Hamdan’s Lawyer Forced Out of the Navy

by Kevin Jon Heller

I usually avoid commenting on Gitmo issues, deferring to those who have far more competence in national security issues than I. But I can’t help but point out how sad this story makes me:

The Navy lawyer who led a successful Supreme Court challenge of the Bush administration’s military tribunals for detainees at Guantanamo Bay has been passed over for promotion and will have to leave the military, The Miami Herald reported Sunday.

Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, 44, will retire in March or April under the military’s “up or out” promotion system. Swift said last week he was notified he would not be promoted to commander.

He said the notification came about two weeks after the Supreme Court sided with him and against the White House in the case involving Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni who was Osama bin Laden’s driver.

The most ironic aspect of the story has to be the reaction of Swift’s supervisor, who describes the timing of his dismissal as a “coincidence”:

“Charlie has obviously done an exceptional job, a really extraordinary job,” said Marine Col. Dwight Sullivan, the Pentagon’s chief defense counsel for Military Commissions. He added it was “quite a coincidence” that Swift was passed over for a promotion “within two weeks of the Supreme Court opinion.”

Indeed. After all, why promote a JAG officer who, in addition to doing a “really extraordinary job,” has been awarded 15 commendations in his 18-year Naval career, including a Surface Warfare Badge, 2 Navy Commendation Medals, 6 Navy Achievement Medals, a Navy Expeditionary Medal, a Humanitarian Service Medal, and 4 Sea Service Ribbons?

Swift, however, remains unfazed:

“It was a pleasure to serve,” Swift told the newspaper. He added he would have defended Hamdan even if he had known it would cut short his Navy career.

“All I ever wanted was to make a difference — and in that sense I think my career and personal satisfaction has been beyond my dreams,” Swift said.

It would be easy to conclude that Swift’s dedication is exceptional, but that would be a mistake. JAG officers are among the most skilled and ethical attorneys I’ve had the pleasure to meet, and I’m confident that, to a one, they would have acquitted themselves in Swift’s position just as honorably. And I’m equally confident that, had Swift prosecuted Hamdan instead of defended him, he would have acted just as skilfully and ethically. That’s what makes JAG officers unique — they can do their job, and do it well, no matter what hat in the military justice system they wear at any given time.

Kudos to Lt. Commander Swift.

Shame on the U.S. Navy.


2 Responses

  1. I’m flogging my tribute to Swift as hard as I can.

    http://mountainphilosopher.blogs…nder-of- us.html

  2. Here is the working link to the Swift tribute:


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