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Holder touts Ghailani's life sentence

Attorney General Eric Holder called today's life sentence -- the maximum allowed by law -- for convicted bombing conspirator Ahmed Ghailani a demonstration of "the strength of the American justice system in holding terrorists accountable for their actions." 

While the jury's verdict in November was something of a setback for the government, finding Ghailani guilty of only one of 285 counts in the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in Africa, today's sentence of life in prison was what the government had urged the judge to impose. Ghailani was convicted in November of helping al Qaeda plotters obtain the materials they needed to build two powerful bombs that killed 213 people at the embassy in Kenya and 11 more at the embassy in Tanzania.

Today's legal victory for the government is somewhat muted, however. Ghailani, once viewed as a test case for putting detainees from Guantanamo Bay on trial in U.S. civilian courts, may turn out to the last such case. 

Holder said the sentence shows the government's resolve to "use every tool available to the government to do so," invoking the language he has employed to argue that terrorism detainees can be effectively tried in regular civilian courts and not only before military commissions.

But Congress has blocked the government from any further use of one of those tools, by revoking the authority to bring any more Gitmo prisoners to the U.S. to face trial in civilian courts. While Justice Department officials continue to believe that such high-profile terror suspects as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed should be tried in the U.S., there's a growing sense that if the 9/11 detainees are ever going to be put on trial, it will probably be before a military commission at Guantanamo.