Monday, November 06, 2006

My Hero!....And Do Not Forget To Vote!

My new favorite person in the entire world (other than Bishop Desmond Tutu) is not a Democrat nor a Republican. He is not a politician. Yet, this man single-handedly has done more to preserve our freedoms and our Constitution than George W. Bush could even dream about.

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Lt. Comm. Charles Swift

His name is Lt. Comm. Charles Swift and he is a Navy JAG officer. On Friday, I had the glorious opportunity to hear him speak to Seattle lawyers and law students. As a JAG officer he is lawyer and he was appointed to represent one of the detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. His client was described in the media as Osama Bin Laden's chauffeur but in actuality he probably just changed spark plugs on vehicles in Osama's motor pool.

I realize that some people in our country would think that this man whose name is Salim Hamdan should just be shot without a trial because of his association with Osama. The current administration tends toward this view. I do not because I believe that our way of justice is the best in the world and the due process guaranteed to us in our Constitution is so awesome that it should be applied all over the earth and to all peoples. I took an oath when I became a lawyer to support our Constitution and the Bill of Rights and I take it seriously. Ironically, Bush, though he talks about spreading freedom and democracy, does not believe the freedoms in our Constitution apply to everybody. I don't really get this.

Bush's position is that Mr. Hamdan should be tried in a sham court even though he was not a member of al-quaeda, has never carried a weapon, nor has ever fired a single shot at an American. This is how it worked. Mr. Hamden was to be brought before a military tribunal. He was not allowed to hear what the charges were against him. He was not allowed to present evidence on his behalf, and evidence presented against him was allowed to be obtained from torture. In addition to all of this, he has been held in Cuba for years with no end in sight. Mr. Hamdan has a wife and children back in Yemen.

America is supposed to stand for justice and fairness. This is what I have been taught and what I believe. Two good reasons exist for the protections of due process for folks accused of doing bad things. First of all, an American value is that we do not believe in throwing innocent people in jail or executing people for crimes they do not commit. When you give a person a fair trial, low and behold, it may be discovered during the process, that the person did nothing wrong. Second of all, when due process is followed and someone is tried with all of the facts, fair evidence, application of law and found guilty, chances are the person really is guilty. So basically, the whole system is designed to make sure that in the end, truth prevails and the correct decision is made.

If we want to be clearly certain that a member of Osama's motor pool is truly a bad guy who wants to kill Americans then having a full and fair trial with proof seems to be the way to go. Otherwise, wouldn't it be tragic for Hamdan's wife, parents and his little kids if we convicted and executed an innocent person? This would be downright un-American. Lt. Comm. Swift, a true patriot, believes in good old-fashioned American values and he saw that the military tribunals in Guantanamo Bay were a threat to the rights of all Americans.

You might respond--well, who cares? I am not worried about this because I sure as hell am not going to be within thousands of miles of Osama or his ilk. Here is why you need to care about this. Our president has decided that we are fighting a global "war" on terror. He has decided that the "battlefield" is world wide including my little Mukilteo neighborhood. Our president has determined that an "enemy combatant" can be anyone whether a U.S. citizen or not.

Let's just say, for example, that someone at your job doesn't like you or someone in traffic doesn't like how you cut him off or someone doesn't like what you wrote on your blog or what you sent in an e-mail. This person could report that you have ties to a terrorist organization. You could be arrested and thrown in jail. You could be swept away to a prison someplace in Bulgaria and be tortured. They wouldn't have to tell you why. Of course, you would have no clue who filed a complaint against you. Then if you were brought into a courtroom, they could rely on this one witness with hearsay evidence to convict you and sentence you to death. You would not be allowed to present any evidence on your behalf. You say you are innocent so you have nothing to fear and my scenario is therefore, preposterous. Well, is it? You say such a thing could never happen. What if your name is Middle-Eastern? What if your parents were born in Syria? Or not?

The point is, as it now stands, this could happen to you or to me because there are no longer any safeguards against it happening. Lt. Comm. Swift recognized this very scenario and he took Mr. Hamdan's case to the U.S. Supreme Court to fight the Bush administration's elimination of basic due process rights. He stated:

"From the beginning, the administration maintained that a military commission was a full and fair trial. In it, they said a full and fair trial could be held without the accused actually being present ... that he didn't have the right to see evidence against him or her, that evidence could be put in that had been obtained by physical or mental coercion, that that evidence could be used to convict, that the accused did not have a right to represent themselves.

And I said, 'There went the Bill of Rights.' "

Fortunately, the Supreme Court agreed with Lt. Comm. Swift and told Bush he had overstepped his Constitutional boundaries. This is why I think Swift is such a hero. Our men and women are dying in Iraq, they say, to protect our rights but Swift is actually working within our system to fight for those very same freedoms. Sadly, Lt. Comm. Swift was passed over for a promotion and is now being forced into retirement. This is how the Bush administration honors an American patriot who loves this United States.

Lt. Comm. Swift mentioned some fascinating facts in his presentation on Friday. If you join the British Navy, you swear an allegiance to the Queen. When you join the United States Navy, you swear an allegiance to---not the president but the United States Constitution. He also explained that the Military Commission's Act signed by Bush on Oct. 17, strips U.S. courts of jurisdiction to hear detainee challenges to their indefinite detentions. In essence, Swift said, the Act guts his Supreme Court victory and we are back to where we started.

This is the habeus corpus business we have been hearing about. Let's suppose you are detained and thrown in jail per my set of facts above. No court is allowed to hear your request for a hearing or your complaint that you are being wrongly held. You can sit and rot in prison for the rest of your life and there is not a damn thing you can do about it--at least for the moment. A different Congress may help and the Supreme Court's involvement again may change things. Mr. Hamdan is still being held in Guantanamo as I type this and his family waits....and waits.

Like Lt. Comm. Swift said---we can and should spread our values across the world by practicing them in all circumstances and for all people. Saddam Hussein was granted more rights than Mr. Hamdan, for example. Swift also recounted a touching story about Mr. Hamdan's family. He was in Yemen taking depositions with his female lawyer colleague. Mr. Hamdan's illiterate grandmother sat all of the little girls down in front of her to tell them a story. The little girls were dressed in jeans, t-shirts, flip flops and sneakers just like any child here in Mukilteo.

"The family's grandmother gathered all of the young girls, telling them the woman had studied hard to become a lawyer. If they studied hard, the grandmother said, they could become anything they wanted.

"She is the single most dangerous weapon against Osama bin Laden there is in the world," Swift said."

Lt. Comm. Charles Swift continues to fight for Mr. Hamdan...and as a result, he continues to fight for you and me and our beloved democracy.

Vote tomorrow!