to a “Moral High” once again. Is it worth having morality when immorality can help save lives? This is not only a question to be asked in this situation but all circumstances where dirty hands theory can be applied and analyzed. Hobbes’ is a political theorist who discusses the state of nature where there is no established order and everything is unregulated. This type of society can be dangerous and simply a survival of the fittest world where people harm each other for their own benefit. Would Hobbes agree with keeping Guantanamo Bay operational? If so, would he also  agree with torturing prisoners or other ways simply to get information? Or conversely, is Hobbes in support of the state of nature but has limitations on unmoral acts? All of these questions can truly only be answered by Hobbes himself but his strong support of the state of nature suggests he would agree with Obama’s decision.

I have attached the link to an article that describes when Obama signed to disassemble Guantanamo Bay. The article focuses on the fact that Obama wanted to be more moral and basically avoid the problem of having dirty hands. Which situation is better to have clean hands or dirty hands if the dirty hands come with useful information and outcomes? However, 3 years later Obama’s dirty hands captured Osama Bin Laden so the question remains unanswered.



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Studies at the University of Michigan

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3 Comments on “Dirty Hands and Guantanamo Bay”

  1. hjclec Says:

    This is such a tough topic that I don’t know if I would allow torture for valuable information. I don’t think that I could make that decision unless I was forced to, and even if I did I don’t think that I would ever be happy with my decision.

    I think that dirty hands are an unavoidable feature in politics, as does Martin Hollis in Dirty Hands. Therefore I do respect Obama a lot for actually making a decision for the United States, and living with it. Clearly, there is lots of controversy about Obama’s decision, and I feel that not everybody is going to agree upon what should be dont at Guantanamo Bay. I feel that stepping up and making a decision like that is a true sign of a leader.

    As for Hobbes, I have no idea what his thoughts on Guantanamo Bay would be. I know that Hobbes thinks that there’s a state of nature for people, and that it’s in people’s best interest to have a supreme ruler. Maybe he would be in support of having Obama, because he’s like a supreme ruler. And therefore he might just agree with whatever Obama would want.

    Another way of looking at this situation is that we, the citizens, can’t blame the president, because we appointed the president. Hollis even mentions in his paper on Dirty Hands that in a democracy, everybody’s hands are dirty. This thought is scary to me, because therefore it means that I’m a part of making Guantanamo Bay operational. I prefer to not even think about this, because it’s a situation in which I don’t know what’s right.

    Or maybe there is no such things as the dirty hands issue. Maybe there’s just right and wrong. Some say that if there’s torture involved, even if it were to bring about valuable information, then it is just wrong. This would make the case of Guantanamo Bay have an easy solution: that it needs to be shut down. Personally I don’t know if the answer if there is an easy answer, and the case of Guantanamo Bay will probably bother me for the rest of my life.

  2. blogger32 Says:

    I think this is a really interesting post, because something that I have always been fascinated by is Guantanamo Bay and what really goes on there. When addressing the issue of whether it was worth torturing a single individual to aid in the killing of the world’s most dangerous man, I think the answer is obvious. I believe it’s absolutely worth torturing an already convicted terrorist if it helps lead us to other ones. I think of it as the person being tortured has already proved that they have no regard for American lives, so why should we have so much regard for their’s?

    I think because Guantanamo Bay is a prison that houses only the most dangerous prisoners in the world, that one could argue those criminals have lost their entitlement to guaranteed safety. These people are not drug dealers or bank robbers…they are international terrorists who aim hope to kill mass numbers of Americans…in my opinion these people do not deserve to have their rights respected. I believe that Hobbes would very much disagree with me and would say that all people, no matter what they do deserve to have their rights intact, but a ruler such as Machiavelli, would definitely agree that anything we need to do to gain valuable information from these criminals should be done. Although I do agree with you that it’s important from a public relations standpoint to maintain high moral standards, as Machiavelli said “a Prince should disregard the reproach of cruelty where it enables him to keep his subjects united.” I think this quote is applicable here because by allowing torture to go on at Guantanamo, we are helping to ensure that our country stays united and our people stay safe. In my opinion our country’s well being is far more important than the individual liberties of an already convicted terrorist.

