But closing Guantanamo or bringing American justice there does not end the problem of terrorist detention. It simply causes the government to address the problem in different ways. A little-noticed consequence of elevating standards at Guantanamo is that the government has sent very few terrorist suspects there in recent years. Instead, it holds more terrorists -- without charge or trial, without habeas rights, and with less public scrutiny -- at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Or it renders them to countries where interrogation and incarceration standards are often even lower.
The cat-and-mouse game does not end there. As detentions at Bagram and traditional renditions have come under increasing legal and political scrutiny, the Bush and Obama administrations have relied more on other tactics. They have secured foreign intelligence services to do all the work -- capture, incarceration and interrogation -- for all but the highest-level detainees. And they have increasingly employed targeted killings, a tactic that eliminates the need to interrogate or incarcerate terrorists but at the cost of killing or maiming suspected terrorists and innocent civilians alike without notice or due process.
There are at least two problems with this general approach to incapacitating terrorists. First, it is not ideal for security. Sometimes it would be more useful for the United States to capture and interrogate a terrorist (if possible) than to kill him with a Predator drone. Often the United States could get better information if it, rather than another country, detained and interrogated a terrorist suspect. Detentions at Guantanamo are more secure than detentions in Bagram or in third countries.
The second problem is that terrorist suspects often end up in less favorable places. Detainees in Bagram have fewer rights than prisoners at Guantanamo, and many in Middle East and South Asian prisons have fewer yet. Likewise, most detainees would rather be in one of these detention facilities than be killed by a Predator drone. We congratulate ourselves when we raise legal standards for detainees, but in many respects all we are really doing is driving the terrorist incapacitation problem out of sight, to a place where terrorist suspects are treated worse.
It is tempting to say that we should end this pattern and raise standards everywhere. Perhaps we should extend habeas corpus globally, eliminate targeted killing and cease cooperating with intelligence services from countries that have poor human rights records. This sentiment, however, is unrealistic. The imperative to stop the terrorists is not going away. The government will find and exploit legal loopholes to ensure it can keep up our defenses.