Gitmo attorneys make law journal's top 100

 

crosenberg@miamiherald.com

With the U.S. Supreme Court soon to decide the fate of the Guantánamo war court, the prestigious National Law Journal has included three key litigators in the captives' legal challenges on its list of America's 100 most influential lawyers.

Among those included on the list, released Monday, was Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charlie Swift, 44, the Pentagon-appointed attorney for Osama bin Laden's driver. His client is now detained at the Navy base in Cuba and awaiting a high court decision in his case.

The journal dryly described Swift's Supreme Court challenge with Georgetown law professor Neal Katyal as ``a case that will determine whether the Geneva Conventions are enforceable in federal court through habeas corpus petitions.''

It also noted that in testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Swift declared that the formula for the current commissions ``abandoned the rule of law.''

The Supreme Court is expected to rule any day now on the legitimacy of President Bush's Military Commissions, where 10 of the 460 or so Guantánamo captives currently face war crimes charges.

''I'm flattered. I think that it's the case, not the attorney,'' said Swift, a 19-year Navy officer, after an ill-fated weekend trip to meet his client, Salim Hamdan of Yemen, following the recent suicides of by three other captives.

His client, a 36-year-old Yemeni with a fourth-grade education, refused to meet him, Swift said, because ``they interrogated him without me there -- about the suicides -- and that freaks him out.''

Asked why Hamdan would refuse to meet his lawyer, especially days ahead of a high court decision about his case, Swift replied: ``When you're in a powerless situation, you take it out on who you can.''

Almost simultaneously, guards found two Saudis and a Yemen captive hanging in their cells on June 10, prompting the Pentagon to suspend all Military Commission sessions.

In parallel, the Pentagon halted lawyer-client meetings for a few days, and cleared the remote Navy base of independent media, while launching an investigation.

None of the three Arabs who killed themselves in Camp 1 was charged before the commissions.

Swift, who will retire next year unless he is promoted, is the only active-duty military lawyer on the list, which includes such nationally recognized luminaries as:

Former Bush administration Solicitor General Theodore Olson, 66; former Bush campaign recount attorney Fred H. Bartlit, 73; David Boies, 65, who handled Al Gore's side of the recount battle in the 2000 election; anti-death penalty DNA litigator Barry C. Scheck, 56, and Stanford constitutional law scholar Kathleen Sullivan, 50.

Separately, the list also included Michael Ratner, 66, the civil liberties lawyer at New York's Center for Constitutional Rights, which has championed Guantánamo detainees' habeas corpus petitions.

The Journal said Ratner's group ``was among the first to bring suits after Sept. 11, 2001, on behalf of alleged terrorists imprisoned in the U.S. Naval Station in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba; has opposed the Bush administration's use of executive power in the war on terrorism and the National Security Agency's domestic spying program.''

Also on the list was retired U.S. Appeals Court Judge John J. Gibbons, 81, who argued the first Guantánamo captive case before the Supreme Court -- Rasul v. Bush -- that gave detainees the right to file habeas corpus petitions in U.S. District Court and meet with attorneys for the first time in their captivity.

Rex Bossert, the Journal's editor-in-chief, said by e-mail today that the confluence of Guantánamo attorneys among the 100 was ``probably more of a coincidence than anything else, and perhaps not surprising because the most influential lawyers tend to work on the most high-profile cases.''

Four Florida attorneys also made the list, two from Miami:

Cesar L. Alvarez, 59, president and chief executive officer of Greenberg Traurig since 1997.

Patricia Menendez Cambo, 39, chairwoman of Greenberg Traurig's international practice group, described as `` a first-generation Cuban-American, she completed her undergraduate degree at 19 and her law degree at 22.''

Martha Walters Barnett, 59, of Holland & Knight in Tallahassee, described as the first woman hired by her firm in 1973, a member of its directors committee and a former president of the American Bar Association.

Barry Richard, 64, of Greenberg Traurig in Tallahassee, who the list said ''cemented'' his ``national reputation after representing George W. Bush in 46 lawsuits following the 2000 election and in televised arguments before the state high court.''

This week marked the first time the Journal has published the list since 2000.

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