US Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Butch Bracknell '99 has a JD from Maryland Carey Law, an LLM from Harvard and a job that, in his own words, has given him "a chance to work at the intersection of history."
Make that several intersections. Today, Bracknell is attorney-advisor to the Office of Military Commissions, where his boss, the Chief Trial Judge, presides over two historic and high-profile cases. One charges Khalid Shaikh Mohanmad and several alleged co-conspirators with offenses related to September 11, 2001. The other accuses Abd al-Rahim Hussein Muhammed Abdu Al-Nashiri and alleged co-conspirators with bombing the USS Cole, attacking a French oil tanker near Yemen, and an attempted attack on a second US warship.
The work is challenging because it draws on such a large and varied body of law, Bracknell says, embracing everything from federal and military criminal practice and appellate case law to constitutional law, international tribunal law and substantive international law—all rolled together. "It's cutting edge," he observes. "We haven't done military commissions since World War II, so there’s not much precedent."
After serving in the Marines as an armor officer for four years, Bracknell plunged into law school, where he had two "incredibly fulfilling" for-credit internships at the US Attorney’s Office in Baltimore and the US House Judiciary Committee during President Clinton's impeachment trial.
Bracknell relished the intellectual stimulation and competition of law school, but says the most satisfying part of the experience was meeting classmate Rebecca Chesno '98, his wife and the mother of their five children, ages 13 to 3.
After earning his JD, it was back to the Marines and more intersections with history, including, among other assignments, service with the NATO Stabilization Force in Sarajevo; a counter-terrorism training mission in Tblisisi, Georgia; two tours in Iraq, serving as legal advisor during the second battle of Fallujah and later, in Al Anbar Province; and then, Kabul, Afghanistan, with the International Security Assistance Force.
Bracknell believes that the greatest challenge facing the legal profession today is political. "The distrust, antagonism and cynicism that are sown into our political culture threaten all our institutions…Faith in Congress, the courts and American institutions is at an all-time low." He wonders if law schools should foster "atmospheres of tolerance and mutual respect…that emphasize compromise, competing interests and attempts to accommodate multiple stakeholders."
Pictures: (1) posing in front of John McCain’s jet while doing an investigation at an Air Force Base in Arizona; (2) Col. Bracknell, with Leon Panetta (then Director of Central Intelligence) and Fred Kempe (CEO of The Atlantic Council of the United States).