Introductory Guide / Site Map
1. What exactly is a POW?
Article 4 of the Third Geneva Convention defines as POW as "Any member of the armed forces of a party to a conflict is a combatant and any combatant captured by the adverse party is a prisoner of war". This is reflected by an American definition of a POW as "A prisoner of war is a person serving in the armed forces in any field that has been taken from their line of duty, usually by force, by an enemy".
While the Geneva Conventions spell out the rights of POW, they do not exactly define what turns the status of an active soldier in combat into a passive non-combatant prisoner forcibly held in captivity by the enemy.
To the average serviceman, the most he knows about the rights of an active combatant suddenly turned into a passive non-combatant prisoner forcibly held in captivity, is that under interrogation, he is only legally required to give his service number, rank and name and that it his primary duty is to escape from that captivity if it is at all possible, and to re-join his unit as an active combatant.
When reported "Missing in Action - believed POW", the non-combatant prisoner, deprived of his means of fighting and logistical support, comes under the immediate protection of the Geneva Conventions and Protocols, provided the enemy government is a signatory to them. In theory these rights should be prominently posted up at the prisoner’s place of incarceration, which must at all times be made available for inspection by their nominated protecting power, one of whose first responsibilities is to notify the change in status and location to the appropriate authorities of the prisoner’s government.
Once a combatant has been separated from his unit and finds himself in hostile territory unable to re-join it, he finds himself in a no-man’s land. The local inhabitants, if hostile, will generally quickly ensure that he is apprehended and taken immediately to the civil police, or direct to a prison camp. But, if friendly, they might assist him to survive "underground" in their midst, or even actually help him to escape through a local escape organisation.
Part of the intelligence function of warring parties, is to set up such escape routes through which they can recover their prisoners. Not only to retrieve fully-trained combat personnel, but access through them valuable local strategically important information that may have gathered whilst in enemy hands. Shot down airmen were particularly involved with such escape routes (see Part Three).
With changes in the nature of warfare and the disappearance of controlled national geographic borders, there will have to be concommitant regulations set up in the Geneva Conventions and Protocols governing the rules of war for combatants, and in the Hague Conventions and Protocols, currently covering the rules of conduct for neutral nations, not directly involved in combat.
In the current war against "terrorism", there are no geographic boundaries. "Suicide Bombers", unlike the Kamikaze uniformed pilots of Japanese warplanes, may be civilians, even women or young children. The international plight of refugees from war is not thoroughly covered by either the Hague or Geneva Conventions. It seems to the Recorder that the international fight against terrorism demands a brand new book of rules. In Part Two he had no difficulty compiling the nominal roll of the AIF POW in Switzerland.
But when he extended the parameters of the research to include the AIF POW "Free Men" in the rest of Europe he found difficulties with the CARO and DVA classifications of AIF POW. These difficulties are outlined next in section "What Exactly is an AIF POW "Free Man".