  3. sarahspath23 Says:

    Obama’s decision to dismantle Guantanamo Bay was one I think that directly opposed the concept of dirty hands. Whichever leader instituted Guantanamo Bay was to me a case of dirty hands because the means were brutal, but the end result was to ensure that no terrorist groups hurt the American people again. Therefore, by making the decision to close down Guantanamo Bay, President Obama seems to me to be taking a stance against doing whatever is necessary as long as the intentions had the American people at heart. I believe that the American people also felt that this was a move in the right direction for the U.S. This is because after becoming aware of the Guantanamo Bay situation through the release of horrific pictures of the prisoners, the American people were outraged. People were upset that their government instituted a place that did unimaginable things to the prisoners, even if those prisoners were dangerous people that hurt the U.S. in the past. U.S. citizens did not think that such actions were necessary.

    To get back to the current situation at hand though, I think that Obama’s initial decision is in opposition to dirty hands and very much welcomed by the people. However, the fact that Guantanamo Bay was not actually closed is another issue. I don’t know why this did not happen or who was involved in making it not happen, but it is possible that President Obama was not a part of it. Although, it would seem strange that a leader would dismantle such an institution and not make sure that it was followed through. If it is the case that Obama did know that Guantanamo Bay was not being closed, he should have done something to ensure it was if that was his decision for the people. Since nothing was done to make sure this happened, it is also possible that Obama changed his mind because he had knowledge that one of the prisoner’s knew Osama bin Laden’s location.

    We could speculate all day about why Guantanamo Bay was not closed and who knew about it staying open, but it is important to note that if Obama decided to keep it open for the reason I just mentioned, this would now be a case of dirty hands. I think that the search for Osama bin Laden, who had a huge part in killing so many Americans and hurting so many others both physically and emotionally, was a key priority for the government. Both the American people and the government felt that they deserved justice and that Osama bin Laden was a criminal that needed to be captured and put in prison. Therefore, assuming that this was a case of dirty hands, the Obama administration felt that the end goal of finding Osama bin Laden was worth keeping Guantanamo Bay open for a few key prisoners that had information about his whereabouts. According to dirty hands and also to Machiavelli, the means of torturing the prisoners to get this very important information (if that was the case), would be completely justified and even encouraged. Machiavelli in particular felt that there was no limit to what leaders should do in order to do what is best for their people. I think most Americans would agree that finding Osama bin Laden was in their best interest’s.

    I don’t know how most people feel about if the further torturing of the prisoners was worth the capturing (and killing) of Osama bin Laden. The killing of Osama bin Laden is also an issue of dirty hands, but I will stay focused on Guantanamo Bay. I would say that many Americans felt that Guantanamo Bay should never have been created or at least should never have had the kind of torture that occurred. I believe there wouldn’t even be a question if Osama bin Laden had not been captured from possible information from a Guantanamo Bay prisoner. Since he was found, people began to question if the means were really necessary to find Osama bin Laden or if he could’ve been found in a more civilized way. It is also important to say that Osama bin Laden’s capture was also felt to be necessary to ensure that there was no future harm to the American people. I don’t know if people feel that the awful torture of terrorists is justified by making sure that Americans are safe. This is a very difficult and moral question that people have to answer themselves. It is hard to know if there would be any consensus on this issue. On one hand, both what the terrorists did and Guantanamo Bay could be considered crimes. On the other hand, it may seem to be an issue of survival of the two groups in conflict.

    As far as Hobbes, it is difficult to know how he would’ve felt about this situation in particular. It could be said that since he was in strong support of an absolute ruler that he would have been okay with Guantanamo Bay if it was what the ruler decided. Also, within the prison, it was nothing like a state of nature because although everyone was self-interested, there was a clear alliance of us versus them. Hobbes thought that the state of nature created such fear of death and chaos and that is why people would give up their freedom to a ruler. According to Hobbes also, the people do not have a say in the government, so the people’s attitude towards Guantanamo Bay would not matter. It is the sovereign’s job to protect its people from outside forces, such as terrorists. Therefore, I do believe that Hobbes would be for keeping Guantanamo Bay open.

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