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Guantanamo’s Ethical and Political Issues Case Study

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Updated: Apr 1st, 2020

The global political arena is dominated by instances of ethical and moral dilemmas. Governments have had to make tough choices that seem to transgress ethical, moral, and sometimes political boundaries. In the United States, both Obama and Bush administrations have had several differences in political and ethical opinions. Consequently, when Obama came to power, part of his job was to reverse some of the policies that had been instituted by President Bush.

One prominent example of such policies touched on the establishment and operations of the Guantanamo Bay detention center. There are several ethical and political issues surrounding the operation and maintenance of the Guantanamo Bay detention center. The detention center was set up as a tool for helping the United States government in the war against terror.

However, several ethical and political dilemmas have since arisen from the operation of Guantanamo Bay. The detention center was set up through an executive order, and President Obama sought to use a similar order to shut it down. This paper explores how Guantanamo Bay affected the ethical and political institutions of the United States Government.

The history of Guantanamo Bay dates back to 2002 when the United States government sought to transform the naval base into a prison camp for ‘extraordinarily dangerous’ prisoners (Shamir-Borer, 2007). Former President Bush was instrumental in the opening of the prison as it was part of his anti-terror program. Since the Guantanamo Bay was established, it has detained a total of seven hundred and seventy-five prisoners. However, four hundred and twenty of these prisoners have been released without facing any charges.

Sometimes prisoners remain in the detention center for several days after they have been acquitted. The government also fears to return other prisoners to their home countries as they might be persecuted (Sulmasy, 2009). In 2005, an executive order that sought to restrict the prisoners’ judicial regimen to the military justice system was instituted.

Consequently, the detainees at Guantanamo Bay could not be eligible for the non-military judicial procedure. However, this executive order was faulted by the Supreme Court because it sought the indefinite detention of prisoners. In a rejoinder, the Bush administration passed the MCA (Military Commissions Act of 2006) whose aim was to give detainees fair and just military trials.

One of the political dilemmas surrounding the establishment of Guantanamo Bay is the MCA. The MCA fails to comply with the international rules of warfare or the fundamental principles of the constitution (Egan, 2007). For instance, the MCA endorses tribunals that contradict the existing international conflicts and warfare guidelines. The specifics of this contradiction were highlighted by the Supreme Court’s decision in the case pitting the secretary of defense against Osama bin Laden’s chauffeur, Salim Hamdan.

In its judgment, the Supreme Court ruled that the MCA “lacks the power to proceed because its structures and procedures violate both the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the four Geneva Conventions signed in 1949” (Murphy, 2011). After this ruling, several stakeholders added their voices to the debate on the importance of executive powers during times of war. Some scholars have argued that the Supreme Court’s decision undermined the executive and lacked the element of restraint.

The emotions surrounding the war on terrorism contributed to the heated debate on the constitutionality of the MCA. Those who were supporting the abolishment of the MCA argued that the executive alone could not be responsible for the fate of war prisoners. Therefore, the contribution of the judiciary in the decision against war prisoners was a welcome idea.

The increase in executive power, as portrayed by the activities surrounding the Guantanamo bay, presents several ethical scenarios. The aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks left Americans looking for a higher power that would offer a lasting solution to the terrorism problem. President Bush filled the void by overstretching the extent of his executive powers.

The President’s ambitions were solidified by the Patriot Act of 2001. This legislation gave law-enforcement agents a wider jurisdiction when they are conducting search and seizure missions. In addition, the law facilitated for unexplained detentions and added to the definitions of terrorist-related activities (Drumbl, 2006). The Guantanamo Bay acted as a support mechanism for the Patriot Act and the executive powers.

Ironically, the Obama administration is relying on similar executive powers in its efforts towards shutting down the Guantanamo prison. However, the president’s efforts are hindered by several ethical and political hurdles. For instance, other governments are against the repatriation of prisoners back to their countries because the detainees still carry the risk of terrorism. Other governments are prepared to persecute Guantanamo Bay detainees without consideration of their innocence (Ross, 2010).

These political quagmires have delayed the closure of the prison as the United States government seeks to uphold ethics when dealing with the Guantanamo detainees. To circumnavigate the ethical and political hurdles facing the Guantanamo prison, legislators have proposed the annexing of the Guantanamo Island, thereby exempting it from the Unites States’ jurisprudence. However, this approach is only seen as a means of upholding political correctness as opposed to serving the country’s security needs.

The benefits of setting up the Guantanamo prison are often overshadowed by political and ethical issues. The prison was a manifestation of executive powers, but the same powers have been unable to close it. Most of the people who are advocating for Guantanamo’s closure cite the unethical nature of the establishment. On the other hand, the prison’s supporters claim political correctness cannot sustain the internal security of the country.


Drumbl, M. A. (2006). Expressive value of prosecuting and punishing terrorists: Hamdan, the Geneva Conventions, and International Criminal Law, The Geo. Wash. L. Review, 75(1), 1165.

Egan, M. J. (2007). Refusing to settle for an unsettled law: the controversy surrounding the Military Commissions Act and the Ethical Implications of Compliance. Geo. J. Legal Ethics, 20(1), 547.

Murphy, S. D. (2011). Evolving Geneva Convention Paradigms in the war on terrorism: applying the core rules to the release of persons deemed unprivileged combatants. Geo. Wash. L. Review, 75(3), 1105.

Ross, J. (2010). Closing Guantanamo Bay: the future of detainees. Neo Americanist, 24(1), 32-33.

Shamir-Borer, E. (2007). Revisiting Hamdan v. Rumsfeld’s Analysis of the Laws of Armed Conflict. Emory Int’l L. Review, 21(2), 601-602.

Sulmasy, G. M. (2009). Legal Landscape after Hamdan: The Creation of Homeland Security Courts, The. New Eng. J. Int’l & Comp. Law, 13(1), 1-3.

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