Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Prisoner of War Definition:

A member of the enemy's armed forces, or attached to the hostile army for active aid, who has fallen into the hands of the captor, either fighting or wounded, on the field or in the hospital, by individual surrender or by capitulation.

Related Terms: War, Enemy Combatant, Unlawful Combatant

The Lieber Code of 1867:

"A prisoner of war is a public enemy armed or attached to the hostile army for active aid, who has fallen into the hands of the captor, either fighting or wounded, on the field or in the hospital, by individual surrender or by capitulation.

"All soldiers, of whatever species of arms; all men who belong to the rising en masse of the hostile country; all those who are attached to the Army for its efficiency and promote directly the object of the war, except such as are hereinafter provided for; all disabled men or officers on the field or elsewhere, if captured; all enemies who have thrown away their arms and ask for quarter, are prisoners of war, and as such exposed to the inconveniences as well as entitled to the privileges of a prisoner of war."

In Hamdi v Rumsfield, Justice O'Connor of the Supreme Court of United States adopted these words:

"The capture and detention of lawful combatants and the capture, detention, and trial of unlawful combatants, by universal agreement and practice, are important incidents of war. The purpose of detention is to prevent captured individuals from returning to the field of battle and taking up arms once again.

"Captivity in war is neither revenge, nor punishment, but solely protective custody, the only purpose of which is to prevent the prisoners of war from further participation in the war. The time has long passed when no quarter was the rule on the battlefield. It is now recognized that captivity is neither a punishment nor an act of vengeance, but merely a temporary detention which is devoid of all penal character.

"A prisoner of war is no convict; his imprisonment is a simple war measure. The object of capture is to prevent the captured individual from serving the enemy. He is disarmed and from then on must be removed as completely as practicable from the front, treated humanely and in time exchanged, repatriated or otherwise released."

Fox suggests that the definition of prisoner of war is:

"A person who has fallen by capture or surrender into the power of the enemy, and who belongs to one of eight enumerated categories of prisoners listed in the Geneva Convention relative to the treatment of prisoners of war."

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