United States Military Code Of Conduct

Military Rules For Prisoners Of War

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The Code of Conduct (CoC) is the legal guide for the behavior of military members who are captured by hostile forces. If you are considering joining the military, you will be required to memorize this verbatim during your time in boot camp, basic training, Service Academy, ROTC, and OCS initial military training. 

The Code of Conduct, in six brief Articles, addresses those situations and decision areas that, to some degree, all military personnel could encounter. It includes basic information useful to U.S. POWs in their efforts to survive honorably while resisting their captor's efforts to exploit them to the advantage of the enemy's cause and their own disadvantage. Such survival and resistance require varying degrees of knowledge of the meaning of the six Articles of the CoC.

Article I - I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.

Explanation: Article I of the CoC applies to all Service members at all times. A member of the Armed Forces has a duty to support U.S. interests and oppose U.S. enemies regardless of the circumstances, whether located in a combat environment or in captivity.

Medical personnel and chaplains are obligated to abide by the provisions of the CoC; however, their special retained status under the Geneva Conventions grants them some flexibility in its implementation.

What Military Personnel Need to Know: Past experience of captured Americans reveals that honorable survival in captivity requires that a service member possesses a high degree of dedication and motivation. Maintaining these qualities requires knowledge of and a strong belief in the following:

  • The advantages of American democratic institutions and concepts.
  • Love of and faith in the United States and a conviction that the U.S. cause is just.
  • Faith in and loyalty to fellow POWs.

Possessing the dedication and motivation, such beliefs and trust foster enable POWs to survive long and stressful periods of captivity and return to their country and families honorably with self-esteem intact.

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. While this allows them the latitude and flexibility necessary to perform their professional duties, it does not relieve them of their obligation to abide by the provisions of the CoC. Like all members of the Armed Forces, medical personnel and chaplains are accountable for their actions.

Remaining Articles of the Code of Conduct

Article II - I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender the members of my command while they still have the means to resist.

Explanation: Members of the military are not to surrender voluntarily. Individually or as a group, when isolated and no longer able to fight the enemy or defend themselves, it is their duty to evade capture and rejoin the nearest friendly force.

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.

Explanation: 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 mistreated prisoners while in captivity. 

Article IV - 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.

Explanation: Being a POW, communicating and keeping the morale as high as possible with your fellow captives is essential to your survival. You are still in the military and it is the chain of command with a strong leader that will save you and your fellow prisoners. 

Article V - When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am required to give name, rank, service number, and date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability. I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country and its allies or harmful to their cause.

Explanation: When questioned, a POW is required by the Geneva Conventions and the CoC to only give the name, rank, service number, and date of birth. This communication is for accountability purposes as well as having a guideline for avoiding being used as enemy propaganda, allowing the prisoner some flexibility when torture and other illegal mistreatment or harsh activity is involved. 

Article VI - I will never forget that I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.

Explanation: Keeping the faith is critical to the survival of an American in custody. Article VI is designed to assist members of the Armed Forces to fulfill their responsibilities and survive captivity with honor.