Former U.S. Attorney, Famously Fired, Joins Small Illinois College

Wheaton College

David C. Iglesias
September 01, 2014

For someone who has in recent years been prosecuting internees at the American military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, a liberal-arts college of 3,000 undergraduate and graduate students in Illinois might not seem a likely next employer.

Yet, in July, David C. Iglesias took up the position of director of the J. Dennis Hastert Center for Economics, Government, and Public Policy at Wheaton College. He says he wishes to share with students what his career in public and military border-security and terrorism issues has taught him about the interconnectedness of legislation, public policy, and the economy.

Two months in, Mr. Iglesias says, he is seeking to do that with reference to "the three enormously important institutions that shaped me." One is growing up as the son of polyglot Baptist missionaries—a German-American mother and an indigenous Panamanian father. During the first six years of Mr. Iglesias’s life, his parents set up churches, hospitals, and schools on an island off Panama where they also documented the native Kuna language.

The second is his familiarity, since his undergraduate years of studying history at Wheaton, with the college's emphasis on "sending out educated believers." Indeed, the mission of the Hastert center is to explain market economies, representative democracies, limited government, and "the redeeming effects of the Christian world­view on the practice of business, government, and politics."

The third institution that shaped him, says Mr. Iglesias, was the U.S. Navy, which "helped me grow up, and which also is mission oriented." From Wheaton, he went on to earn a law degree in 1984 from the University of New Mexico and then engaged in 25 years of active and reserve duty. In 1986, soon after he joined the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps, he worked with colleagues on a case involving an assault on a Marine at the Guantánamo naval base that partly inspired the 1992 movie A Few Good Men, starring Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson.

In 1999 he saw active duty with the Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf. In 2009, because of his expertise in national-security and terrorism cases and his meritorious Naval service, he was reactivated to the "JAG Corps" to prosecute cases involving detainees at the American prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. He retired from the Navy in April at the rank of captain.

As big a fight as any came for Mr. Iglesias in one of his nonmilitary legal roles. In 2001, thanks in part to his credentials as a fast-rising Republican who two years earlier had narrowly lost the race for New Mexico attorney general, the administration of George W. Bush appointed him U.S. attorney for the District of New Mexico.

In 2007 he was among several U.S. attorneys around the country who were forced to resign in a political power play. As the Department of Justice’s inspector general described in a 2008 report, Republican elected and party officials had pressured Mr. Iglesias to bring voting-fraud charges against Arizona Democrats for which he had found insufficient evidence. When he refused, he says, he was "fired for not being political." He eventually gave his view of the events in a 2008 book, In Justice: Inside the Scandal That Rocked the Bush Administration (Wiley).

When Wheaton officials welcomed Mr. Iglesias to the Hastert directorship, they cited all those elements of his career as evidence of his expertise and his connections in political, public, and military policy. Mr. Iglesias, who is 56, will also be an associate professor of politics and law at Wheaton. While new to academe, he is not new to teaching. Since 1998, he has regularly instructed military, intelligence, and police personnel around the world in issues of border security, counterterrorism, and the rule of law on behalf of American defense and law-enforcement agencies.

He says that he will gladly discuss his experiences, including the discomforting ones, as he impresses upon students that "it’s OK to have faith and trust in your systems, but you have to hold organizations accountable to the same standards as they have held other people to."

He professes that law and public policy are "problem solver" endeavors that generally lead to viable solutions. But he adds that students who go into those fields should expect setbacks. "Sure, it’s terribly embarrassing to be fired," he says, "but you should learn from that."

And bear in mind, he says, that "one of the strengths of the American justice system is its capacity to correct."