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United States Military Code of Conduct

Article 3

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Last American POW Released In Vietnam
David Hume Kennerly / Contributor/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Article III

If I am captured I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and to aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.

Explanation: The misfortune of capture does not lessen the duty of a member of the Armed Forces to continue resisting enemy exploitation by all means available. Contrary to the Geneva Conventions, enemies whom U.S. forces have engaged since 1949 have regarded the POW compound as an extension of the battlefield. The POW must be prepared for this fact.

The enemy has used a variety of tactics to exploit POWs for propaganda purposes or to obtain military information in disregard of the Geneva Conventions. The CoC requires resistance to captor exploitation efforts. In the past, enemies of the United States have used physical and mental harassment, general mistreatment, torture, medical neglect, and political indoctrination against POWs.

The enemy has tried to tempt POWs to accept special favors or privileges not given to other POWs in return for statements or information desired by the enemy or for a pledge by the POW not to attempt escape.

POWs must not seek special privileges or accept special favors at the expense of fellow POWs.

The Geneva Conventions recognize that the regulations of a POW's country may impose the duty to escape and that POWs may attempt to escape. Under the guidance and supervision of the senior military person and POW organization, POWs must be prepared to take advantage of escape opportunities whenever they arise. In communal detention, the welfare of the POWs who remain behind must be considered. A POW must "think escape," must try to escape if able to do so, and must assist others to escape.

The Geneva Conventions authorize the release of POWs on parole only to the extent authorized by the POWs' country and prohibit compelling a POW to accept parole. Parole agreements are promises a POW gives the captor to fulfill stated conditions, such as not to bear arms or not to escape, in consideration of special privileges, such as release from captivity or lessened restraint. The United States does not authorize any Military Service member to sign or enter into any such parole agreement.

What Military Personnel Need to Know: Specifically, Service members should:

  • Understand that captivity is a situation involving continuous control by a captor who may attempt to use the POW as a source of military information, for political purposes, and as a potential subject for political indoctrination.
  • Be familiar with the rights and obligations of both the POW and the captor under The Geneva Conventions and be aware of the increased significance of resistance should the captor refuse to abide by the provisions of the Geneva Conventions. Be aware that the resistance the CoC requires is directed at captor exploitation efforts, because such efforts violate the Geneva Conventions.
  • Understand that resistance beyond that identified above subjects the POW to possible punishment by the captor for order and discipline violations. Certain actions by the POW can be prosecuted as criminal offenses against the detaining power.
  • Be familiar with, and prepared for, the fact that certain countries have reservations to Article 85 of the 1949 Geneva Convention (III) relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. Article 85 offers protection to a POW convicted of a crime based on facts occurring before capture. Understand that captors from countries that have expressed a reservation to Article 85 often threaten to use their reservation as a basis for adjudging all members of opposing armed forces as "war criminals." As a result, POWs may find themselves accused of being "war criminals" simply because they waged war against these countries before capture. The U.S. Government and most other countries do not recognize the validity of this argument.
  • Understand that a successful escape by a POW causes the enemy to divert forces that might otherwise be fighting, provides the United States valuable information about the enemy and other POWs in captivity, and serves as a positive example to all members of the Armed Forces.
  • Understand the advantages of early escape in that members of the ground forces are usually relatively near friendly forces. For all captured individuals, an early escape attempt takes advantage of the fact that the initial captors are usually not trained guards, that the security system is relatively lax, and that the POW is not yet in a debilitated physical condition.

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