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
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.
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
Hanoi, North Vietnam; NARA
*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.