Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Rule of Law

Last week, I had the privilege to attend a dinner at which Prof. Neil Katyal and Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, the lead attorneys for Salim Hamdan in his case before the Supreme Court last year, were honored for their work. (Hamdan's was the case in which the Supreme Court declared that detainees at Guantanamo do have the protections of law and legal process.) They were both awe-inspiring in their intelligence, dedication to the law and courage.

Lt. Cmdr. Swift told two stories that bear repeating. (I'll apologize to him in advance, because I am doing this from memory.) He recalled going to his 20th reunion at the Naval Academy and being "cornered," as he put it, by a classmate who had gone into the Marines. Cmdr. Swift described the man as a complete Marine and said, "If someone shot at an American, anywhere in the world, in the last 20 years, it was probably at him." The Marine officer came up to Cmdr. Swift who expected to get blasted for representing an al-Qaeda terrorist. (Hamdan is accused of having been Osama bin-Laden's chauffeur.) What the man said was, "The rule of law is what I fight for. Men die for that!"

The second story was about a trip to Hamdan's home in Yemen, to gather information for the case. Cmdr. Swift took along a female JAG officer, who could speak to the women and go into their portion of the house. As the Americans were getting ready to leave, the grandmother--the matriarch of the family--gathered her granddaughters together. Cmdr. Swift describes this woman as having grown up in a society that had not changed since the 7th Century; she did not know there was such a thing as radio until she was 30. The older women quieted her granddaughters and pointed at the American woman. "Look at Susan," she said. "She went to school. She worked very hard, and she became a lawyer. If you go to school and work hard, you can do anything!" That, as the Commander said, is what the US should be about--spreading the ideas that gave this country its unique place in the world. Instead, we quaver in fear of the terrorists, and display our fear in every action at Guantanamo.

Prof. Katyal and Lt. Cmdr. Swift have shown the courage that our national leaders lack. They are the best of my profession, and the best of this nation.

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