There are two Navy JAG Corps officers in the HLS LL.M. program this year, both with distinguished legal careers in the military. For the past five years, Stephen C. Reyes LL.M. ’14 served as lead defense counsel for a high-value prisoner facing capital charges in a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay. Jacob W. Romelhardt LL.M. ’14 has had several deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, where he advised on detainee operations and helped negotiate policy with the Afghanistan government on detainees and on U.S. military special operations.
This year’s 1L class includes nine military veterans, including A. Zoe Bedell ’16, a former U.S. Marine, who helped create and implement a program in Afghanistan to engage female Marines with local women, and who is part of a lawsuit challenging the Department of Defense policy that excludes women from combat positions. In addition to the nine current 1Ls, there are six more students deferring their start because they are still on active duty. The 3L class has ten veterans; the 2L class has seventeen. Of these, fourteen are attending HLS through the Yellow Ribbon program, by which the U.S. Veterans Administration matches the amount a law school offers to pay for a veteran’s tuition and expenses. HLS makes the maximum commitment—50 percent—so that with the VA’s match, these veterans attend for free. Other veterans are funding their HLS education through the G.I. bill and student loans; the military covers the entire cost of the LL.M program.
Stephen C. Reyes LL.M. ’14
Before he could matriculate at HLS this fall, Stephen C. Reyes LL.M. ’14, a commander in the Navy JAG Corps, asked permission to do so from one of the most hated men in America—and received it.
For the past five years, Reyes has served as lead defense counsel for Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, the Saudi man facing capital charges for allegedly masterminding the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen in 2000, which killed 17 American sailors. Nashiri, one of three defendants whom the U.S. government has admitted waterboarding in a secret CIA prison, is a high-value detainee who’s been held at Guantanamo Bay since 2006 and is being prosecuted in a U.S. military commission.
For several years, the Navy had been trying to send Reyes, a very experienced trial lawyer and expert in criminal law and capital appeals, to postgraduate school, and the opportunity to study at HLS and spend more time with his wife and three small children, from whom he’d been away for long periods while working at Guantanamo, was very attractive. “But I’d been on the case for five years,” Reyes says, “and I felt compelled to stay on it if he wanted me to stay, especially because I had established an attorney-client relationship.” Last spring, Reyes recalls telling Nashiri that he had “an opportunity to be able to spend my year studying at the greatest university ever, and to be home for my family every single day.” Reyes adds, “It was a heart-wrenching decision, but he understood.” Nashiri released Reyes as his attorney.
“Lucky for me, we had a good team attached, and he was in good hands when I left,” says Reyes, who predicts the case will take another three years to resolve.
Reyes, a California native who has many military veterans in his family including his mother, father, and his wife, Nicole, a former Navy JAG officer, joined the Navy as a 3L student at the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law. After training at the Navy Justice School in Newport, R.I., where he met Nicole, he was stationed in Norfolk, Va., as a Navy prosecutor and immediately immersed in prosecuting dozens of criminal cases. “It’s like trial by fire, which I loved,” he says. “Why I joined the Navy was to do that.”
After two-and-a-half years, he switched to the defense side, where he’s been ever since. He did a stint as a criminal appeals specialist for the Navy, and helped get two capital sentences overturned on appeal.
In 2006, he was deployed to Iraq for seven months as the Staff Judge Advocate for the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center in Baghdad, serving as the legal adviser for detainee operations. Among the remedial measures the military imposed after the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib came to light was providing stronger oversight of detainee operations, including ensuring there was reasonable basis for detaining a prisoner. “If anyone wanted to do interrogations or questioning, they had to get it reviewed by me,” Reyes explains. “I’d do spot checks and overviews, because I had the ability to flip on a switch and see what was going on in a room.”
