Regarding Dahlia’s post , Mukasey’s comments were unwise but not hard to understand. Death is the supreme punishment for an ordinary criminal, but it is also the supreme test for people who seek to live up to their ideals. We would not remember Nathan Hale today if he had received a prison term (“I regret that I have but 30 years to give to my country”). The confusion here is that Americans see the 9/11 plotters as ordinary criminals, while the plotters see themselves as making a sacrifice for the sake of a higher ideallike soldiers who undertake a suicide mission. The death penalty (for those not opposed to it) vindicates our beliefs and theirs. Life imprisonment would diminish both . No punishment would allow us both to vindicate our ideals and to prevent them from vindicating theirs, possibly enhancing their stature among like-minded believers. No such conflict exists for ordinary crimes. Hence Mukasey’s puzzlement.