He is well-known and widely quoted as an expert on military law. Eugene Fidell was the successful defense counsel for U.S. Army Captain James J. Yee, the Muslim chaplain at Guantanamo Bay who in 2003 was accused of aiding the enemy and other offenses. Now 65, Fidell practices with a Washington law firm and teaches at Yale Law School. He started out as a JAG officer in the Coast Guard. Here's how he got there—and what impact it had on his civilian career.
In the mid-1960s, when I was in law school, a war was raging in Vietnam and men were subject to the draft. Many of my classmates never served, either as a result of deferments or because of family status or medical conditions. I don't have the statistics, but my hunch is that less than one-fifth of my Harvard Law School class of 1968 ever wore a uniform. I assumed I would wind up entering the service and considered interrupting my studies to get my obligation behind me. My brother, Jay, who was on duty with the Coast Guard at the time, prevailed on me to stay in school—and I'm glad I did.