The Navy lawyer who led a successful Supreme Court challenge of the Bush administration’s military tribunals for detainees at Guantanamo Bay has been passed over for promotion and will have to leave the military.
Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, 44, will retire in March or April under the military’s "up or out" promotion system. Swift said last week he was notified he would not be promoted to commander.
He said the notification came about two weeks after the Supreme Court sided with him and against the White House in the case involving Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni who was Osama bin Laden’s driver.
"It was a pleasure to serve," Swift told the Miami Herald. He added he would have defended Hamdan even if he had known it would cut short his Navy career.
"All I ever wanted was to make a difference — and in that sense I think my career and personal satisfaction has been beyond my dreams," Swift said.
The Pentagon had no comment Sunday.
A graduate of the University of Seattle School of Law, Swift plans to continue defending Hamdan as a civilian.
The 36-year-old Hamdan was captured along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan while fleeing the U.S. invasion that was a response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Hamdan has acknowledged that bin Laden paid him $200 a month as his driver on a Kandahar farm, but he says he never joined al-Qaida or engaged in military fighting.
Hamdan turned to civilian courts to challenge the constitutionality of his war-crimes trial, a case that eventually led the Supreme Court to rule that President Bush had outstripped his authority when he created ad hoc military tribunals for prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Swift’s supervisor said he served with distinction.
"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. He added it was "quite a coincidence" that Swift was passed over for a promotion "within two weeks of the Supreme Court opinion."
Washington, D.C., attorney Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, said Swift was "a no-brainer for promotion." Swift joins many other distinguished Navy officers over the years who have seen their careers end prematurely, Fidell said.
"He brought real credit to the Navy," Fidell said. "It’s too bad that it’s unrequited love."