The Challenge by Jonathan Mahler
Hamdan v. Rumsfeld and the Fight over Presidential

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Synopsis

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.

 

About Jonathan Mahler

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Jonathan Mahler is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine and has published journalism in The Washington Post, New York, The New Republic, Talk Lingua Franca, and The Wall Street Journal. He lives in Brooklyn.
 
Published August 5, 2008 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 364 pages
Genres: History, Political & Social Sciences, Education & Reference, War, Professional & Technical, Law & Philosophy. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for The Challenge

The New York Times

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Jonathan Mahler chronicles Salim Hamdan’s journey from street urchin to jihadist, as well as the lives of the lawyers who transformed him into an international symbol in the war on terror.

Aug 21 2008 | Read Full Review of The Challenge: Hamdan v. Rums...

The New York Times

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An account of the case that forced the administration to try accused terrorists.

Aug 10 2008 | Read Full Review of The Challenge: Hamdan v. Rums...

BC Books

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And perhaps demonstrating the government's attitude toward detainees like Hamdan, when the Supreme Court ruled in Hamdan's favor and Katyal and Swift went to meet with him at Guantanamo, they were told they couldn't bring in a copy of the decision because the rules forbid bringing in outside info...

Aug 03 2009 | Read Full Review of The Challenge: Hamdan v. Rums...

BC Books

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Shortly after being assigned and before Hamdan became his client, Swift questioned the wisdom and legality of the commissions.

Aug 03 2009 | Read Full Review of The Challenge: Hamdan v. Rums...

Book Reporter

The verdict of history regarding the legal response to the.

Dec 26 2010 | Read Full Review of The Challenge: Hamdan v. Rums...

truthdig

Sacks is especially — almost stunningly — frank about his fumbling efforts to explore his homosexuality, at a time when being gay (Sacks first heard the word on a trip to Amsterdam in the mid-1950s) was widely reviled and gay sex was against the law.

May 23 2015 | Read Full Review of The Challenge: Hamdan v. Rums...

truthdig

(So much for the movie’s theory that everyone follows what the Times does.) .

Jul 06 2011 | Read Full Review of The Challenge: Hamdan v. Rums...

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