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An attorney for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl said Thursday recent comments made by Donald Trump threaten his client's right to a fair trial, after the presidential candidate called Bergdahl a "dirty, rotten traitor."
At a town hall in New Hampshire on Wednesday, Trump referred to Bergdahl as a "dirty, rotten traitor" and appeared to pantomime his execution while criticizing the soldier's release as part of a prisoner exchange with the Taliban.
Attorney Eugene R. Fidell said in a statement that his client was unable to speak out in his own defense because he is facing a preliminary hearing in the military justice system.
"Nor, as a practical matter, is he [Bergdahl] in a position, for the moment, to bring the defamation lawsuit Mr. Trump richly deserves," Fidell said in the statement.
Bergdahl, who left his post in Afghanistan in 2009 and was then held captive by the Taliban for five years, was charged with desertion and endangering fellow soldiers this past March.
He was released from captivity on May 31 of last year in a controversial prisoner exchange for five Taliban commanders being held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
Fidell called Trump's allegations "unfounded" and stressed his client has never been charged with treason. He said that Trump's remarks in New Hampshire, as well as other comments he has made over the past year "directly threaten my client’s right to a fair trial."
Bergdahl faces life in prison if convicted of the most serious charge against him, misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit of place. He faces five years behind bars for a second charge of desertion with intent to shirk important duty.
Trump also criticized the prisoner exchange for Bergdahl in an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" earlier this month, saying he would not have approved such a swap, if he were commander in chief.
"We get Bergdahl, they get five people that they want. Those deals won’t happen with me," he said.
Trump echoed a similar sentiment during the first Republican presidential debate in Cleveland on Aug. 6.
Bergdahl's lawyer also rejected Trump's assertion at the New Hampshire town hall that six soldiers died while searching for his client.
The accusations refer to statements made by some former members of Bergdahl’s platoon blaming him for the deaths of several soldiers who were trying to track him down.
But a review by The New York Times found that the record was far from conclusive, partly because fighting was intense all over Afghanistan at the time and insurgents had targeted Paktika province, where Bergdahl was, for years.
Army prosecutors "have informed us that they will not be offering evidence that anyone died searching for my client," Fidell said, adding, that he was calling on the Secretary of the Army "to put this false and damaging rumor to rest once and for all."
"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 rather than slander from someone who has never worn our country’s uniform," Fidell said.