Mountain Area Information Network

Macon County native makes Supreme Court history

By Meeghan Kelly for MAIN

The Navy lawyer who challenged the power of President George W. Bush and won a landmark Supreme Court case, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, was born and raised in Franklin, N.C.

Lt. Commander Charles D. Swift, a 1979 graduate of Franklin High School, accused the president of exceeding his authority by creating illegal military tribunals for Guantanamo Bay detainees.

His parents, Dr. Lloyd W. and Eleanor "Mike" Swift, still live in Franklin. His mother recalls the first time she heard about the case, when the Secretary of the Navy called Lt. Cmdr. Swift, asking if he would serve as defense counsel in the Military Commissions.

"He said 'Yes sir, I would,' because that was the only suitable answer for such a high official," his mother said. "At that time, he was in charge of eight lawyers for JAGC (Judge Advocate General Corps.) in Jacksonville, FL," she said. Swift later transferred to Crystal City in Washington, D.C. as the Defense Department divided up the candidates for trial, she said.

"Salim was assigned to Charles. He had no idea who he was. So he went down to Guantanamo to meet him for the first time and that was about three years ago," she said. Swift was assigned to represent Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a 34-year-old Yemeni man and alleged former driver of Osama Bin Laden.

"We saw his position was difficult in that he was an employee of the Navy, and yet disputing some directions that the president had outlined. But we knew he was right because every time they went to court, there were large numbers of military officers in his support," she said.

"It was just an idea whose time had come," said Mrs. Swift. We could see some of the more fundamentalist groups around the world weren't using the Geneva standards. If the U.S. didn't uphold them, and they invented them, then perhaps U.S. soldiers and sailors wouldn't be tried fairly," she said.

In an interview for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Commander Swift acknowledged that he may have to find a new job. "The way it works, the die was cast some months ago," he said. "The decision has been made. I don't know what it is yet. I may be one of the most influential lawyers in America, but I won't be in the military much longer. That irony did strike me," the newspaper reported.

Mrs. Swift said she's proud of her son, excited about what he had accomplished, and isn't worried about her son's future career with the military. She certainly doesn't think his career is threatened for standing up for the Constitution.

"That is an inappropriate way to express it. Either they'll have a spot for him or they won't," Swift said. Commander Swift's future in the Navy is in the hands of a promotion board that is responsible for deciding whether military officers will remain in service.

"Being a caring person -- to the environment and the individual -- was something that Charles was exposed to from a very young age," said Mrs. Swift. "His father is a research scientist. I'm a teacher. We've always been very civic-minded and active in scouts."

Born in 1961 as the eldest of four, Charles D. Swift grew up in Macon County with his brothers, William and Barry, and a sister, Frances. All four of the siblings achieved the highest awards in Scout programs, the Eagle and the Gold award. While attending high school, Swift was the captain of both the wrestling and swimming teams.

"He comes back to Franklin for family things as often as he can," his mother said. Swift is a 1984 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and holds law degrees from Seattle University (1994) and Temple University (2006). END