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Federal Player of the Week: A compass for U.S. naval law

By The Partnership for Public Service,

Over the past eight years, Michael Bahar’s legal career with the U.S. Navy has taken him from the Horn of Africa to the White House.

“Every job I have had has been a dream job, one after the other, that have given me a citizen-solider perspective,” said Bahar.

In his current position as a deputy legal advisor to the National Security Council Staff (NSS), Bahar is one of the five NSS lawyers advising the national security advisor, the White House staff and the president on national security legal issues.

He is working on a wide-range of legal issues, including those involving nuclear weapons and nonproliferation, homeland security, emergency preparedness, ballistic missile defense, aspects of counterterrorism, international criminal law, the law of the sea and piracy.

Over the past year, Bahar has provided legal advice on the New START treaty, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the situation in Egypt and the nuclear crisis in Japan.

“Every day is an enormous challenge. There are times when you are the last lawyer before the president and the national security advisor on a rapidly changing, diverse range of issues,” said Bahar.

Bahar’s colleague at the NSS, Brian Egan, said he admires the way “Michael can look at a problem that we might have been stuck on awhile, bring his own set of fresh eyes and can figure out a way to solve a problem.”

“He is an energetic and creative thinker who is a good navigator,” added Egan.

Bahar has been navigating the field of law since he joined the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG), the legal arm of the Navy, in June 2003. As the grandchild of Holocaust survivors, he says that he always considered joining the military as a way of giving back.

Bahar admits that although he was aware of the JAG corps, thanks in large part to the movie, “A Few Good Men,” he never really fully understood what it entailed until he joined. His first year and half with the JAG was spent in the courtroom prosecuting cases, many of which involved allegations of sexual assault, an experience that also gave Bahar a chance to interact with the victims and their families.

In 2005, Bahar deployed to the Arabian Gulf and Horn of Africa in support of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom. Three months into his deployment, Bahar oversaw the shipboard detention and onboard investigation of the Navy’s first set of seized pirates in 100 years.

“It was imperative that I was careful in how the capture took place and how the evidence was gathered, because one mistake could lead to the pirates’ release,” he said.

After this deployment, Bahar’s next job took him to the Pentagon where he served as an aide to the deputy judge advocate general of the Navy. After the Navy sent him for an advanced law degree at Columbia University, he then returned to the Navy as the deputy counsel to the vice chief of naval operations at the Pentagon.

Before taking the position at the NSC, Bahar was attached to a Navy Special Forces group in Virginia Beach, during which time he attended Army Airborne School followed by the Military Free Fall Parachutist Course. Bahar noted that it is “remarkably hard to jump out of an airplane as a lawyer.”

Bahar said his Navy experiences have taught him how to “learn on the fly and learn things right away because every job is different. You have to trust that you are going to make the right decisions.”

“It’s a lot a fun. I absolutely love the Navy,” Bahar said.

This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Go to http://washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/fedpage/players/ to read about other federal workers who are making a difference.

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