Geneva Convention Applies to Captive Soldiers
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 2, 1999 The Geneva Convention covers the three U.S. soldiers now being held in Serb custody, according to Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon.
"We consider them to be prisoners of war," Bacon said here April 1. "Our position is that the soldiers should be released immediately."
The Geneva Convention gives the soldiers a series of internationally recognized protections, Bacon said. "By international law, the Geneva Convention applies to all periods of hostilities."
Army officials identified the soldiers as: Staff Sgt. Andrew A. Ramirez, 24, from Los Angeles, Calif.; Staff Sgt. Christopher J. Stone, 25, from Smiths Creek, Mich.; and Spec. Steven M. Gonzales, 21, from Huntsville, Texas. All three are cavalry scouts assigned to B Troop, 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry, 1st Infantry Div., headquartered in Schweinfurt, Germany. The men are stationed in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as part of Task Force Able Sentry.
Initially, Defense Secretary William Cohen said the trio had been "illegally detained," but their status might change after officials gathered more information about the incident. Upon review, Bacon said, "The government has decided that the Geneva Convention applies." Depending on the circumstances under which they were taken, he added, it may be that they were entitled to immediate release.
Bacon provided more details on the March 31 incident along Macedonia's border during an April 1 briefing. He said the incident is under investigation and outlined what military officials know happened so far.
At about 7:30 a.m. EST, Bacon said, three groups of soldiers in Humvees were patrolling within Macedonia, about five kilometers from the border, when one crew radioed that they were surrounded and under fire. At that point, the radio broadcast broke off. The other two Humvees failed to locate the missing vehicle or re-establish radio contact.
Military officials believe the Humvee tried to escape, but failed, Bacon said. They do not know if the Americans returned fire, who attacked the men, or exactly where the scouts were located when they were seized, he added.
Task Force Able Sentry sent out a Blackhawk helicopter to search for the missing cavalry scouts, Bacon said. British, French and Italian helicopters and about 90 American soldiers and 60 French soldiers also joined the search. An aircraft equipped with infrared capabilities went up, but adverse weather conditions hindered the search.
U.S. officials next saw the three soldiers when they appeared, bruised and beaten, on Serb television.
Determining exactly what happened will involve talking to other soldiers and local police to help gather information from local villagers, Bacon said. "There may be certain questions about location, about exactly what happened that can only be answered once we get access to the soldiers."
U.S. officials are taking steps to protect other service members in the area, Bacon said. "We will make adjustments to prevent this from happening again."