DefenseWatch "The Voice of the Grunt"
Pentagon Rule Change Threatens American Captives
By Lynn O'Shea
Don't be confused by the TV coverage of seven Army soldiers held captive by Iraq: According to the Defense Department, there are no American Prisoners of War being held by the Baghdad regime.
Sure, we have six young men and one woman being held at the brutal whim of the Iraqi regime. It's just that the Pentagon as a matter of official policy will not call them "Prisoners of War."
This may seem like a semantic play on words, but it is not. The Pentagon decision could well lead to a brutal impact on any troops captured by the enemy, as I will explain in this column.
Over the objections of the National Alliance of POW/MIA Families and many veterans organizations, the Department of Defense in December 2000, quietly and officially eliminated the status of "Prisoner of War" from its lexicon.
We at the National Alliance of POW/MIA Families first became aware of the DoD's proposed plan to eliminate the POW designation in early 2000. The replacement designation first considered was "Isolated Personnel." The term was first used in a 1999 Department of Defense Personnel Recovery Conference Report dated Oct. 26-28, 1999. By our count the new designation, "Isolated Personnel," appeared 13 times, while the phrase, "Prisoner of War," was used only once, as the acronym POW.
Then on Oct. 5, 2000, the National Alliance of POW/MIA Families received a letter from James F. Gravelle, General Counsel of the Defense POW/MIA Office (DPMO.) Gravelle wrote:
"Let me assure you prisoner of war is not being replaced by [the term] isolated personnel [emphasis added]. There is no initiative to do so and, basically, prisoner of war and isolated personnel are not interchangeable. Prisoner of war is a legal status of military personnel captured during an international armed conflict between two countries, and entitles those captured to humanitarian treatment under the Geneva Conventions. You may recall this status was claimed for our three soldiers who were captured in the Kosovo conflict in 1999. Claiming isolated personnel status for our captured personnel would be meaningless."
What Gravelle's letter failed to mention was that there were plans to replace the designation, "Prisoner of War," with another new designation, "Missing/Captured," and the bureaucratic steps were almost in place to put the change into effect.
On Dec. 18, 2000, almost two months after Gravelle's letter, the Defense Department issued Instruction No. 1300.18. Its subject: "Military Personnel Casualty Matters, Policies, and Procedures. New Casualty categories are defined in Section E22.214.171.124."
That section reads: "Casualty Category. A term used to specifically classify a casualty for reporting purposes based upon the casualty type and the casualty status. Casualty categories include killed in action (KIA), died of wounds received in action (DWRIA), beleaguered, besieged, captured, detained, interned, missing in action (MIA) and wounded in action (WIA)."
The following section defines the new categories for those captured or missing.
"E126.96.36.199. Missing. A casualty status applicable to a person who is not at his or her duty location due to apparent involuntary reasons and whose location may or may not be known. Chapter 10 of 37 U.S.C. (reference [f]) provides statutory guidance concerning missing members of the Military Services. Excluded are personnel who are in an AWOL, deserter, or dropped from rolls status. A person declared missing is further categorized as follows:
"E188.8.131.52.1. Beleaguered. The casualty is a member of an organized element that has been surrounded by a hostile force to prevent escape of its members.
"E184.108.40.206.2. Besieged. The casualty is a member of an organized element that has been surrounded by a hostile force compelling it to surrender.
"E220.127.116.11.3. Captured. The casualty has been seized as the result of action of an unfriendly military or paramilitary force in a foreign country.
"E18.104.22.168.4. Detained. The casualty is prevented from proceeding or is restrained in custody for alleged violation of international law or other reason claimed by the government or group under which the person is being held.
"E22.214.171.124.5. Interned. The casualty definitely known to have been taken into custody of a nonbelligerent foreign power as the result of and for reasons arising out of any armed conflict in which the Armed Forces of the United States are engaged.
"E126.96.36.199.6. Missing. The casualty is not present at his or her duty location due to apparent involuntary reasons and whose location is unknown.
"E188.8.131.52.7. Missing in Action (MIA). The casualty is a hostile casualty, other than the victim of a terrorist activity, who is not present at his or her duty location due to apparent involuntary reasons and whose location is unknown."
A review of the entire directive finds that the phrase, "Prisoner or War," or the acronym, "POW," is never used. With the adoption of the new instructions, the very clear and definitive Prisoner of War designation was replaced by the ambiguous designation of "Missing/Captured."
Last October, the Navy changed the status of Navy Capt. Scott Speicher - missing in action since his F/A-18 was shot down on the opening night of the Gulf War in January 1991 - once again. Originally, listed as Killed in Action, his status was changed in January 2001 to "Missing." Pressured by a small group of Senators, the Navy again changed Speicher's designation in October 2002. However, Speicher's new designation was not "Prisoner of War." His status, and the status of all future captured service personnel, is "Missing/Captured."
According to a Navy memorandum authorizing the change of status, then-Secretary of the Navy George England wrote, [Since] "the controlling missing persons statute and directives do not use the term 'Prisoner of War,' the facts supporting a change in Captain Speicher's category from 'Missing in Action' to 'Missing/Captured' would also support the conclusion that, if alive, he is a Prisoner of War."
Words paint pictures. The phrase, "Prisoner of War," paints a clear picture. A picture, like the ones aired around the world, of seven bruised and battered American soldiers now in Iraqi hands. The phrase, "Missing/Captured," suggests nothing but a question mark.
It is important to remember two things. First, DPMO General Counsel James F. Gravelle described the Prisoner of War designation as the "legal status of military personnel captured during an international armed conflict between two countries, and entitles those captured to humanitarian treatment under the Geneva Convention."
Second, the Geneva Convention does not recognize the new term. It provided for the treatment of Prisoners of War. It makes no provisions for the combatants listed as Missing/Captured.
The president, Department of Defense representatives, the news media - and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld himself, as recently as Tuesday, March 25, 2003 - continue to refer to our captives in Iraq as "Prisoners of War." But their official status per DoD Instruction 1300.18 E184.108.40.206.3, is "Missing/Captured," just like Capt. Scott Speicher - a category that the Geneva Conventions does not recognize.
Common sense tells us if an American service member is captured by hostile forces, during wartime, he or she must be designated a Prisoner of War, not a Missing/Captured.
Finally, we at the National Alliance of POW/MIA Families wonder: What was the actual motivation behind the Department of Defense action to eliminate the Prisoner of War designation?
Lynn O'Shea is Research Director for the National Alliance of POW/MIA Families, a nationwide organization dedicated to the resolution of unsolved POW/MIA cases from all wars since World War II. She can be reached at email@example.com