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Lawyers for Guantanamo prisoners lauded

SHOWCASE | March 08, 2006

Two military attorneys, one from the Navy and one from the Air Force, were cited for their “willingness to risk allegations of traitorous behavior” and for challenging “authority by insisting on legal rights for military prisoners.”

By Watchdog Editor

Two military lawyers assigned to defend alleged terrorists imprisoned at Guantanamo have won awards saluting "their commitment to ensuring that due process of law is provided to those charged with criminal offenses."

The December awards to Air Force Lt. Col. Sharon A. Shaffer and Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles D. Swift—“Lawyers and Advocates for Justice”—drew no press notice.

The officers each received the Joe A. Callaway Award for Civic Courage. The citation cited “their willingness to risk allegations of traitorous behavior by colleagues and disciplinary actions for defying orders from their Commander-in-Chief, their bold challenges to unjust, unfair and arbitrary rules that have led them beyond the military justice system to the U.S. Supreme Court; and their heroic struggle to uphold the Constitution and zealously defend their clients."

The Calloway award was created by the Shafeek Nader Trust for The Community Interest, at the Center for Responsive Law in Washington. Shafeek Nader, the older brother of Ralph Nader, died in 1986. The citation describing the award stated that, “Operating in a hierarchical structure that demands obedience, Shaffer and Swift have challenged authority by insisting on legal rights for military prisoners. Their exemplary and sustained efforts are an inspiration to the legal profession.”

A third Callaway award was presented to Bunnatine "Bunny" Greenhouse, who was the top civilian contracting officer in the Army Corps of Engineers. Her citation said she was demoted after she had "objected vociferously within the Army Corps to the sweetheart, no-bid,
sole-source, five-year contract potentially worth $7 billion awarded to Halliburton/KBR to do repairs on oil fields in Iraq. She pointed out that KBR had secretly been hired months earlier to draw up parameters for the contract."

Following are excerpts from the acceptance speeches by Swift and Shaffer:

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift: “We must model the values of freedom to all.”

…How we treat and try those that we consider enemies is perhaps the greatest reflection of our values. Our nation was founded on the basic principle that all are equal under the law. That principle has, under the weight of labels, anger, and fear, gotten lost in Guantanamo. In Guantanamo, we have so lost sight of our values to the point that a man may be convicted and sentenced to death based on evidence obtained through coercion without the opportunity to confront his accuser’ or even known the evidence against him. And if by some unlikely turn of events, the accused is acquitted he may still spend the rest of his life in jail.

We are told that these methods and trials are necessary for our security. But security is not freedom. The courage of our founding fathers was that they forsook security for freedom founded on the premise of equality under the rule of law… It is due to courage and valor of my fellow servicemen and women that we are able to use our military strength to defeat tyrants abroad that govern not by law but by their will alone.

But we must do more than defeat the tyrants and terrorists if we are to win the struggle for freedom. We must model the values of freedom to all. These values are human and common to all men and women. They lie in the hope of hearts around the world seeking to be free.

When I visited my client’s family in Yemen last summer, I was accompanied by a female Judge Advocate who assisted me in interviewing witnesses and preparing for trial. On the last night, Salim’s mother-in-law called together all the little girls of the family. When they were all gathered at my colleague’s feet there must have been at least 12 little faces looking up at her. After they had quieted down, the old woman, who had never had any formal education and could not read or write, pointed to my colleague and said “She is an attorney, she study hard in school and did very well; if you study like she did then you can be anything you dream.”

In that older woman’s heart beats the American dream…

Our struggle is more than military might, it is the struggle of courage to model that most basic value of freedom—that all men are equal under the law regardless of their place of birth or the allegations of harm they have done. Freedom is based not in the Old Testament admonishment of “an eye for an eye” but in that most liberating of commandments of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Air Force Lt. Col. Sharon A. Shaffer: “People ask: Why do you care? Aren’t you afraid for your career?”

…On the 5th of February of 1990, I took my commissioning oath and entered active duty in the United States Air Force.  In that oath, I swore to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. Some 13 years later, in July of 2003, I embarked on the greatest challenge of my Air Force career – I became the Deputy Chief Defense Counsel in the Office of Military Commissions, and 8 months later, found myself appointed to defend a Sudanese detainee, now in his 4th year of captivity: Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi.

The President’s Military Order of 13 Nov 2001, drafted in response to the horrific, terrorist acts of 9/11, established the jurisdiction and structure of the historic military commissions that our clients will face, commissions that have not been used since WWII. In the President’s Military Order, the President states that these detainees subject to the commission process shall have counsel appointed to represent them. More importantly, he states that the commission shall be the exclusive avenue for trying detainees. Detainees are not privileged to seek relief in any other forum, whether it is in federal court or in an international tribunal, nor shall any relief be sought on their behalf. 

As a military officer suddenly finding myself in a giant fishbowl with the world watching, I quickly realized what Ralph Waldo Emerson meant when he said, “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”

So a year now after our office took the first adversarial step of filing an amicus brief with the United States Supreme Court in the Rasul case, arguing that detainees should have access to federal courts, and after filing a habeas petition in federal court on behalf of my client, and thus, arguably violating the President’s Military Order and Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, I find myself responding to these actions, with different folks asking, how can you do what you do? Why do you care? Aren’t you afraid for your career? 

My response to folks is to reflect back on the oath I took some 15 and a half years ago and to remind them that as military members we all have duties that take us across the globe. Some support and defend the Constitution by serving in Iraq or Afghanistan or other areas; some support and defend the Constitution by guarding the detention facilities in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But what is important to remember is that we are a nation that lives under the rule of law and the dictates of liberty, justice and fairness.

These are the ideals that we hold and espouse. And while I am not currently defending our country by serving in Iraq or elsewhere, in defending Mr. Al Qosi and challenging the military commission process in the hopes of getting a fair trial in a system that will afford basic fundamental rights, I am defending the Constitution and those notions we hold so dear…

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