Former Guantánamo detainee naval lawyer Charlie Swift speaks at Coastal Law

Charles Swift

In April, Florida Coastal School of Law’s special programs committee hosted former Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG) Officer Charlie Swift. Swift spoke about his experiences with the landmark United States Supreme Court decision Hamdan v. Rumsfeld.

During his introduction of Swift, Robert Hornstein, Coastal Law Assistant Professor of Law and special programs committee member discussed great lawyers of the past who were challenged as citizens to act against popular sentiment. These lawyers displayed the courage, at the expense of their own personal interests, to carry out their responsibility to the greater ideal. To this list of lawyers, Hornstein noted, history will add the name of Charlie Swift.

Swift gained national attention when as a JAG officer he was assigned to defend Osama Bin Laden’s driver Salim Ahmed Hamdan. Swift joined up with legal scholar Neal Katyal and sued the President and Secretary of Defense over the new military-tribunal system, an action that culminated in the 2006 United States Supreme Court decision Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. In that case, the Supreme Court held that military commissions set up by the Bush administration to try detainees at Guantánamo Bay lacked “the power to proceed because its structures and procedures violate both the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the four Geneva Conventions signed in 1949.” Hamdan v. Rumsfeld is considered one of the most significant Supreme Court cases ever decided.

Well received by the attendees, Swift was very generous with his time, staying late after his prepared remarks to answer a range of questions from students and faculty about Hamdan, his client, and the professional toll resulting from such a high-profile case.

In 2006, Swift retired from the U.S. Navy, but remained on the Hamdan case as a pro bono civilian counsel. Swift later served as visiting professor and head of the Humanitarian Law Clinic at Emory University School of Law in Atlanta, Georgia. He has since entered private practice in Seattle, Washington, opening the law partnership of Swift & McDonald, P.S., specializing in state, federal and military criminal defense.

The special programs committee felt that Swift’s story was a powerful, compelling lesson to Coastal Law students about professional courage, the rule of law and ensuring that those who have no other allies are still represented in our system.