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Very important, folks! Please read!


First Vietnam POWs Released

By Patrick Mondout

On February 12, 1973, the first American POWs were released to U.S. officials near Hanoi, North Vietnam under the terms of the January 23 cease-fire agreement. They arrived on U.S. soil two days later.


During the course of the Vietnam war, many prisoners of war were taken by both sides. Most of the Americans who were captured were eventually transferred to prison compounds nicknamed the "Hanoi Hilton" by P.O.W.s and located in North Vietnam. As with the Taliban prisoners being held indefinitely without any due process at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba, the American prisoners were not treated with the minimum standards as required by the Geneva Convention of 1949. North Vietnam claimed that as there had been no formal declaration of war, captured American G.I.s were to be treated as international gangsters and not granted the protections of Prisoner of War status.*

The relevant passage of the Geneva Convention (for both cases above) is Section 5. It reads:

"Should any doubt arise as to whether persons, having committed a belligerent act and having fallen into the hands of the enemy, belong to any of the categories enumerated in Article 4, such persons shall enjoy the protections of the present Convention until such time as their status has been determined by a competent tribunal."

North Vietnamese leaders also used the American P.O.W.s in a failed propaganda campaign to convince Americans back home that the G.I.s were war criminals. Only they and their families know the psychological and physical pain they suffered.

Checking Out of the Hanoi Hilton

American servicemen, former prisoners of war, are cheering as their aircraft takes off from an airfield near Hanoi as part of Operation Homecoming.

Hanoi, North Vietnam; NARA photo

*The second Bush administration took the view that once they had arbitrarily declared the war in Afghanistan over, anyone still fighting could not be called a P.O.W. if captured and that members of al-Qaeda had no state and thus could not be afforded that status. Administration officials, replying to an urgent request by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, declared that, with regard to Section 5 of the Geneva Convention, the right to decide whether or not there is any doubt belongs to the "detaining power." That is the same position the Vietcong took.

When asked, former Ford Chief of Staff and current Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld only replied that he didn't have the "slightest concern" for them after what they'd done. That the 700 detainees from 42 countries had not yet been charged - let alone been proven guilty of anything - shows that Americans politicians can play that game as well as any Viet Kong leaders. One wonders what treatment American P.O.W.s will receive in the next war.



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Wives of Marines stationed at Camp Pendleton, wait at the Naval Air Station, Miramar for repatriated Marine prisoners of war to arrive. They arrived home on Feb 14.

NARA photo

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