Bergdahl attorney says client has been vilified
McALLEN, Texas — Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, freed after years of captivity in Afghanistan and returned to active duty this week, has retained an attorney — a military law expert from Yale.
Eugene Fidell, who teaches military justice at Yale Law School, told the Los Angeles Times that he has been representing Bergdahl for about a week and is working pro bono.
Fidell said he has received a variety of reactions to his decision to work with Bergdahl.
“There are people who harbor ill will toward my client,” Fidell said, but at the same time he has received emails “wishing my client well.”
“The American people have a pretty good sense of fellow feeling and sympathy. It’s no secret that Sgt. Bergdahl went through an astounding and terrifying ordeal … people are fascinated whether they’re sympathetic or in the vilification business.”
Fidell said he spoke with Bergdahl but declined to discuss many details, citing confidentiality.
“He is deeply grateful to President Barack Obama for having saved his life,” Fidell said, “by doing whatever had to be done.”
Bergdahl, 28, was released May 31 after nearly five years as a prisoner of war held by Islamic militants.
Obama helped broker a deal that allowed Bergdahl to be released by his Haqqani network captors in exchange for the release of five Taliban suspects from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Haqqani network has been behind some of the deadliest attacks against U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
The deal drew criticism from some Republicans in Congress, who argued that it violated American policy against negotiating with terrorists.
Obama and top Pentagon officials defended the trade as their last chance to rescue Bergdahl in keeping with the long-standing practice of recovering all prisoners of war.
Bergdahl arrived for treatment last month at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, where he started work this week at the headquarters of U.S. Army North, a command that oversees domestic defense.
His future remains in limbo until the Army completes an investigation into his disappearance in eastern Afghanistan in June 2009.
He is expected to be interviewed by Brig Gen. Kenneth Dahl, but that has yet to be scheduled, Army spokesman Wayne Hall told the Lost Angeles Times on Wednesday. Dahl was appointed last month to lead the investigation.
Fidell said he spoke with Dahl briefly this week by phone and that they had “an extremely professional, pleasant conversation.”
He said Bergdahl has no plans to make any public appearances soon.