Over the course of the Obama administration’s two-year effort to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Attorney General Eric Holder has presided over a series of Pyrrhic victories. Today he won another, as the judge in a federal trial in Manhattan sentenced Ahmed Ghailani to life without parole for his participation in the 1998 embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya.
Holder is arguing the sentence is proof that civilian trials against terrorists work. Which they generally they do—everyone from Ramzi Youssef to the blind Sheikh and other al Qaeda associates are serving life sentences without parole after trials in civilian courts. Said Holder in the wake of today’s sentence: “Hundreds of individuals have now been convicted in federal court of terrorism or terrorism-related crimes since Sept. 11, 2001.”
But the administration lost the political battle long ago, and the Ghailani decision is the last dying light from the ashes of Obama and Holder’s plan to close Gitmo using the federal courts. After Ghailani was convicted of just one count out of hundreds last November, congressional opponents of civilian trials moved a measure blocking transfer of Gitmo detainees to the U.S. as part of the defense authorization bill that passed last December. Now the administration’s stuck bolstering military trials it has tried to downplay.