Treatment of War Prisoners

July 12, 1967

Report Outline
Plight of Prisoners of War in Viet Nam
Long Effort to Protect War Prisoners
Ransoming and Exchanging of Prisoners

Plight of Prisoners of War in Viet Nam

Apprehension Over Fate of Captured Americans

The near-certain execution by the Viet Cong of Gustav C. Hertz, a U. S. Agency for International Development official in Viet Nam, has given the American people a grim reminder of the frailty of protections afforded prisoners of war taken by the enemy in Southeast Asia. The U. S. Embassy in Saigon disclosed on June 27 that a Viet Cong broadcast 11 days earlier had spoken of the execution of Hertz and referred to it as payment of a “blood debt” for the alleged execution by South Viet Nam of certain convicted terrorists. The possibility that he would be the victim of an act of reprisal had hung over Hertz for much of the two and one-half years of his captivity, though at the time he was taken prisoner—or, more accurately, kidnaped—he had been serving South Viet Nam in a civilian capacity as an adviser on public administration.

The punishment of prisoners of war for offenses they have not personally committed is specifically prohibited by provisions of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 applying both to prisoners of war and to civilians in time of war. A majority of the nations of the world, including North Viet Nam, are signers of the prisoner-of-war convention. Although the National Liberation Front, political arm of the Viet Cong, is not a signatory (and hardly could be one because it is not an established state), assertions by its leaders that it is treating prisoners of war humanely imply conformity with the rules laid down by the conventions. Moreover, the International Red Cross has stated that the N.F.L. is bound to the conventions by the signature of Viet Nam.

Outrage and sorrow over the Hertz tragedy are mixed in American reaction with deepening concern for the fate of others held captive in Viet Nam. As of July 1, at least 20 Americans were in the hands of Viet Cong guerrillas, and 169 were believed to be held by North Viet Nam. A number of the 481 American servicemen listed as missing also may be captives in either North or South Viet Nam.

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