As Scott Shane ironically notes in the opening to his excellent wrap up article in the New York Times, John Walker Lindh, the so-called "American Taliban" who was tried in a federal court received twenty years (in a plea bargain to avoid possible life in prison), while David Hicks, an Australian Jihadi with a similar profile ended up walking away from a Guantanamo tribunal with a sentence of seven years, most of it already served.
On the op-ed page, former FBI special agent, Ali H. Soufan, notes that federal law is plenty tough on supporters of terrorism:
Prosecutors have at their disposal numerous statutes with clear sentencing guidelines. Providing material support, for example, can result in a 15-year sentence or even the death penalty if Americans are killed.
No doubt, much of the criticism of Attorney General Eric Holder for announcing that terror suspects would be tried in federal courts is cynical political maneuvering by Republicans who were willing to remain silent while the same approach was pursued by the previous administration. But the reason it rings true for many people and the media, is because for decades, politicians of both parties, have portrayed the federal courts as perennially "soft on crime."