795.00/8—3052: Telegram

The Commander in Chief, Far East (Clark) to the Joint Chiefs of Staff1

top secret
operational immediate

CX 54177. 1. The UNC has in its custody approximately 16,000 South Korean prisoners of war. Of this group approximately 11,000 during screening, elected not to return to Communist control. They were segregated and moved to Camp nbr 12, Masan, on the Korean mainland. In my opinion the further retention of this group of anti-Communists can no longer be justified. This conclusion is based on the following considerations:

These are bona fide Nationals of the Republic of Korea who should be permitted to return to their home country.
All have elected not to return to Communist control.
Insufficient information on the background of many of these POWs did not permit their reclassification as civilian internees. However, there is strong reason to believe that in this group are ex-ROK soldiers, civilians who had been impressed by the NK Army, and others who had been swept up in the security dragnet when the UNC was threatened by large numbers of enemy infiltrators in civilian clothing. Insufficient evidence exists today to justify the continued detention of these individuals as bona fide prisoners of war.
The ROK Govt has already made strong appeals for the release of this group.
The Communist Armistice Delegation has in the past few months relaxed its demands for the return of SKs in our custody; however, this has been conditional on our agreement to repatriate all the NKs and Chinese.
Such release would materially decrease our requirements for administrative and logistical support of our POW-CI population, and would release urgently needed security forces for other high priority missions.
Of even greater importance than the above, the release of the SK POWs at this time would impress upon the Communists the firmness of our stand at the conference table.
Continued retention by the UNC of South Korean natls who have already renounced allegiance to the Communists regardless of the manner in which they were brought into our custody can only work to our disadvantage and may in fact, encourage them to lean toward Communism.

2. It appears here that article 5 of the Geneva POW Convention of 1949 affords a practicable legal basis for releasing SK POWs at this time. Application of the provisions of article 5 involves determination by a “competent tribunal” that these persons have been held as “doubtful” POWs and that screening conducted by the tribunal has resolved the doubt against POW status under article 4. A “competent tribunal” as contemplated by this article would, I believe, have to be organized and operated similar to a screening board. Procedure along these lines differs from that by which SK POWs were reclassified to “civilian internees” and subsequently released, since under article 5 release from POW status is not contingent upon a finding by the screening board that the individuals concerned are properly “civilian internees.” The basic determination is simply that investigation has disclosed that the individual is not in fact a POW, and should not be detained further by the UNC.

3. We consider that the tribunal should be composed of at least representatives of the US and ROK. If you consider it necessary we can attempt to secure additional representation from other UN combatant forces in Korea. To avoid excessive legal and administrative procedures, we believe that the mission of the screening tribunal should be simple and should be limited to determining the qualifications of each individual for release, using the following criteria:

The POW concerned is a South Korean.
As a result of previous screening he elected not to return to Communist control.
He professes allegiance to the Sovereign State of the Republic of Korea.

4. Actual release and resettlement within the Republic of Korea would be acomplished in coordination with appropriate agencies of the UNC and ROK following a procedure similar to that used in the disposition of civilian internees released from our custody.

5. Total time to complete release after notification of approval, estimated at 70 days. Screening of personnel, review of questionnaires by tribunal, and a rostering by province of origin will take approximately [Page 458] 25 days. Actual release can be completed in 45 days, based on ROK ability to receive released personnel.

6. We cannot estimate here what retaliatory measures, if any, might be taken by the Communists against the UNC prisoners they now hold. Anticipating the impact which this release might have in the armistice negotiations I intend, and Gen Harrison concurs, to adopt a procedure similar to that used in the release of CIs. Concurrent with actual release of the initial group, a factual press release would be made. Should the Communists attempt to propagandize on the release in armistice negotiations, as they probably will, our delegation would dismiss their charges as being invalid since the individuals concerned are loyal nationals of the ROK and as such we recognize no Communist claim on their disposition.

7. Appropriate notification would be made through normal channels to the ICRC indicating that the UNC had released from its custody certain persons erroneously retained as POWs.

8. Request your early consideration of course of action indicated above.

  1. The following names were handwritten on the source text: Nagle, Matthews, Hickerson, and Johnson; presumably they received copies.