When is a solider a deserter? Critics have accused Bowe Bergdahl of being one; there's even a petition to the White House calling for his punishment and a popular “Bowe Bergdahl is NOT a Hero!” Facebook page. But the Idaho Statesman pointed out on Saturday that Bergdahl was never formally named a deserter, and today Mother Jones explains more about why: A soldier isn’t a deserter until administratively classified as one, which typically happens on his 31st day of being AWOL—on unauthorized leave. Classification is not conviction, however, though it does mean the soldier could be court-martialed and possibly convicted of the felony of desertion.
If the military classifies someone as a deserter before the 31st day, officials need to prove the soldier left without intending to return—and Bergdahl was captured after just 24 hours away. If the military decides not to prosecute a deserter, it can opt for an other-than-honorable discharge, or to "retain and rehabilitate" the soldier. Whether any of this will be relevant remains to be seen: Military experts predict the Army will deem Bergdahl's five years as a Taliban prisoner as time served. Nonetheless, the military plans to investigate Bergdahl’s case.