National Security

Bergdahl lawyer: Flood of support for former Taliban captive

Bowe Bergdahl, August 6, 2014.
Bowe Bergdahl, August 6, 2014.

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the former Taliban captive, has received waves of sympathetic emails and letters from Americans across the country, his lawyer said Tuesday.

The Army said that Maj. Gen. Kenneth R. Dahl, who is leading the Pentagon probe of Bergdahl’s case, expects to complete his report next month.

Dahl is investigating how Bergdahl went missing June 30, 2009, from his military outpost in Afghanistan’s Paktika province near the Pakistan border before Taliban insurgents captured and held him for almost five years.

“As the investigating officer works through this final stage, it is possible that (Dahl) will have to follow up on issues that may require additional witness interviews,” the Army said in a statement.

Eugene Fidell, a Yale University military law lecturer, is representing Bergdahl in the case and was present when Dahl questioned him for two days earlier this month.

Fidell declined to predict how his client, a native Idahoan who is now 28, will fare in the Army probe.

“I don’t have a crystal ball, but I think his experience will make him overwhelmingly a sympathetic figure for Americans, as witness the fact that the mail I’ve received has been very lopsidedly favorable,” Fidell told McClatchy.

Fidell said he receives emails and letters in “a steady flow that’s overwhelmingly supportive,” some of them addressed to him and others intended for Bergdahl.

The expressions of support have bucked up Bergdahl, who is in good spirits, Fidell said.

Mainly Republican lawmakers criticized the May 31 exchange of Bergdahl for five senior Taliban released from the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, saying it violated longstanding U.S. policy not to negotiate with terrorists.

Several of Bergdahl’s former platoon mates accused him of having gone AWOL or even deserted before his capture by the Taliban.

Fidell said that Dahl has interviewed at least 10 other people in his investigation of the case, but he declined to say whether the general has spoken with any of Bergdahl’s former unit members.

Dahl’s leaving open the possibility of interviewing more witnesses, Fidell said, could mean that he has received conflicting accounts from those he’s already questioned.

“The more witnesses you have, the more of a challenge it can be to reconcile their accounts,” Fidell said.

After medical treatment and what the Army terms “reintegration,” Bergdahl returned to active duty last month with a desk job at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.

Fidell said he’s in frequent contact with Bergdahl.

“He’s in a holding pattern,” Fidell said. “This is obviously a transitional assignment. The big question is -- where does the path lead? Hopefully, that will be positive, and he can get on with the next chapter of his life, presumably including going to college somewhere.”

Asked whether Bergdahl is receiving any mental health treatment, Fidell said that’s private information.

Fidell also declined to say whether Bergdahl was tortured or otherwise abused during his captivity.

Bergdahl likely provided important information to the Pentagon about the Taliban, Fidell said, based on having spent nearly five years in close quarters with some of them.

“He’s been debriefed to a fare-thee-well,” Fidell said. “I have to assume that his information was of great value to the government.”

Regardless of the outcome of Dahl’s investigation, Fidell expressed confidence that Bergdahl won’t do prison time.

“A person would have to have a heart of stone to put Sgt. Bergdahl behind bars after all that he’s gone through,” Fidell said.