File No. 763.72114/3714
The Secretary of State to the Secretary of War ( Baker)
Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of June 14, 1918, in which you quote a telegram from General Pershing respecting the wisdom of sending to the United States all prisoners of war captured by our forces, and request an expression of the views of the Department of State on this subject.
In reply I beg to inform you that article 24 of the treaty of 1799 with Germany, contains the only provisions with respect to the treatment of prisoners of war captured by the respective states, applicable at the present time. Aside from the provisions of this article, the question of the retention, in Europe of German prisoners of war captured by our forces, would appear to be largely one of expediency.
While, under a strict interpretation of article 24 of the above treaty, the contracting parties might be required to place the prisoners of war captured from each other in some part of their respective territories, I am of the opinion that the retention of German prisoners of war by our forces in a country in Europe in which they happen temporarily to be located, would accord with the spirit of the treaty of 1799, if not entirely with its terms, and that as long as such prisoners are retained by our forces and are not surrendered to our cobelligerents, and are otherwise accorded the treatment provided for by article 24, it is improbable that any objection would be raised to their retention in Europe. I should add, however, that in case Germany should claim a violation of the treaty by the retention of German prisoners by our forces in Europe, [Page 58]and retaliate in some manner, the United States may find it necessary to comply strictly with the terms of the treaty.
I have [etc.]