Former Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, counsel to an enemy combatant whose legal case made U.S. Supreme Court history, has been named acting director of the newly established International Humanitarian Law Clinic at Emory University School of Law in Atlanta.
Swift, who represents Salim Hamdan in his ongoing legal fight against his enemy combatant designation, also will teach international humanitarian law, criminal law, evidence and military law, as a visiting associate professor at the law school this fall.
Swift, a runner-up for The National Law Journal's lawyer of the year in 2005 for his work on behalf of Yemeni detainee Hamdan, was denied a promotion to full commander and under Navy policy, he was required to leave the service. Shortly before the promotion denial, he and his co-counsel, professor Neal Katyal of Georgetown University Law Center, had won their controversial Supreme Court challenge with a ruling that the military commission system for trying enemy combatants violated military and international law, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld.
He and Katyal continue to represent Hamdan, a driver for Osama bin Laden, in challenges to later changes in the Military Commission Act.
Swift's interest in Emory, he said, was triggered during a spring semester visit when he gave a lecture on U.S. detention policies in Guantanamo Bay. The law school, he said, expressed an interest in making a practical difference in the field of international humanitarian law.
"International humanitarian law governs the use of military force, and as such, it represents the ground floor for the protection of human rights," he said.
The idea for an IHL clinic evolved out of the work of six Emory law students this past academic year, according to the law school. The students were part of a course that included a workshop with attorneys at the Atlanta office of Sutherland Asbill & Brennan. The students helped attorneys handling pro bono cases for Guantanamo detainees.
With Swift at the helm, the students will gain firsthand experience in the practice of humanitarian law by assisting organizations, law firms and military tribunals in prosecuting or defending individuals.
"It was not one of those things that started as a job interview, but it became one, and those are usually the best," Swift said. "It fit in very naturally."
Swift said he took on the "acting director" position with the possibility it would become permanent. "It's something that's going to be new for me, a new area. If it works, then we'll see how it can work permanently. I'm very excited."