Lt. Commander Charles Swift is a JAG lawyer who recently won a Supreme Court decision that upheld the values of the American justice system and reaffirmed that we are a nation of laws. So, of course, he was fired.
In the case of the Navy, they call it "passed over for promotion." It's an "up or out" system. So, when he was denied promotion that meant Lt. Commander Swift's career in the US military was over. He has to pack his bags. After he is "retired" in March or April, he can no longer serve in the United States Navy.
So, quietly, two weeks after he won the landmark ruling in the Hamdan case, he was told he would be relieved of duty. Here's my favorite quote:
"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.
Sullivan added it was "quite a coincidence" that Swift was passed over for a promotion "within two weeks of the Supreme Court opinion."
Quite a coincidence? I don't know if he's kidding, but that is funny. The price for doing the right thing in the Bush years is always high and always career threatening. If you lie for them, you get the Presidential Medal of Freedom (which has now disgracefully become a badge of shame rather than honor). If you stand up for what's right, you get crushed. And apparently no one gives a damn.
Where's the uproar? Where was the uproar when General Eric Shinseki and Army Secretary Thomas White were moved out of the Pentagon for having the courage to tell Don Rumsfeld the truth about troop levels? Where was the uproar when Bunnatine Greenhouse was removed from her job as chief procurement officer for the Army Corps of Engineers when she complained that Halliburton was unfairly receiving no-bid contracts and was getting away with overcharging the US government? Where is the uproar now that we have lost the service of yet another American hero?
Lt. Commander Swift was originally assigned to the case of Guantanamo detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan to play the role of the patsy. He didn't quite have the level of expertise that such a high-profile case would normally require. He expressed considerable surprise when he was selected for the role. I am sure that back then it didn't even occur to him that they might have picked him precisely because he didn't have much experience.
Then he was basically asked to throw the case. Military prosecutors strongly suggested that he arrange for a guilty plea. When Swift decided to actually represent his client's interests, his superiors could not have been pleased. They were looking for a couple of early guilty pleas to give Bush's military tribunals an air of legitimacy that they sorely lacked. Who was Lt. Commander Swift to stand up for the American and military justice system? Who did he think he was asking for a fair trial?
Of course, it turned out Lt. Commander Swift was right. The Supreme Court agreed with him that the trials were not fundamentally fair. They were outside of our system of justice, outside of our laws and outside of our values. America became the greatest country on earth by developing a system of human rights, not by trampling on it. Everyone gets a fair trial, no matter who they are. It isn't about them, it's about us.
It doesn't matter if it's Tim McVeigh or Salim Hamdan or Charles Manson or Ramzi Yousef. The verdicts in the trials judge the defendants. The trials themselves judge us. What are we made of? What do we believe in? Lt. Commander Charles Swift understood this. Apparently his supervisors at the Pentagon did not -- and to this day, even after having been scolded by the Supreme Court of the United States of America -- still do not.
Lt. Commander Swift was an American hero because he stood up for real American principles when it was not the popular thing to do and he had to fight his own chain of command to do it. In the movies, he would walk into the sunset as the audience applauded. In this grotesque world that the Bush administration has created, he is walked out the back door with hardly a peep. Another career buried, another man betrayed, another principle lost. And the band plays on.
But we shall keep these names with us. We shall guard them closely. There are men and women of courage among us. We will not forget. Their day will come again, when America is great again.
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