A Hero in Every Sense of the Word

I am not a big fan of Vanity Fair magazine because, well, it's so vain, because Dominick Dunne (forgive the blasphemy here, folks) has become unreadable, and because one of my first girlfriends ever used to work there and when I look at the masthead now I want to barf. But let's give credit where credit is due. If you can make it past all the gossipy crap and high-faluting image-making junk in the March issue of the magazine, Marie Brenner's profile of JAG lawyer Charles Swift is a fascinating and important and detailed look at one of the most important and heroic legal figures of the 21st century.

You are probably surprised by that description because you probably don't know who Charles Swift is. He is the military lawyer who stood up to his bosses at the Pentagon and fought the good fight-- indeed is still fighting it-- against the injustice and unfairness inherent in our government's policies toward the terror detainees currently being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Swift is one of the lawyers who represented Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Gitmo detainee who won a monumental victory last summer before the U.S. Supreme Court only to see the effect of the ruling effectively overturned by a Republican Congress on the eve of its mid-term election defeat. You want a good 17-page (online) summary of what's wrong with our legal policy toward the war on terror? Ready Brenner's work.

But back to Swift. Why is he a hero? Because he stood up as a lawyer at the cost of his own career. Because he continues to fight even after it has become clear through the dreadful Military Commissions Act of 2006 Congress and the White House have been willing to conspire to deprive the detainees of a chance at a fair trial. Because he has held true, despite tremendous pressures, to a core belief (supported by some politicians and judges, to be sure) that what is happening down at Gitmo, in our name, is not consistent with this country's core values that, if all goes well, ought to live on beyond this nebulous war on terrorism in which we fight.

I have not been in the military and so perhaps I cannot make that claim. But Lt. Commander Swift is. And he can. And as near as I can tell his voice and his message and his principled stand are all loud and clear. Good for him. And good for the magazine for giving Brenner the space to spread the word.

By Andrew Cohen |  February 13, 2007; 8:45 AM ET
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A small reminder from the CBS News web site, old, but worth remembering that the so-called "terrorism detainees" are not ordinary suspect some fictional story but actual enemy combatants engaged in a war against the American nation.

AP) U.S. military officials say that despite being freed in exchange for signing pledges to renounce violence, at least seven former prisoners of the United States at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have returned to terrorism, at times with deadly consequences.

At least two are believed to have died in fighting in Afghanistan, and a third was recaptured during a raid of a suspected training camp in Afghanistan, said Lt. Cmdr. Flex Plexico, a Pentagon spokesman. Others are at large.

Additional former detainees are said to have expressed a desire to rejoin the fight, be it against U.N. peacekeepers in Afghanistan, Americans in Iraq or Russian soldiers in Chechnya.

Posted by: Contistutionalist | February 13, 2007 05:40 PM

How do we know that they are "actual enemy combatants" without a trial? Where's the evidence? Where's the testimony? Don't they have the right to face their accusers and to have legal counsel in doing so? Simply declaring someone to be guilty without giving them a chance to respond in some legal fashion is not the way we do things in this country. We believe in due process, not in simple untried declarations of guilt.

Posted by: Nick | February 14, 2007 06:59 PM

There's also an article in the March issue of Esquire, written by Swift.

Posted by: Jawja | February 14, 2007 10:54 PM

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