After returning to the U.S., he did a brief stint in the civil unit before being assigned in 2008 as Nashiri’s lead attorney. Establishing a relationship with his client was challenging. “There’s not a lot I can say because it’s top secret, but the government admits that he was waterboarded,” says Reyes. “So he’s being held in Gitmo by the military after being held by another government organization, the CIA, for a couple of years, and in walks a guy wearing a military uniform, saying, ‘Hey, I’m your lawyer.’ He’s thinking one of two things: ‘This is absolute B.S.,’ or, ‘This is a con, right, you guys are trying to con me to get actionable intelligence.’ So that’s the situation I walked into.”
Reyes, who had worked on other death penalty cases, says, “I spent five years of my life with him, lots of days and hours, and through that, I absolutely learned, as all capital defense counsel need to do with their clients, to find the individual and humanity in the person.” He continues, “I came to see that he was an individual and a human, yes, yes, I did. This guy is accused of committing horrific crimes, and part of your responsibility or job is to look into and find the individual there, the humanity of that person, regardless of the crime they’re charged with.”
At HLS, Reyes is focusing on criminal litigation, and enjoying the Cambridge autumn with his young family. When he graduates in the spring, he’ll be posted in San Diego, where he’ll head up the Navy’s Defense Counsel Assistance Program, serving as the subject matter expert for the Navy on criminal defense and training and advising other defense counsel throughout the Navy.
A. Zoe Bedell ’16
During her first deployment to Afghanistan, in 2009, A. Zoe Bedell ’16, a former U.S. Marine Corps Logistics officer, got involved with a new program to engage Afghan women in counterinsurgency efforts. Out of respect for Muslim culture, male soldiers were not allowed to talk to or even look at local women, but female soldiers faced no such restrictions. “We started to figure out that women could be very effective in moving through both sectors of Afghan culture in ways no one else could,” says Bedell.
She enjoyed the work so much that she applied to lead the program, and during a second deployment, in September 2010, she returned to Afghanistan as officer-in-charge of the Female Engagement Team (FET) in Southwest Afghanistan.
Bedell was given rein to develop the curriculum and training program. She supervised 47 female Marines who worked in two-person teams assigned to various Marine units to engage with local women on such projects as building schools and supporting girls in attending them. Bedell initiated outreach to female elected officials in Helmand Province, transporting them to rural areas to meet constituents who’d never met educated women. It was “extraordinarily effective,” says Bedell. “It was incredibly frustrating and challenging, but the work we were doing was so important.”
Bedell decided to join the Marines as a sophomore at Princeton University, where she majored in politics and studied Arabic and Farsi, around the time the Second Battle of Fallujah dominated the news. “I thought it would be the single hardest thing I could think of to do when I graduated, to be part of that and to see if I would be worthy to be part of that group,” she recalls. “The Marine Corps resonated with me. It was a group with a lot of unit pride, and they really held themselves out to be the best.”
She attended Officer Candidate School in Quantico, VA, during her college summers and after graduation, learning basic infantry tactics, weapons, and hand-to-hand combat, among other military skills. There were weeklong field exercises that began at 3:30 am and included long hikes, digging defensive positions, and round-the-clock patrols. “Oh yeah, I loved it!” she says. “It’s sort of brutal, most people hate it, but this was exactly why I joined.”
The Marine Corps is only 6 to 7 percent women, and under current Department of Defense policy, they cannot be infantry officers or serve in other ground combat positions. Since she knew the training exercises were likely to be her only shot at infantry training, she enjoyed it. “It was long, hard, and very challenging,” she says, “but you make good friends, and I actually enjoyed the experience of learning these critical skills.”
After officer training, Bedell was assigned to be a platoon commander, “a job every Marine officer wants,” she says, at Camp Pendleton, CA, training members of a transport company to conduct convoys in Afghanistan. “This is why the Marine Corps is great—I was 23, straight out of college, and I had 45 people”—the Marines in her platoon—”working for me.” Her first deployment came ten months later.
