Article 4 of the United States Military Code of Conduct

What the Military Code of Conduct Says About Being a POW

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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.

The Basics of Article 4

Article 4 of the Military Code of Conduct  (CoC) outlines how the U.S. Military expects its officers and enlisted members to behave as a prisoner of war (POW).

It reads:

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 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 About Article 4

  • 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 resistor 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.

Special Provisions for Medical Personnel & Chaplains

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.

Overview of the Other Articles of the Code of Conduct

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