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United States Military Code of Conduct

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  • Understand the importance of beginning escape planning at the earliest possible moment and continuing escape planning throughout captivity even when no obvious escape opportunities exist. POWs should passively collect information on the captors, the strengths and weaknesses of the facility and its security personnel, the surrounding terrain and conditions that could affect an escape attempt, and items and materials within the camp that may support an escape effort. This alertness and continual planning for escape places a POW in the best position to exploit, facilitate, or provide assistance during an escape opportunity.
  • Be familiar with the complications of escape after arrival at an established POW camp. These may include secure facilities and an experienced guard system, increased distance from friendly forces, debilitated physical condition of prisoners, psychological factors that reduce escape motivation ("barbed-wire syndrome"), and possible differing ethnic characteristics of the escapee and the enemy population.
  • Understand the command supervisory role of the senior United States military person and the POW organization in escapes from established POW camps.
  • Understand the responsibilities of escapees to their fellow POWs.
  • Understand that acceptance of parole means a POW has agreed not to engage in a specified act, such as to escape or to bear arms, in exchange for a stated privilege, and that U.S. policy forbids a POW to accept such parole.
  • Understand the effects on POW organization and morale, as well as the possible legal consequences, of accepting a favor from the enemy that results in gaining benefits or privileges not available to all POWs. Such benefits and privileges include acceptance of release before the release of sick or wounded POWs or those who have been in captivity longer. Special favors include improved food, recreation, and living conditions not available to other POWs.

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. The Geneva Convenctions requires the enemy to allow such persons to continue to perform their medical or religious duties, preferably for POWs of their own country. When the services of those "retained personnel" are no longer needed for these duties, the enemy is obligated to return them to their own forces.

The medical personnel and chaplains of the Military Services who fall into the hands of the enemy must assert their rights as "retained personnel" to perform their medical and religious duties for the benefit of the POWs and must take every opportunity to do so.

If the captor permits medical personnel and chaplains to perform their professional functions for the welfare of the POW community, special latitude is authorized those personnel under the CoC, as it applies to escape.

As individuals, medical personnel and chaplains do not have a duty to escape or to actively aid others in escaping as long as the enemy treats them as "retained personnel." U.S. experience since 1949 when the Geneva Conventions were first concluded reflects limited compliance by captors of U.S. personnel with those provisions. U.S. medical and chaplain personnel must prepare to be treated as other POWs.

If the captor does not permit medical personnel and chaplains to perform their professional functions, they are considered identical to all other POWs with respect to their responsibilities under the CoC. Under no circumstances shall the latitude granted medical personnel and chaplains be interpreted to authorize any actions or conduct detrimental to the POWs or the interests of the United States.

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