The new lawyer representing Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl said the former Taliban prisoner is “deeply grateful” to President Obama for his freedom.
“He believes President Obama saved his life,” attorney Eugene Fidell told ABC News in an interview to be broadcast on “World News With Diane Sawyer”.
Fidell, who teaches military law at Yale, said that he’s been tasked with leading Bergdahl’s legal team as the Army investigates the circumstances of Bergdahl’s disappearance from his Afghan outpost and his capture by the Taliban in 2009. Military sources previously told ABC News Bergdahl may have simply walked off the Army base of his own volition, echoing the findings of an internal investigation completed in 2009, according to defense officials.
“I think it’s important that people, particularly people who have been vilified, have proper representation, and every lawyer has a responsibility to represent even unpopular clients and that’s why I’m involved in this,” Fidell said in an earlier interview today with ABC News.
“I think there are people that have been using Sgt. Bergdahl for target practice in the media. I think that’s extremely unfortunate,” Fidell added later. “People should resist the temptation to try this case in the media… just hold the phone.”
Bergdahl was freed in a controversial swap earlier this year for five Taliban prisoners who had been held in the American detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
“I certainly hope that those people who are trying to score political points, having to do with the release of people from Guantanamo Bay, will calm down and certainly not let that issue cloud what people make of Sgt. Bergdahl’s situation. They’re separate in my opinion,” Fidell said.
President Obama discussed Bergdahl’s release in May while standing in the White House Rose Garden with Bergdahl’s parents. “It’s a good day,” Obama said then. “Sgt. Bergdahl has missed birthdays and holidays and the simple moments with family and friends, which all of us take for granted. But while Bowe was gone, he was never forgotten.”
High-level critics, including Speaker of the House John Boehner, said that Obama had compromised the notion that “the United States does not negotiate with terrorists” and bristled that Congress was not consulted about the exchange in advance, as some claim the law requires.
Fidell, who said he’s working for Bergdahl pro bono, said he met with his client last week, but declined to comment on Bergdahl’s condition. The attorney also would not discuss whether he has spoken with Bergdahl’s parents. Since his return to the U.S. Bergdahl himself has declined to speak with his parents, defense officials said.
Earlier this week the military said it put Bergdahl back on regular duty following a long reintegration process. He has been assigned a desk job at the headquarters of U.S. Army North at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas.
The lawyer said that Bergdahl has not yet been interviewed by Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl who is heading the investigation into the circumstances surrounding Bergdahl's 2009 disappearance. Fidell said he spoke with Dahl Tuesday and they had a "cordial and professional" conversation and he looks forward to meeting him. He doesn’t anticipate Dahl will conduct substantive interviews with Bergdahl for a couple of weeks, and he’ll be present for the interviews.
He has not been charged with any crimes and not been read his rights in anticipation of any charges, defense officials said this week. Fidell also told ABC News he expects Bergdahl to leave the military at some point – he’s currently on “hold” in the military bureaucracy – and believes his client wants to eventually become “just another face in the crowd.”
Fidell said he hopes Sgt. Bergdahl, “in recognition of the ordeal that he has experienced -- remarkable ordeal -- will be permitted to go his way… with the benefits that veterans are entitled to and without scars that would make it difficult for him to lead a normal life in the future.”