Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl Hires Yale Law Professor as Attorney
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl just hired Yale Law School professor Eugene R. Fidell as his attorney. Bergdahl, who was recently returned in a controversial trade after five years as an alleged prisoner of war in Afghanistan, is seeking Fidell’s aid during the investigation into his capture.
Fidell, who teaches military justice at Yale Law School, has agreed to take on Bergdahl as a client pro bono. In addition to teaching at Yale Law School, Fidell is the co-founder and former president of The National Institute of Military Justice. He stated that he was flattered to be asked to represent Bergdahl, and says that, “it’s a case that resonates with many people and engages their sense of fairness, it’s a very dramatic series of facts.”
Fidell has received many mixed reactions to his decision to represent Bergdahl. He said, “there are people who harbor ill will toward my client,” but at the same time he has received emails “wishing my client well.” Obviously, people are going to have strong opinions about this situation, but Fidell has stressed the importance of getting all of the facts before jumping to conclusions. So little is known about exactly what happened in Afghanistan that a thorough investigation is needed before any action can be taken. According to Fidell:
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.
The Pentagon is investigating the details of Bergdahl’s departure of his post in eastern Afghanistan in 2009. While he has not yet been asked about the circumstances leading up to his capture by the Taliban, if it is determined that he was indeed a prisoner of war, Bergdahl could be eligible for a tax-free $350,000 from the United States government.
The Army has not yet determined whether or not Bergdahl deliberately abandoned his post. Some former members of his unit in Afghanistan have claimed that Bergdahl chose to walk away, and that several unit members were injured or killed looking for him. Last week, former Army Sgt. Evan Buetow told Fox News:
He thought about what he was doing, he mailed some things home, he walked away and we have witnesses who saw him walking away. And if you’re walking away in one of the worst, most dangerous areas of Afghanistan without your weapon and gear, I don’t believe you’re planning on coming back.
An initial military investigation in 2009 ruled that Bergdahl did, in fact, deliberately walk away from his unit, based on the evidence available at the time. However, Fidell has stated that Bergdahl “hasn’t been charged with anything at the moment,” and that, “we’ll deal with the charges when they’re filed”.
Fidell has called the investigators “cordial and professional,” and pointed out that, “it’s not a courtroom. This is an investigation”.
While the investigation is ongoing, Bergdahl has been put back on regular duty at a desk job at his company headquarters in San Antonio, Texas. According to Fidel, Bergdahl will not be returning to combat. He said, “he and I have about the same chance of winding up on the battlefield again, his ordeal I’m sure is unimaginable for the rest of us.” Fidell has not shared any details regarding Bergdahl’s mental state, but stated that his client understands that his life was saved, and is very grateful to President Obama.
No doubt, representing Bergdahl will have its challenges. People have strong opinions on the issue, and many have made those opinions clear to Fidell. However, the facts of what happened in Afghanistan are extremely complicated, and as the investigation continues things will get messy. This is not a case that someone takes on lightly, and Fidell should be applauded for taking on this challenge. It’s a lawyer’s duty to provide legal service when it is needed, however tough, politicized, and contentious the situation may be. No matter what happens with this case, Fidell is certainly doing his job.
Brittany Alzfan (@BrittanyAlzfan) is a student at the George Washington University majoring in Criminal Justice. She was a member of Law Street’s founding Law School Rankings team during the summer of 2014. Contact Brittany at staff@LawStreetMedia.com.
Featured image courtesy of [Mad African!: (Broken Sword) via Flickr]