A true American hero

Standing up for the rule of law can be a dangerous things these days. Earlier this week it was reported that Lt. Commander Charles Swift was passed over for a promotion in the Navy, and will now have to leave the service. Swift is a Judge Advocate General Corps (JAG) lawyer who won a landmark Supreme Court case this past June. The prestigious National Law Journal ranked Swift among the nation’s top 100 lawyers.

With this kind of success, why was he denied a promotion? Because his client was Guantanamo detainee Salim Hamdan, and Swift had argued that President Bush’s military commissions were unconstitutional and in violation of international law. Because of his zealous representation of his client, because he believes so strongly in his oath to defend the Constitution and the rule of law, he is losing the military career he loves deeply.

Lt. Commander Swift and the four other JAG Corps lawyers who worked on cases involving the Guantanamo Bay detainees are truly remarkable. They resisted the military’s orders that they could only negotiate guilty pleas for their clients. Instead, they fought passionately in court and in the media for the right of their clients to have fair trials.

Swift’s spoke eloquently on Hardball in June in response to those who say that these detainees are terrorists who don’t deserve due process:

It’s not whether they deserve it or not. It’s how we conduct ourselves. It has to do where if we say that our opponent can cause us not to follow the rules anymore, then we’ve lost who we are. We’re the good guys. We’re the guys who follow the rule and the people we fight are the bad guys and we show that every day when we follow the rules, regardless of what they do. It’s what sets us apart. It’s what makes us great and in my mind, it’s what makes us undefeatable, ultimately.

It’s a shame that the Navy hasn’t recognized that Lt. Commander Swift is one of the good guys.

Sara in Philly

6 thoughts on “A true American hero

  1. The large majority of our armed services personnel are “good guys” and, though it goes without saying, “good women” as well. Spend any amount of time with one and you’ll see. Even the guys who strongly disagree with LtCom Swift are also good guys who are no less patriotic and no less caring for their fellow men and women but they simply have a different opinion on how things should be done. It doesn’t make them bad. Does it?

    In the top ranks of the military, things are different because military officers must be politically-minded to succeed. Even so, all military personnel ultimately report to the Secretary of Defense, who gives the military its orders and missions.

    So it isn’t the Navy that doesn’t recognize Swift’s goodness, it’s the top brass and Rumsfeld and of course the President, who all have strong political agendas to consider.

    Now the top brass folks are feeling pressure from our civilian leaders, so they shift that pressure down to their commanders and so on. But Swift did the right thing by not playing politics, and therefore he was never actually cut out for a promotion by today’s standards for promotions. It’s sad, but that’s how it is. It is also likely that his service record is less than ideal, and some of it may be his own fault and some of it not. There are many reasons why an officer or an enlisted man may be passed up for promotion. (I’m not saying Swift wasn’t railroaded, he probably was; simply, I’m offering the facts of military service promotions. Lots of good men and women get passed over for the siliest things).

    Anyway, the reason for this tirade is because it bugs me when people believe the military is inherently evil and warmongering and cruel. You know what, it isn’t. Ask most anyone that serves and they’ll tell you honestly that the very last thing they would ever want to do is go to war. And it is not because they fear dying, it is rather that these men and women know better than anyone exactly what war is and how horrible it is for everyone.

    As a former serviceman, so do I. And 99.9% of the guys and gals I served with were indeed “good guys.” From all walks of life, too. It is always a small minority of mental rejects who get the publicity when bad things happen. Well, bad things happen outside of military life, too… In fact, more people are raped, tortured, murdered, abused, kidnapped, and generally maligned in civilian life, with those numbers far exceeding the casualty rates in today’s present war. Just something to think about…

  2. Tonight Lt. Comm. Swift gave Keith Oberman on MSNBC about a 10 minute interview. He was impressive and showed no sense of regret or anger about the Navy’s failure to promote him.

    What was telling was his defense of his legal position by quoting Thomas Paine (I’m paraphrasing here) “A nation’s measure is taken not by how it treat our friends but how it treat its enemies,” a truth the Bush administration in its ignorance is blind to. (Ironic isn’t it that Swift, a mere Lt. Comm., has done more to defend and uphold the honor of the United States in one legal process than Bush has done in six years.) Swift also made the point that he’s still Hamdan’s attorney now that the case has been remanded to the US District court and that he expects to continue to defend Hamdan. I think Swift may have a few offers waiting for him when he retires.

  3. Bidge said:

    “It is also likely that his service record is less than ideal, and some of it may be his own fault and some of it not.”

    Followed by:

    “I’m not saying Swift wasn’t railroaded, he probably was; simply, I’m offering the facts”

    Actually, you were offering supposition, conjecture, and assumption.


    Swift was recognized as one of the nation’s top 100 lawyers, but he bucked the orders of the administration to railroad the person he was charged to defend. It should not be a surprise that an administration that values blind loyalty far more than even minimum competence would dis him.

  4. Ah, Radar. You must be considering journalism as a career, eh? Wonderful job of quoting out of context. How about finishing the sentence in the last quote?

    Yes, the first quote is and must be supposition (conjecture and assumption are supposition’s synonyms and thus redundant and unnecessary… but nice try to make it look impressive by padding it) since none of us are privy to Swift’s service record. The second quote, when complete, is accurate: I was offering up the facts of how military promotions work.

    I do have experience in how military promotions work. Did you know that one late arrival to work or a muster (roll call) can prevent a serviceman from getting promoted? It could. It has. Not always, and probably not usually, but it does happen. That offense may be “written up” and the serviceman may find himself up for non-judicial punishment (or Captain’s Mast in the Navy, if I recall correctly), which then is permanently added to the serviceman’s record.

    And that’s my point. No matter how great Swift lawyering skills are, if he made one mistake such as arriving late, even if it were unavoidable at the time, it could prevent promotion. Swift, while a lawyer, is also in the military and subject to the same rules and military laws as everyone else who serves without exception. Usually, what holds up promotions for most is not quite meeting the physical standards–perhaps someone is a little overweight, or cannot complete a run in the alloted time. These niggling things can hamper an otherwise perfect career…

    Nevertheless, there is some difference in the way promotions work for commissioned officers. They are held to additional standards that enlisted personnel are not, and in the higher ranks for officers it most certainly is political, since it is the politicians who decide on promotions.

    You should read up on that sometime, Radar. Fascinating stuff, really. I’m a hundred-percent sure that you won’t find the word “dis” (or its variant, “diss”) in such documents, though, so it might not be for you after all.

  5. So we excuse the treatment of Lt. Commander Swift because his bosses were “just following orders”?

    Of course blame lies with the administration for wanting to punish him, but the heads of the Navy have to be held accountable too.

    We can explain the treatment because of politics, but we can’t excuse it.

    Swift gave up his career to follow what he knew was right. It’s obvious his bosses don’t have the same convictions.

    Is it easy to put your entire career on the line? Of course not. That’s what makes what Swift has done so incredible in today’s world.

  6. My sincere aplogies to the blog owner. I broke one of my own rules and engaged someone here who posts only anonymously, forgetting what prompted me to adopt that rule in the first place.

    My bad, my apology.

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