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Code of Conduct
For the Armed Forces of the United States
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The Code of Conduct (CoC), 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.


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.

Special Provisions for Medical Personnel & Chaplains (Article I)

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.

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.


I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender the members of my command while they still have the means to resist.

Explanation: Members of the Armed Forces may never surrender voluntarily. Even when isolated and no longer able to inflict casualties on the enemy or otherwise defend themselves, it is their duty to evade capture and rejoin the nearest friendly force.

Surrender is the willful act of members of the Armed Forces turning themselves over to enemy forces when not required by utmost

Special Provisions for Medical Personnel & Chaplains (Article II)

No additional flexibility. However, medical personnel and chaplains are subject to lawful capture. They may only resort to arms in self-defense or in defense of the wounded and sick in their charge when attacked in violation of the Geneva Convention. They must refrain from all aggressive action and may not use force to prevent their capture or that of their unit by the enemy. It is, on the other hand, perfectly legitimate for a medical unit to withdraw in the face of the enemy.

necessity or extremity. Surrender is always dishonorable and never allowed. When there is no chance for meaningful resistance, evasion is impossible, and further fighting would lead to their death with no significant loss to the enemy, members of Armed Forces should view themselves as "captured" against their will versus a circumstance that is seen as voluntarily "surrendering." They must remember that the capture was dictated by the futility of the situation and overwhelming enemy strengths. In this case, capture is not dishonorable.

The responsibility and authority of a commander never extends to the surrender of command, even if isolated, cut off, or surrounded, while the unit has a reasonable power to resist, break out, or evade to rejoin friendly forces.

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

  • Understand that when they are cut off, shot down, or otherwise isolated in enemy-controlled territory, they must make every effort to avoid capture. The courses of action available include concealment until recovered by friendly rescue forces, evasive travel to a friendly or neutral territory, and evasive travel to other prebriefed areas.
  • Understand that capture does not constitute a dishonorable act if the Service member has exhausted all reasonable means of avoiding it and the only alternative is death or serious bodily injury.
  • Understand and be confident in their ability to stay alive using survival skills while evading, the procedures and techniques of rescue by search and recovery forces, and the procedures for properly using specified evasion destinations.


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.

Special Provisions for Medical Personnel & Chaplains (Article III)

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.

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.
  • 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.


If I become a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners. I will give no information or take part in any action which might be harmful to my comrades. If I am senior, I will take command. If not, I will obey the lawful orders of those appointed over me and will back them up in every way.

Explanation: Officers and noncommissioned officers shall continue to carry out their responsibilities and exercise their authority in captivity.

Informing, or any other action detrimental to a fellow POW, is despicable and is expressly forbidden. POWs especially must avoid helping the enemy to identify fellow POWs who may have knowledge of value to the enemy and who may be made to suffer coercive interrogation.

Strong leadership is essential to discipline. Without discipline, camp organization, resistance, and even survival may be impossible.

Personal hygiene, camp sanitation, and care of the sick and wounded are imperative.

Wherever located, POWs should organize in a military manner under the senior military POW eligible for command. The senior POW (whether officer or enlisted) in the POW camp or among a group of POWs shall assume command according to rank without regard to Military Service. The senior POW cannot evade that responsibility and accountability.

When taking command, the senior POW shall inform the other POWs and shall designate the chain of command. If the senior POW is

Special Provisions for Medical Personnel & Chaplains (Article IV)

Medical personnel shall not assume command over nonmedical personnel and chaplains shall not assume command over military personnel of any branch. Military Service regulations that restrict eligibility of those personnel for command shall be explained to all personnel at an applicable level of understanding to preclude later confusion in a POW camp.

incapacitated, or is otherwise unable to act for any reason, the next senior POW shall assume command. Every effort shall be made to inform all POWs in the camp (or group) of the members of the chain of command who shall represent them in dealing with enemy authorities. The responsibility of subordinates to obey the lawful orders of ranking American military personnel remains unchanged in captivity.

U.S. policy on POW camp organization requires that the senior military POW assume command. The Geneva Convention on POWs provides additional guidance to the effect that in POW camps containing only enlisted personnel, a prisoners' representative shall be elected. POWs should understand that such an elected representative is regarded by U.S. policy as only a spokesperson for the senior POW. The prisoners' representative does not have command, unless the POWs elect the senior POW to be the prisoners' representative. The senior POW shall assume and retain actual command, covertly if necessary.

Maintaining communications is one of the most important ways that POWs aid one another. Communication breaks down the barriers of isolation that an enemy may attempt to construct and helps strengthen a POW's will to resist. Each POW, immediately upon capture, shall try to make contact with fellow POWs by any means available and, thereafter, shall continue to communicate and participate vigorously as part of the POW organization.

