File No. 763.72114/3322

The Secretary of War ( Baker) to the Secretary of State

Sir: With reference to previous correspondence on the subject of the disposal of prisoners of war,1 I have the honor to advise you as follows:

On January 4, 1918, the following cablegram was sent to General Pershing:

The Secretary of State has asked whether it is the intention of the War Department to send to the United States for internment all prisoners captured by the United States military forces rather than to surrender jurisdiction over such prisoners to another belligerent or to a neutral. Extreme caution in this matter will be necessary lest the German Government make reprisals. It is understood that Germans captured by the British forces have been loaned to the French Army for railway work behind the lines and the German Government has threatened to retaliate by sending an equal number of British prisoners to Bulgaria or Turkey. The Secretary of War desires you to study this matter with great care and cable your recommendations. If our prisoners could be held under our own military jurisdiction it might be more desirable to retain them in France. If this number is small we can probably bring them to the United States without much difficulty. If the number should be large it would presuppose very active military operations which would probably tax to the utmost the capacity of: the railroads bringing your ammunition, food and other supplies and it might be impossible to count on sending them in large numbers to the seacoast. Report your views as promptly as possible.

A reply to this cablegram has been received from General Pershing, reading as follows:

With reference to your cablegram 592, questions at issue relative treatment prisoners of war present many phases which can only be settled by diplomatic negotiations through State Department. Such as, for example, pay due enemy officers and soldiers, privileges, general [Page 53]treatment, mail and package facilities, repatriation those disabled under certain medical classifications as to officers and noncommissioned officers and soldiers. Internment in neutral countries same categories, same reasons. Application Geneva convention as to payment and repatriation captured sanitary personnel. In this latter connection understood that in this war, on account physical difficulties, belligerents have never returned captured sanitary equipment. What constitute sanitary personnel, is question arisen here and will arise in our country connection with band personnel used in evacuation wounded, et cetera. Questions apt to arise as to status our sanitary corps whether combatant personnel or not, et cetera.

Prisoners of war should be utilized here as laborers under our own jurisdiction, although shipping some prisoners of war to United States might be advantageous later in prevention of U-boat attacks provided we can accomplish same without reprisals. Complete records all altercations between English, French and belligerents known to be on record in our State Department. Recommend these be carefully studied by representative Judge Advocate General’s Department and that negotiations be entered into through neutral representatives with belligerents, so that altercation all points may be made and understood before any great number prisoners of war taken.

After consideration of the subject the War Department is of the opinion that prisoners of war should be kept behind our own lines, and that they should be guarded by our troops, unless their number should become so great that this disposition would prove to be impracticable. In this connection information is requested as to whether any agreement has been made with the German Government regarding rules governing the disposal by one belligerent of the prisoners taken from the other belligerent. If no such agreement has been made, information is requested as to whether any such agreement is necessary.

Information is also requested as to whether any further action by the War Department, in regard to the disposal of prisoners of war, is necessary.

Yours very truly,

Newton D. Baker
  1. Not printed.