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Washington — In the Navy generally, unqualified officers don’t often get promoted but lots of very qualified officers get passed over, said a former Navy Judge Advocate General. In the latter category, he added, is Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, counsel to an enemy combatant whose legal case made U.S. Supreme Court history last term. Swift, 44, a runner-up for The National Law Journal‘s lawyer of the year for his work on behalf of Yemeni detainee Salim Hamdan, recently was notified that he had been denied a promotion to full commander. Under Navy policy, the denial means he must leave the service when he completes his 20th year-officially next Sept. 1, but with accrued vacation and leave time, perhaps as early as next June if he chooses. “All I know is he is a good officer,” said retired Rear Adm. John D. Hutson, dean of the Franklin Pierce Law Center. “From what I saw of him when I was Judge Advocate General of the Navy and since then, he is someone the Navy should be proud of. “And for all those who doubted whether enemy combatants would get good military defense counsel, they just have to look at Charlie Swift.” Off the career path Swift was assigned to represent Hamdan, a chauffeur to Osama bin Laden. In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, he challenged the constitutionality and legality of President Bush’s military tribunals, a challenge that ended victoriously in a major separation-of-powers ruling by the Supreme Court last June. Since then, Swift has testified in Congress on the parameters of a legally constituted tribunal process.A Naval Academy graduate and graduate of Seattle University School of Law, Swift said the denied promotion is not retaliation for his work on behalf of Hamdan. “The Hamdan case put me out of the normal career path and I was aware of that when I took it,” he said. “I kept choosing jobs that I liked doing, knowing that my career was not as rounded as some. I love the courtroom. I do it really well.” Swift said he does not know yet what he will do when he leaves the service. He has a master’s in trial advocacy, he noted, which would allow him to teach, perhaps in a school clinic so he could still handle cases, or go to a law firm. “The biggest thing for me is find a way to keep up with Hamdan,” he said. “I promised him I would stay to the end. I’ve never left a client.” Although Swift admits to being a “little disappointed” at being passed over for promotion, he said he is happy with his career in the JAG corps. “All I ever wanted to be was what the public the thinks of as being a lawyer,” he said. “The JAG corps let me do that and gave me some of the most fascinating assignments of the last 10 years. There aren’t many jobs that give you the kind of opportunities I’ve had for professional success.” Neal Katyal of Georgetown University Law Center, who worked with Swift on Hamdan and argued the case in the Supreme Court, called Swift “a great lawyer and any government agency or private law firm would be lucky to have him.” Hutson echoed that assessment, adding that litigation can be a “hard career path” within the JAG corps. “In the two contexts in which I have known him, he has performed superbly-in the Vieques, Puerto Rico controversy, and in Hamdan,” said Hutson. “He performed with great judgment and great courage.”

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