Ten years have passed since the opening of the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and the anniversary was marked with much hand-wringing. There were articles by former detainees, a statement by retired military personnel, denunciations of President Obama for his failure to close the site, and tear-stained statements by human rights groups.
In a decade of policy experimentation at Guantánamo, some efforts have succeeded, some have failed tragically, and some are still in process. But far more interesting than the past ten years is what the next ten will look like. And that subject seems oddly absent from the conversation.
Make no mistake: there will be another ten years of Guantánamo. (Even if Guantánamo itself miraculously closed, we would have to build it somewhere else.) Our forces already hold more detainees than they can safely release or put on trial before any tribunal to which this country would attach its name. And in any future conflict against nonstate actors, our forces are likely to capture more of such people, and we will have to put them somewhere. If the United States is lucky, we may be able to reduce the number of detainees further than the combined efforts of the George W. Bush and Obama administrations have so far managed. But we will not eliminate it, and even if we could, we cannot guarantee that we will not replenish it all of a sudden in some future, spasmodic set of military operations abroad.