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United States Military Code of Conduct

Military Rules for Prisoners of War

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The Code of Conduct (CoC) is the legal guide for the behavior of military members who are captured by hostile forces.

The Code of Conduct, in six brief Articles, addresses those situations and decision areas that, to some degree, all military personnel could encounter. It includes basic information useful to U.S. POWs in their efforts to survive honorably while resisting their captor's efforts to exploit them to the advantage of the enemy's cause and their own disadvantage. Such survival and resistance requires varying degrees of knowledge of the meaning of the six Articles of the CoC.

Article I

I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.

Explanation:Article I of the CoC applies to all Service members at all times. A member of the Armed Forces has a duty to support U.S. interests and oppose U.S. enemies regardless of the circumstances, whether located in a combat environment or in captivity.

Medical personnel and chaplains are obligated to abide by the provisions of the CoC; however, their special retained status under the Geneva Conventions grants them some flexibility in its implementation.

What Military Personnel Need to Know: Past experience of captured Americans reveals that honorable survival in captivity requires that a service member possess a high degree of dedication and motivation. Maintaining these qualities requires knowledge of and a strong belief in the following:

  • The advantages of American democratic institutions and concepts.
  • Love of and faith in the United States and a conviction that the U.S. cause is just.
  • Faith in and loyalty to fellow POWs.

Possessing the dedication and motivation, such beliefs and trust foster enables POWs to survive long and stressful periods of captivity, and return to their country and families honorably with self-esteem intact.

Special Provisions for Medical Personnel & Chaplains. Under the Geneva Conventions, medical personnel who are exclusively engaged in the medical service of their armed forces and chaplains who fall into the hands of the enemy are "retained personnel" and are not POWs. While this allows them the latitude and flexibility necessary to perform their professional duties, it does not relieve them of their obligation to abide by the provisions of the CoC. Like all members of the Armed Forces, medical personnel and chaplains are accountable for their actions.

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