WASHINGTON — The lawyer representing Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who left his infantry post and was held by the Taliban for five years, said Thursday that callous statements Donald Trump is making about his client are threatening the soldier's right to a fair trial.
In a town hall earlier this week in New Hampshire, the GOP presidential candidate called Bergdahl a "dirty, rotten traitor" and denounced the Obama administration's decision to exchange Bergdahl in May 2014 for five Taliban leaders from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Trump also claimed six U.S. troops died while searching for Bergdahl of Hailey, Idaho, who walked away from his post on June 30, 2009. Trump also stated that the five Taliban leaders who were released were now "back on the battlefield."
Both allegations have not been substantiated. The five Taliban figures currently remain under travel restrictions in Qatar. And Bergdahl's attorney, Eugene Fidell, said that Army prosecutors have told him that they will not offer any evidence that anyone died looking for his client.
"Sgt. Bergdahl is not charged with treason or anything like it. He is charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy — a charge that in this case is simply a second, fancier way of charging AWOL, and is not to be confused with aiding the enemy," Fidell said.
At the town hall, Trump held up an imaginary rifle as if he were taking aim at Bergdahl and said: "In the old days, bing, bong." Trump's comments prompted a man in the crowd to shout: "He should be hung for treason!"
In a statement, Fidell condemned what he said was Trump's "reckless disregard for the truth" and said Bergdahl's defense team would keep track of the candidate's public statements.
"Mr. Trump's comments, along with many others that have been made over the last year, directly threaten my client's right to a fair trial," Fidell said.
Members of Congress who were angered by the prisoner swap and other GOP presidential candidates have made disparaging remarks about the trade and some of Bergdahl's fellow serviceman have publicly labeled him a deserter and a traitor.
"No American should have to put up with this kind of unprincipled behavior, especially from a person seeking public office," Fidell said. "Mr. Trump must stop vilifying this young man, who suffered five years of brutal captivity at the hands of the Taliban and deserves to be judged on the basis of evidence."
Associated Press writer Jill Colvin in New Hampshire contributed to this report.