Aircrew "Detained," Well Treated by Chinese
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 11, 2001 U.S. officials have been classifying the 24 E-3 crewmembers held by the Chinese as "detainees," and not as "prisoners" or "hostages."
"When I think of prisoners, I think of somebody behind bars. I think of someone charged with a crime. Those circumstances are not present," Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley told reporters at an April 10 briefing.
As for "hostages," he said, "you don't have access to hostages. They are kept from you. … You also don't see hostages generally being treated very well and our 24 air crew are being treated very well by the Chinese."
Once military personnel are declared "detainees," he noted, DoD and their parent services are able to carry out personal business on their behalf. This includes "financial details, powers of attorney, military allotments -- things of that sort that have a direct impact on the individuals," he said.
An automatic extension of the April 16 income tax filing date is one of the benefits granted detainees. In this case, Quigley said, "we are hopeful they will be released before that's an issue."
The crew's Navy EP-3 aircraft landed in Chinese territory March 31 after a mid-air collision with a Chinese F-8 fighter in international airspace over the South China Sea.
U.S. officials met with the aircrew several times in recent days. Brig. Gen. Neal Sealock, U.S. defense attaché in Beijing, reported the crew was in decent quarters and had access to English-language television in a reception area.
The 24 crew members reportedly were being well fed and their personal needs were being met, Quigley said. He said Sealock delivered e-mail messages, reading material and toiletries to the Chinese for the crew.
Quigley said Chinese authorities questioned the crew. "I know of no legal strictures that would stop them," he said.
U.S. officials did not issue instructions on how the crew should answer questions, he noted. All service members are precluded from discussing classified information.
"We're relying on their good common sense, training and judgment to know what they are comfortable in answering and which questions they should decline to answer," Quigley said.
The crew's parent squadron at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash., was in nearly continuous communication with family members, he noted. Squadron leaders passed on the details from Sealock's conversations with the crew as well as his impressions of their spirits, health and living conditions, he added.