The price for joining al Qaeda, training to kill Americans and then secreting yourself on an Illinois college campus to wait for orders is a mere eight-year prison sentence. That's a light punishment for a man who pled guilty to a charge of conspiring to provide material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization.
U.S. District Judge Michael M. Mihm could have sent Ali al-Marri away for nearly twice as long - 15 years - but instead, he chose to show mercy for six years the Qatar native already has spent in a U.S. Navy brig.
Mercy was not on al-Marri's mind when he trained at al Qaeda camps and stayed in Pakistani safe houses. He was not contemplating the better angels of our nature when he learned how to use weapons and protect his communications from law enforcement snooping.
When al-Marri met with Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the terrorist duo were not studying how the Koran and the Bible teach forgiveness. The purpose of his training and placement in America was as part of a conspiracy to kill American civilians, to kill without thought or remorse at the order of superiors on the other side of the globe.
Mercy is a noble virtue, but in combat with an amoral enemy, mercy can deliver a dangerous message. A country where trained killers get a mere eight-year prison sentence risks being seen as spineless instead of righteous. Already, men released from the prison at Guantanamo Bay have returned to fighting against the United States.
Closing Guantanamo as President Obama has promised will bring more al-Marris to the United States, where more federal judges will have the opportunity to make mistakes that put us all at risk.