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Code of Conduct Guided U.S. POWs in Iraq

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 16, 2004 – A former Army prisoner of war who spent 21 days captive in Iraq before his rescue said the Code of Conduct provided the moral compass he and his fellow prisoners needed to get them through the ordeal.

Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Dave Williams, whose AH-64D Longbow Apache helicopter was shot down over Iraq in March 2003, said knowledge of the code helped him keep faith through loneliness -- which he said "damned near killed me" -- and provide leadership for six other U.S. prisoners of war.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower introduced the Code of Conduct in 1955, partly in response to the North Koreans' use of prisoners for political propaganda during the Korean War.

Service members who have been captured in the almost 50 years since its introduction have cited the code as the foundation that helped them through the toughest times in their military careers.

"It's a guide to live by if you find yourself in the unthinkable," Williams told the American Forces Press Service.

The code is based on enduring concepts and traditions, Col. Mark Bracich, director of policy, doctrine and training for the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency at Fort Belvoir, Va., told the American Forces Press Service.

Bracich said the code's six articles outline the obligations and responsibilities of U.S. service members in harm's way:

  • To defend the United States and its way of life,
  • To avoid surrender and to evade capture at any cost short of death,
  • To reject favors from the enemy,
  • To help fellow prisoners stay alive,
  • To avoid collaborating with the enemy,
  • To avoid statements or writing that discredit the United States or its allies,
  • To maintain personal responsibility for all actions, and
  • To trust the U.S. government to care for your loved ones and work toward your release.

These principles, taught to all service members during their basic military training, "ensure that they know what's expected of them" in situations where they risk capture or are taken prisoner, Bracich said.

Williams said the Code of Conduct helped him through "the dark days" during his captivity and gave him strength that he shared with his fellow prisoners.

Recognizing that he was the senior-ranking officer among the prisoners, he established a chain of command. "I recognized that it was my mission to help these guys through their captivity," he said.

Williams said he constantly reminded his fellow soldiers -- as well as himself -- that fellow service members were looking for them. "We knew that they had a war to fight, but we knew it was also a top priority for them to help us," he said.

Even as coalition weapons rained on Baghdad's Al Rashid prison, where the Iraqis were holding the U.S. prisoners, Williams said he never doubted that his fellow Americans would come to their rescue.

"We as Americans look out for our own," he said. "You can never lose hope."

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