The New York Times
The Challenge: Hamdan v. Rumsfeld and the Fight over Presidential Powerby Jonathan Mahler
An inspiring legal thriller set against the backdrop of the war on terror, The Challenge tells the inside story of a historic Supreme Court showdown. At its center are a Navy JAG and a young constitutional law professor who, in the aftermath of 9/11, find themselves defending their nation in the unlikeliest of ways: by suing the president of the United/i>… See more details below
An inspiring legal thriller set against the backdrop of the war on terror, The Challenge tells the inside story of a historic Supreme Court showdown. At its center are a Navy JAG and a young constitutional law professor who, in the aftermath of 9/11, find themselves defending their nation in the unlikeliest of ways: by suing the president of the United States on behalf of an accused terrorist in order to prevent the American government from breaking the law and violating the Constitution.
Jonathan Mahler traces the journey of their client, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, from the Yemeni mosque where he was first recruited for jihad in 1998, through his years working as a driver for Osama bin Laden, to his capture in Afghanistan in November 2001 and his subsequent transfer to Guantanamo Bay. It was there that Hamdan was designated by President Bush to be tried before a special military tribunal and assigned a military lawyer to represent him, a thirty-five-year-old graduate student of the Naval Academy, Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift.
No one expected Swift to mount much of a defense. Not only were the rules of the tribunals, America's first in more than fifty years, stacked against him, his superiors at the Pentagon were pressuring him to persuade Hamdan to plead guilty. But Swift didn't believe that the tribunals were either legal or fair, so he enlisted a young Georgetown law professor named Neal Katyal to help him sue the Bush administration over their legality. In the spring of 2006, Katyal, who had almost no trial experience, took the case to the Supreme Court and won. The landmark ruling has been called the Court's most important decision ever on presidential power and the rule of law.
Written with the cooperation of Swift and Katyal, The Challenge follows the braided stories of Swift's intense, precarious relationship with Hamdan and the unprecedented legal case itself. Combining rich character portraits and courtroom drama reminiscent of Jonathan Harr's A Civil Action with sophisticated yet accessible legal analysis, The Challenge is a riveting narrative that illuminates some of the most pressing constitutional questions of the post-9/11 era.
The New York Times
In this account of the momentous Supreme Court case Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, Mahler (Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning) profiles key figures of the defense: JAG lawyer Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, constitutional law professor Neal Katyal and the defendant, Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's former driver. The book chronicles this legal odd couple-Swift, the gregarious blowhard, and Katyal, the diligent straight man-as they struggle to keep their client alive in Guantánamo Bay and craft a case challenging the legality of President George W. Bush's military tribunals. The author narrates their burgeoning relationship with each other and their client-in one endearing passage, Swift seeks counseling for his relationship with Hamden at the same time that he seeks therapy to save his marriage. While Mahler skillfully humanizes the characters and institutions at the heart of the case, the book sags under detailed forays into arcane aspects of the American justice system and irrelevant personal vignettes that feel forced and slow the pace. For whatever dramatic tension the book lacks, Mahler amply conveys the heroism of his protagonists. (Aug. 13)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
In the case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld(2006), the Supreme Court ruled that military tribunals established by the U.S. government to try its Guantánamo Bay detainees were unconstitutional. Mahler (New York Times magazine; Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx Is Burning) bases this book largely on interviews with the two principal defense attorneys, Neal Katyal, a Georgetown University constitutional law professor, and Charles Swift, of the U.S. Navy's Judge Advocate General's Corps. Mahler does an excellent job of presenting the complex legal issues surrounding the case in a highly readable manner, but at the book's heart are his characterizations of Katyal and Swift and their relationship with each another, with their families, with the military, and with their client, Salim Hamdan, a Yemeni man captured in 2001, as they worked passionately, and against high odds, to win the case. While the book is a great read, its impact may be diluted because the further fate of the military tribunals, and of Hamdan himself, remains unclear, matters of decision in subsequent litigation. Highly recommended for all law, public, and academic libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ4/15/08.]
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