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U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Berghdal is pictured in this undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Army and received by Reuters on May 31, 2014. REUTERS/U.S. Army/Handout via Reuters(reuters_tickers)
By Laura Zuckerman
SALMON Idaho (Reuters) - U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is grateful to President Barack Obama for the prisoner exchange that freed him from five years as a captive of the Taliban and wishes for privacy concerning family matters, his attorney said on Wednesday.
Bergdahl was cleared to return to a desk job at a Texas military base this week after the Army said he had completed counselling and a reintegration process.
He has retained Eugene Fidell, a specialist in military law, to represent him as the Army investigates the circumstances surrounding his disappearance and capture in Afghanistan on June 30, 2009.
In response to a question about Bergdahl's state of mind, Fidell pointed to the Army's decision to place him on regular duty.
"The Army that had him under close observation for several weeks concluded he had reached a point where it could wind down the reintegration process," Fidell told Reuters.
He declined to say who approached him to serve as the pro bono lawyer for the soldier from Hailey, Idaho, but said he spoke with Bergdahl before being hired by him about a week ago.
Bergdahl was freed May 31 in exchange for five Taliban prisoners held at the U.S. facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Critics of the deal said the Obama administration paid too high a price and questioned if Bergdahl had deserted his combat outpost before being captured.
'CAPTIVE OF KILLERS'
Fidell said Bergdahl was "deeply grateful to President Obama for having saved his life" and somewhat aware of the controversy surrounding his case. He declined to provide details about his client’s experiences while in Taliban hands.
"Suffice it to say he has spent five years as a captive of ruthless killers. You can use your imagination as to what that must have been like," said Fidell.
Bergdahl is permitted to come and go from the base in San Antonio, an army spokesman said. He has not been issued a firearm but those are not generally issued to his unit, he said.
Fidell also declined to comment on reports Bergdahl has refused to talk to his parents, saying it was a private matter.
The lawyer described his recent, informal meeting with the two-star general heading the Bergdahl probe as a "very cordial, pleasant conversation," and said he expects for a more official meeting in coming weeks.
Kimberly Dellacorva, a close friend of Bowe Bergdahl, said she contacted Fidell to represent the former captive, who she first met in Idaho 14 years ago when he took a fencing class with her son and daughter.
Dellacorva said Bergdahl was not under the impression he might need legal counsel in addition to the lawyer assigned to him by the military, but that she wanted to ensure he had all the support he needed after his ordeal in Afghanistan.
"He did go through an extreme situation," said Dellacorva, who recently visited Bergdahl in Texas. "We adore him and he's worth helping in every way. He is like one of my kids."
(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Eric Walsh)