United States Military Code of Conduct

Article 3

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.


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.


  • 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 Conventions 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.

Additonal Articles

Article 1
Article 2
Article 4
Article 5
Article 6