In 2011, after finishing her four-year stint with the Marines, Bedell became an investment banker with a small firm in Manhattan, work she came to enjoy though the adjustment was very difficult at first. “I’d come from someplace where everyone I knew had deployed and all we’d thought about was Afghanistan or Iraq and no one talked about the economy, and switched to a place where Afghanistan came up occasionally at party conversations,” she recalls. “I’d try to go to lunch with my coworkers and I’d feel I had nothing to talk about.”
She’d always been interested in law school (she’d tried to study for the LSAT in Afghanistan by flashlight in her tent during her first deployment before deciding to postpone it), so she applied during her second year at the firm. Currently, her educational expenses at HLS are covered by the Yellow Ribbon program and through benefits she earned under the GI Bill. She’s also a plaintiff in an ACLU lawsuit filed a year ago, Hegar v. Hagel, challenging the Department of Defense policy barring women from ground combat positions and certain other military jobs. Bedell is currently interested in becoming a prosecutor or working in the area of national security.
Although Bedell herself never came under fire, she notes that “we were in combat, and we were patrolling, so it seems ridiculous to have a policy that pretends that women aren’t already doing these things. It puts everyone in a worse position because we don’t get training for the jobs we’re doing.” While some of her Marine buddies aren’t happy about the lawsuit, she says she’s finding “a lot of support in places I didn’t expect. For every one person who says something negative, there are 50 who say something positive.”
Jacob W. Romelhardt LL.M. ’14
As a 2L student at Boston University School of Law, Jacob W. Romelhardt LL.M. ’14 was planning on becoming a corporate litigator when a close friend died suddenly while training for the marathon team at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The tragic loss changed Romelhardt’s direction. “I reevaluated my priorities,” says Romelhardt, who received numerous academic awards in law school and graduated second in his class.
Instead, during his final year of law school in 2004, he took a commission as an officer in the U.S. Navy, a branch of the military in which a number of his college friends from Northwestern University were already serving. Why the military? “I wish I could give you some really patriotic answer,” he says, chuckling, “but it sounded fun. You get to do lots of different things.”
Indeed, though he planned to stay in the Navy just four years, Romelhardt’s career has offered such interesting opportunities—including deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan to advise on rules of war, and, now, the LL.M. program at HLS, where he is focusing on international law and national security law—that he’s served eight years so far and won’t be leaving soon.
After training in Newport, R.I., at the Naval Justice School of the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps, his first posting was to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where he served as criminal defense counsel to Marines and sailors charged with crimes in military court. While there, he was assigned to a U.S. Marine Corps unit and deployed to Fallujah, Iraq in July 2007, where he focused on detention operations in Western Iraq. This included investigating allegations of detainee abuse, and providing capturing-unit input to detainee review boards, which determine whether to release those in internment. “It was very stressful,” he recalls. “You don’t want people who shouldn’t be detained to be detained, but you don’t want those who should to be let go.”
After returning to criminal defense in Pearl Harbor for a few months, in July 2008 Romelhardt became an assistant professor at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, where he taught courses in constitutional law and criminal law required for all midshipmen prior to becoming officers. After two years of teaching , he was selected to serve as a lawyer with a Navy SEAL team based on the east coast, and deployed to Afghanistan several times. There, Romelhardt advised the three-star commander of a Joint Special Operations Task Force on critical operational issues including major combat investigations, intelligence law and policy, and detainee matters. He also assisted in negotiating and drafting special memoranda of understanding between the U.S. and Afghanistan on detainee policy and special operations. Of the latter, he explains, “Certain units only do their operations at night. The Afghans don’t like it, but the coalition forces like it because it’s safer.”
Last year, while serving with a Naval Special Warfare unit in Virginia, where he provided legal advice to commanders on all aspects of operations, Romelhardt earned the Major General William Garrison Award as the Most Outstanding Legal Professional in the U.S. Special Operations Command. After completing his LL.M., Romelhardt will be the staff judge advocate for the Commander, Strike Force Training Pacific, where he’ll work with aircraft carrier strike groups in preparation for deployment in the Pacific, training them in international law and rules of engagement. Ultimately, he hopes to become a law professor.