As with other provisions of the CoC, common sense and the conditions in the POW camp shall determine the way in which the senior POW and the other POWs structure their organization and carry out their responsibilities.

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

  • Understand that leadership and obedience to those in command are essential to the discipline required to effect successful organization against captor exploitation. In captivity situations involving two or more POWs, the senior ranking POW shall assume command; all others shall obey the orders and abide by the decisions of the senior POW regardless of differences in Military Service affiliations. Failure to do so shall result in the weakening of organization, a lowering of resistance, and, after repatriation, may result in legal proceedings under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).
  • Understand that faith, trust, and individual group loyalties have great value in establishing and maintaining an effective POW organization.
  • Understand that a POW who voluntarily informs or collaborates with the captor is disloyal to the United States and fellow POWs and, after repatriation, is subject to disciplinary action under the UCMJ for such actions.
  • Be familiar with the principles of hygiene, sanitation, health maintenance, first aid, physical conditioning, and food use. It shall include recognition and emergency self-treatment of typical POW camp illnesses by emergency use of primitive materials and available substances (e.g., toothpaste, salt, and charcoal). Such knowledge exerts an important influence on POW ability to resist and assists an effective POW organization.
  • Understand the importance of, and the basic procedures for, establishing secure communications between separated individuals and groups of POWs attempting to establish and maintain an effective organization.
  • Be familiar with the major ethnic (to include racial demographics), cultural and national characteristics of the enemy that may affect POW-captor relationships to the detriment of individual POWs and the POW organization.
  • Understand that an informer or collaborator should be insulated from sensitive information on POW organization, but members of the POW organization should continually encourage and try to persuade the collaborator to cease such activities.
  • Welcoming a repentant collaborator "back to the fold" is generally a more effective POW organizational approach than continued isolation, which may encourage the collaborator to continue such disloyal conduct.
  • Understand that there is a significant difference between the collaborator who must be persuaded to return and the resister who, only after having been physically or mentally tortured, complies with a captor's improper demand (such as to provide information or a propaganda statement). The collaborator's conduct is reprehensible and cannot be sanctioned, whereas the resister should be given help to gather strength and resume resistance.
  • Understand that in situations where military and civilian personnel are imprisoned together, the senior military POW should make every effort to persuade civilian prisoners that the Military Service member's assuming overall command leadership of the entire prisoner group, based upon experience and specific training, is advantageous to the entire prisoner community.
  • Understand the need for, and the mechanics of, establishing an effective covert organization in situations where the captor attempts to prevent or frustrate a properly constituted organization.


When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am required to give name, rank, service number, and date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability. I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country and its allies or harmful to their cause.

Explanation: When questioned, a POW is required by the Geneva Conventions and the CoC, and is permitted by the UCMJ, to give name, rank, service number, and date of birth. Under the Geneva Conventions, the enemy has no right to try to force a POW to provide any additional information. However, it is unrealistic to expect a POW to remain confined for years reciting only name, rank, service number, and date of birth. There are many POW camp situations in which certain types of conversation with the enemy are permitted. For example, a POW is allowed, but not required by the CoC, the UCMJ, or the Geneva Conventions, to fill out a Geneva Conventions "capture card," to write letters home, and to communicate with captors on matters of camp administration and health and welfare.

Special Provisions for Medical Personnel & Chaplains (Articles V and VI)

These Articles and its explanations also apply to medical personnel and chaplains ("retained personnel"). They are required to communicate with a captor in connection with their professional responsibilities, subject to the restraints discussed in Article I, V, and VI..

The senior POW is required to represent fellow POWs in matters of camp administration, health, welfare, and grievances. However, POWs must constantly bear in mind that the enemy has often viewed POWs as valuable sources of military information and propaganda that they can use to further their war effort.

Accordingly, each POW must exercise great caution when completing a "capture card," when engaging in authorized communication with the captor, and when writing letters. A POW must resist, avoid, or evade, even when physically and mentally coerced, all enemy efforts to secure statements or actions that may further the enemy's cause.

Examples of statements or actions POWs should resist include giving oral or written confessions; making propaganda recordings and broadcast appeals to other POWs to comply with improper captor demands; appealing for U.S. surrender or parole; engaging in self-criticisms; and providing oral or written statements or communications on behalf of the enemy or harmful to the United States, its allies, the Armed Forces, or other POWs. Captors have used POWs' answers to questions of a personal nature, questionnaires, or personal history to create improper statements such as those listed above.

A POW should recognize the enemy might use any confession or statement as part of a false accusation that the captive is a war criminal rather than a POW. Moreover, certain countries have made reservations to the Geneva Conventions (reference (g)) in which they assert that a war criminal conviction has the effect of depriving the convicted individual of POW status. These countries may assert that the POW is removed from protection under reference (g) and the right to repatriation is thus revoked until the individual serves a prison sentence.

