Profile: Charles Swift
Charles Swift was a participant or observer in the following events:
A hearing is held for Guantanamo detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who is being accused of being a member of al-Qaeda, conspiring to commit acts of terrorism, and destruction of property. The five-member military commission—the first to conduct a trial since World War II—is presided over by Army Col. Peter Brownback, who, according to the Pentagon, has 22 years of experience as a judge advocate and almost 10 as a military judge. [BBC, 6/29/2004; Los Angeles Times, 8/25/2004] Hamdan’s military lawyer, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, begins his argument with an attack on Brownback’s qualification to practice law. He calls attention to the fact that Bownback, a retired military judge, is not a current member of the bar in his home state of Virginia. He also alleges that the judge’s office had inappropriate out-of-court discussions with the Office of Military Commissions, and that Brownback had said in a meeting with defense lawyers that a speedy trial was “not an issue here.” Though Brownback denies making the comment, Swift produces a recording of the conversation. But Bownback isn’t the only one put on trial by Swift. He also targets three members of the commission and an alternate member. Swift argues that three have “extensive backgrounds” in dealing with operations in Afghanistan, the treatment of detainees, and military intelligence, and therefore are not in a position to pass an unbiased judgment on the defendant. The alternate member, Lt. Col. Curt S. Cooper, Swift demonstrates, knows little about international law. When asked, “Do you know what the Geneva Convention is, sir?” Cooper replies: “Not specifically. No, Sir. And that’s being honest.” But, he adds, he knows that the Convention consists of three articles. But as Swift points out, that is wrong. “Actually, there are six, Sir,” Swift says, correcting him. Air Force Col. Christopher C. Bogden is the only commission member not challenged by Swift. [Los Angeles Times, 8/25/2004; New York Times, 8/25/2004] In addition to his attacks on the commission members, Swift challenges the merits of the charges against his client. For example he argues that Hamden was denied a speedy trial and that the laws he has been accused of violating were written after the alleged offense.
Following criticism over their impartiality (see August 24, 2004), retired Army Maj. Gen. John D. Altenburg Jr. removes three members from the six-member military commission that is trying enemy combatants at the Guantanamo base in Cuba. [Independent, 10/23/2004] Altenburg heads the Appointing Authority for the Office of Military Commissions, which selects members of the military commissions. [Los Angeles Times, 8/25/2004] Army Col. Peter Brownback retains his job. Brownback’s eligibility to preside over the Guantanamo hearings had earlier been challenged by Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, the attorney for detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan. Critics suggest his close personal relationship with Altenburg is a factor. Brownback was a close colleague of Altenburg at Fort Bragg. He attended the wedding of Altenburg’s son, and his wife worked in Altenburg’s office. Swift criticizes the decision not to remove Brownback and says the standards “make no sense.”
The Supreme Court rules 5-4 that foreign terror suspects held without charge at Guantanamo Bay have the Constitutional right to challenge their detention in US civilian courts. The Court splits along ideological lines, with the more liberal and moderate members supporting the finding, and the more conservative members opposing it. Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered a centrist, writes the ruling. He writes, “The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times.” The ruling specifically strikes down the portion of the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006) that denies detainees their habeas corpus rights to file petitions. [Associated Press, 6/12/2008; Associated Press, 6/12/2008] The case is Boumediene v. Bush, and was filed in the Supreme Court in March 2007 on behalf of Lakhdar Boumediene, a Bosnian citizen held in the Guantanamo camp since 2002 (see January 18, 2002). It was combined with a similar case, Al Odah v United States (see October 20, 2004). [Oyez (.org), 6/2007; Jurist, 6/29/2007]
'Stinging Rebuke' for Bush Administration - The ruling is considered a serious setback for the Bush administration (a “stinging rebuke,” in the words of the Associated Press), which insists that terror suspects detained at Guantanamo and elsewhere have no rights in the US judicial system. It is unclear whether the ruling will lead to prompt hearings for detainees [Associated Press, 6/12/2008; Associated Press, 6/12/2008] ; law professor James Cohen, who represents two detainees, says, “Nothing is going to happen between June 12 and January 20,” when the next president takes office. Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr says the decision will not affact war crimes trials already in the works: “Military commission trials will therefore continue to go forward.”
Scalia: Ruling Will 'Cause More Americans to Be Killed' - President Bush says he disagrees with the ruling, and says he may seek new legislation to keep detainees under lock and key. Justice Antonin Scalia, the leader of the Court’s ideological right wing, agrees; in a “blistering” dissent, he writes that the decision “will make the war harder on us. It will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed.” In his own dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts argues that the ruling strikes down “the most generous set of procedural protections ever afforded aliens detained by this country as enemy combatants.” Joining Scalia and Roberts in the minority are Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. Voting in the majority are Kennedy and Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter, and John Paul Stevens.
Military Tribunals 'Doomed,' Says Navy Lawyer - Former Navy lawyer Charles Swift, who argued a similar case before the Supreme Court in Hamdan v Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006), says he believes the ruling removes any legal basis for keeping Guantanamo open, and says that military tribunals are “doomed.” The entire rationale for Guantanamo and the tribunals, Swift says, is the idea that “constitutional protections wouldn’t apply.” But now, “The court said the Constitution applies. They’re in big trouble.” Democrats and many human rights organizations hail the ruling as affirming the US’s commitment to the rule of law; some Republican lawmakers say the ruling puts foreign terrorists’ rights over the safety of the American people. Vincent Warren, the head of the Center for Constitutional Rights, says: “The Supreme Court has finally brought an end to one of our nation’s most egregious injustices. By granting the writ of habeas corpus, the Supreme Court recognizes a rule of law established hundreds of years ago and essential to American jurisprudence since our nation’s founding.” [Associated Press, 6/12/2008]
Entity Tags: Stephen Breyer, Vincent Warren, US Supreme Court, Samuel Alito, Military Commissions Act, Peter Carr, Bush administration (43), Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Charles Swift, Clarence Thomas, David Souter, George W. Bush, Lakhdar Boumediene, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens, James Cohen, John G. Roberts, Jr, US Department of Justice
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.