Just when it looked like this country had taken such a wrong right turn, and that we were moving ever closer to disaster - a new kind of Bush police state under cover of fighting terrorism - just when it appeared that we would never find a real hero among our compromised leaders - one comes along. No, I did not find him at the local cineplex this weekend where Superman arrived to save the world and Hollywood. This one is the real deal, Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift (USN). Swift was the naval officer who had represented Hamdan, the Gitmo prisoner in Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld. The result of this case was that an arrogant, power seeking President was told by a newly awakened Supreme Cout to mind his constitutional manners and start shaping up. Whether Bush can ever do so is unlikely, and whether our flag waving Congress, eager to keep Old Glory fireproof while defiling what it has long stood for - whether that Congress can fashion new laws to protect the innocent and convict the guilty - that is equally unlikely. One only has to listen to and look upon the likes of a Senator John Warner with his seersucker face and gassy rhetoric to know how hard that task will be. But I don't want to get too far away from my hero and this country's best new advocate - Lt. Commander Swift
I watched Swift on CSpan on this Fourth of July weekend, speaking out for the democratic process, not as an abstract ideal, but as a practical way to win a war on terror by following the rule of law, and I felt a rush of pleasure akin to what I felt as a small boy when I first saluted the flag in school assembly in PS 26. This man was a true beacon of light in dark times. He spoke without anger and without partisanship in defense of our liberties. Swift will not be easily swift boated by the demagogic Bush-Cheney-Rove axis of defamation. Here was a genuine American hero, a naval officer with a chest full of ribbons, the twenty year veteran of military service, speaking out against the subversion of our American idea of justice. Swift articulated the need to stick to our democratic values, and not rewrite the rules of civilized legal proceedings; claiming that this and this alone would make us safer. He believed that adherance to a rule of law would ultimately win out against the threat of terror, stressing the need for this country to recover its reputation for decency and legality among other countries as a practical matter, asserting that the soundest way to fight terror was without bluster and threats and with world support. Simple truths, but rarely if ever articulated by our leaders. Swift introduced some historical precedent for this, going back to the early years of our country when we banded together with other countries to fight and destroy the Barbary pirates - those 18th century terrorists. He spoke of the loss of face and reputation we suffer whenever we depart from our humanitarian tradition and the rule of law, such as the internment camps of WWII where we warehoused our Japanese Americans, and other exercises in war time illegality when panic drove the government into actions that we now look back upon with shame.
At first I thought of the courage it must take for a career office to defend an accused al Qaeda underling - this particular one being bin Laden's hapless driver - a semi-literate man from Yemen who was desperate to make a living to support his large family. And then I understood that in the case of Swift it was not courage but innate decency that drove him - something that did not need to be debated by him or weighted as a career making or career breaking decision. He took the case, followed it through, went to Yemen to collect evidence in order to defend his Gitmo client, and then helped to bring his case to the high court. In this he was much like John Adams who defended a British soldier in court after the Boston Massacre, defending the rule of law. What Swift was ultimately defending was not that Yemeni driver - but American democracy. This had little to do with the guilt or innocence of the man, everything to do with the honor of this country. And by winning that case, by showing the world that ours is a country where the rule of law can prevail, he believes that there will be fewer converts to terrorism. In the hero game, Swift is mine. He has demonstrated a rare moral courage and professionalism. I know the right is going to accuse this decent man of being a secret agent of the ACLU. They want Superman to come and rescue us - not a navy lawyer. But be careful Superman, the right is going to abandon you just as soon as they discover that you are an undocumented alien from Krypton.