If a POW finds that, under intense coercion, he unwillingly or accidentally discloses unauthorized information, the Service member should attempt to recover and resist with a fresh line of mental defense.

POW experience has shown that although enemy interrogation sessions may be harsh and cruel, it is usually possible to resist, if there is a will to resist.

The best way for a POW to keep faith with the United States, fellow POWs, and oneself is to provide the enemy with as little information as possible.

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

  • Be familiar with the various aspects of the interrogation process, its phases, the procedures, methods and techniques of interrogation, and the interrogator's goals, strengths, and weaknesses.
  • Understand that the Geneva Conventions and the CoC require a POW to disclose name, rank, service number, and date of birth, when questioned. Understand that a POW must avoid answering further questions. A POW is encouraged to limit further disclosure by using resistance techniques such as claiming inability to furnish additional information because of previous orders, poor memory, ignorance, or lack of comprehension. The POW may never voluntarily give the captor additional information, but must resist doing so, even if it involves withstanding mental and physical duress.
  • Understand that short of death, it is unlikely that a POW may prevent a skilled enemy interrogator, using all available psychological and physical methods of coercion, from obtaining some degree of compliance by the POW with captor demands. However, understand that if the interrogator takes the Service member past the point of maximum endurance, the POW must recover ("bounce back") as quickly as possible and resist each successive captor exploitation effort to the utmost. Understand that a forced answer on one point does not authorize continued compliance. The POW must resist answering again at the next interrogation session.
  • Understand that the CoC authorizes a POW to communicate with the captor on individual health or welfare matters and, when applicable, on routine matters of camp administration. Conversations on those matters are not considered to be giving unauthorized information.
  • Understand that the POW may furnish limited information on family status and address in completing a Geneva Conventions capture card.
  • Be aware that a POW may write personal correspondence.
  • Be aware that the captor shall have full access to both the information on the capture card and the contents of personal correspondence.
  • Be familiar with the captor's reasons for and methods of attempting to involve POWs in both internal and external propaganda activities. Understand that a POW must use every means available to avoid participating in such activities and must not make oral or written statements disloyal to the United States or its allies, or detrimental to fellow POWs.
  • Be familiar with the captor's reasons for and methods of attempting to indoctrinate POWs politically. Be familiar with the methods of resisting such indoctrination.
  • Understand that even when coerced beyond name, rank, service number, date of birth, and claims of inabilities, it is possible to thwart an interrogator's efforts to obtain useful information by using certain additional ruses and stratagems.
  • Understand and develop confidence in the ability to use properly the ruses and stratagems designed to prevent successful interrogation.


I will never forget that I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.

Explanation: A member of the Armed Forces remains responsible for personal actions at all times. Article VI is designed to assist members of the Armed Forces to fulfill their responsibilities and survive captivity with honor. The CoC does not conflict with the UCMJ, which continues to apply to each military member during captivity or other hostile detention. Failure to adhere to the CoC may subject Service members to applicable disposition under the UCMJ.

When repatriated, POWs can expect their actions to be subject to review, both as to circumstances of capture and as to conduct during detention. The purpose of such review is to recognize meritorious performance and, if necessary, investigate any allegations of misconduct.

Such reviews shall be conducted with due regard for the rights of the individual and consideration for the conditions of captivity.

A member of the Armed Forces who is captured has a continuing obligation to resist all attempts at indoctrination and remain loyal to the United States.

The life of a POW may be very hard. POWs who stand firm and united against enemy pressures shall aid one another immeasurably in surviving this ordeal.

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

  • Understand the relationship between the UCMJ and the CoC, and realize that failure to follow the guidance of the CoC may result in subsequent disposition under the UCMJ. Every member of the Armed Forces of the United States should understand that Service members may be held legally accountable for personal actions while detained.
  • Understand that the Military Services, as prescribed in Federal law, shall take care of both the POW and dependents and that pay and allowances, eligibility and procedures for promotion, and benefits for dependents continue while the POW is detained even if the enemy does not report the Service member as being a POW and his or her status reflects missing in action.
  • Understand the importance of military members ensuring that their personal affairs and family matters (pay, powers of attorney, wills, debt payments, and children's schooling) are kept current through discussion, counseling or filing of documents before being exposed to risk of capture.
  • Understand that failure to accomplish the matters set forth in the paragraphs immediately above, has resulted in an almost overwhelming sense of guilt on the part of the POWs and has placed unnecessary hardship on family members.

Above Information Derived from DOD Instruction 1300.21, Code of Conduct Training & Education


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