Hamdan's JAG Attorney Denied Promotion

Charles Swift, the JAG lawyer who bravely defended Hamdan and won his case before the Supreme Court, was denied a promotion and now must leave the Navy:

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 newspaper. 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.

And I frankly think we all owe Swift an enormous debt of gratitude. He defended the US Constitution and the rule of law at a time when it is most necessary and most at risk. As a Navy officer, he swore an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic; unlike President Bush, he actually meant it. And I find the fact that his boss praised his work telling:

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."

Yeah, what a coincidence. Why does this sound like one of those nonsense breakup lines? "You're an amazing guy, any woman would be lucky to have you...I just don't want you." If he's done an exceptional job, he should have gotten the promotion. I agree with this guy:

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.

JAG lawyers don't argue cases before the Supreme Court every day. As far as I know, this is the only time it's ever happened. And he not only argued it, he won. And in the process, he did a great service to this country and fulfilled his oath as a soldier. If that's not enough for promotion, I don't know what is. But in the current environment, merit doesn't matter; only fealty before the unitary executive's unbridled authority will bring advancement.


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Here's hoping I live to see Charles Swift serve as a prosecutor in W's trial for war crimes.

Its nice to know there are people like Swift defending our Constitution, since the Executive and Legislative braches of government seem incaple of doing so.

Isn't it true that you have to be passed over at least twice (maybe 3 times) for promotion in the Navy before being forced to retire? If so, this is not the first time Swift missed the boat, and it would be interesting to know the circumstances the first time or 2 around. It's possible he was passed over for reasons unrelated to Hamdan. I can't think of any such reasons at the moment, but it's possible. The coincidence would be remarkable if so.

What kind of example would it have been to promote Swift?

Promotions are more than merit based; they also serve as illustrations for behavior to be emulated.

A number of officer classes do not fall into the complete soldier class because their assessment is from external sources and their ethos was not developed internally to the organization. In other words their ethics and expertise is purchased from elsewhere and they are then assessed into the service and expected to comply with the general military regulations and things like the warrior creed or the soldier's creed. For example, chaplains, lawyers, doctors, some nurses, and a few other fields.

Personnel in these fields have a different mindset from graduates of military academies; sometimes their view of competence is at odds with the military mindset.

If so, this is not the first time Swift missed the boat, and it would be interesting to know the circumstances the first time or 2 around. It's possible he was passed over for reasons unrelated to Hamdan. I can't think of any such reasons at the moment, but it's possible.

His performance in Hamden and his commentary after the fact was such that it makes me think it was not out of line for his character. See section in previous post on independently developed ethos that grinds on the status quo.

People may assume that his superiors were lawyers as well so there may be protection and a common mindset involved, but that's not necessarily the case. Some people join the military out of obligation, and some out of necessity.

I don't know what your point is here, Ted (though that's not uncommon). You refer to his "performance in Hamdan" and his commentary after the fact as though they somehow justified the denial of promotion, but you never say why. As far as illustrations to be emulated, that is precisely what makes Swift the right person to promote. What he did was follow his oath while so many around him were choosing short term political expediency instead. And he did it brilliantly while the government tried like hell to undermine him. That is exactly the behavior that ought to be emulated in the JAG corps.

As for having to be passed over 2 or 3 times before being RIFed (reduction in forces): unless things have changed since the antideluvian days of my own service, the answer is "not really." The tough promotion is between Major (Lt. Commander) and Lieutenant Colonel. That is generally where officers are when they have between 15 and 20 years service and, since the idea of RIF is for the military to avoid paying a pension at 20 years, it is not so much how many tries you've missed, but how many you have left before they'd have to pay that pension. Missing the last try means you are out. JAG Corps promotions are separate from other branches, by the way, and that can make it tougher, as there are fewer "slots" at that grade than there may be in other branches.

Although the story uses the word "retire", that is not what Swift is doing, in all likelihood. He gets no pension at all if he is RIFed. He can join the reserves and, if he stays in there for the required time (I forget what that is), he can get a pension at age 62 (I think) that is nearly as much, if not more, than he'd get after 20 years service. But, of course, he won't get to start collecting it for another 18 years.

Without knowing more about Swift's career overall, it is hard to say whether or not Hamdan had anything to do with this -- it is a common enough result without any sort of political considerations -- but you have to wonder why the Navy would risk the black eye.


the point is that the military goals are not served by the people like Swift. I challenge anyone that cares to bother to read the two versions of the soldier's creed to try to understand why Swift's performance is at odds with the current military ethos.

The military wants it's lawyers to serve the military goals, not those that are independent of it's goals. Just like any corporation that has lawyers on staff -- regardless of how competent those lawyers are, if they don't serve the goals of the employer they will find the door.

Further, the military does not want people that question the president; the commander-in-chief, because "he who hesitates is lost" and questions make people hesitate. It's not a quality that's held in particularly high esteem and they don't want it promulgated. They hold the tenet of "do what's in your pay grade (and minimally more)" in fairly high esteem.

I refer to his performance in Hamdan and his commentary as being in line with the older soldier's creed, moreso than the new version. I say that his ability and willingness to challenge authority/status-quo (with Hamdan) and to buck the chain of command in a highly visible case which exposes the US to negative light, does not occur overnight and only in this case. I would be very surprised if Swift did not have a very strong history of ethos that did not comply with military values of "stay in your pay grade" or "assist with the mission at hand".

He is clearly an excellent lawyer that should be emulated, but the externally assessed lawyers and doctors that move up the chain of command and get promoted are often not those with extreme competence, but those with mediocre competence and a near fanatical willingness to toe the line. There have been many stories of doctors and lawyers that have lost their civilian licenses that turn up in the military, in many cases as COLs. Those are the professionals that join the military out of necessity.

So my point is:

1. I consider it believable that he was passed over previously because I don't think his performance in Hamdan was out of character. It demonstrated a strength of character that would have been out of place in the military.

2. The emulated ideals for the current military is that they will promote and give medals to the guy that runs up the hill, guns blazing at the proper order. Not the guy that questions the execution of that order. He may be right to question it, but he sets a bad example. Again, I'm not saying that Swift doesn't illustrate a great ideal; it's just that the military isn't the place that values that ideal.

You think the military would understand the value of Swift's ideals? What's this then?

And he did it brilliantly while the government tried like hell to undermine him.

The government is his employer. And they tried to undermine him.

A guy like Swift can do a hell of a lot more good outside the military, perhaps as someone suggested as a prosecutor or as a congressional investigator/advisor for the post-election congressional hearings.


We are essentially in agreement. Yes, his conduct is out of line with what the military wants, but it's not out of line with what the military should want, and that was my point.

but the externally assessed lawyers and doctors that move up the chain of command and get promoted are often not those with extreme competence, but those with mediocre competence and a near fanatical willingness to toe the line.

This is scary if this is the reality of the situation.

At first I was gonna post calling you an idiot and not understanding that Swift's orders were to defend Hamdan, and he did his duty to the fullest.

Then I read on and I actually agree. No good deed goes unpunished; and, in today's environment, when you arrive at field grade rank, your oath to uphold the Constitution morphs into an oath to support and defend the Fuehrer, it seems.

I'm confused: it was my understanding that the "get promoted or get fired" dates were based on when someone entered service. So the timing couldn't have been a suspicious coincidence: it was written in stone from the day he joined when those decisions would be made.

plunge: the timing of the date showing up is not a suspicious coincidence.

The fact that he was passed over WHEN it showed up, however ...

By Michael Ralston (not verified) on 10 Oct 2006 #permalink