Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Allison) to the Deputy Under Secretary of State (Matthews)1

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  • General Clark’s Requests for (a) Release of 16,000 South Korean Prisoners of War,2 to be discussed at State-JCS Meeting,3 and (b) Trials of Prisoners of War in United Nations Command Compounds.4

I recommend that we take the following positions on these two requests.

As to (a):

There appears to be no legal objection to proceeding under Articles 4 and 5 of the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war with the reclassification of this category. The United Nations Command has already released 37,000 civilian internees, after consultation with other interested governments. The category of 16,000 is a similar case.

The chief difficulty arises from the probability that such an act would appear as an arbitrary and unilateral fait accompli It might interfere with any means for working out the prisoner-of-war issue. State and Defense are now considering a draft radio to CINCUNC on the armistice negotiations which would put into effect our next move following the four weeks of weekly meetings. If the steps proposed in that [Page 460] draft radio fail, our next step may be the unilateral release of all prisoners of war who would resist return to Communist control. Perhaps the release of the 16,000 South Koreans should not take place until we have reached the period of release of all non-repatriates, or we could make the release of the 16,000 when both sides at Panmunjom are considering the various proposals contained in the current draft radio. General Clark has estimated that it will take 25 days to prepare these 16,000 for release, and a total elapsed time of 70 days before they have all returned to their homes. Therefore, the beginning of such a release would not take place until the last week of September.

I recommend that we consult with our principal allies on this problem and take the position that the United States Government is inclined to approve the release in principle. Timing of the release is the main problem. You might suggest at the State-JCS meeting that General Clark be authorized to make this release only after (a) we have consulted with our principal allies and (b) we have decided that the Panmunjom negotiations will produce no resolution on the prisoner-of-war issue and that it is necessary to release all non-repatriates.

We should also consider L’s opinion that the tribunal to be set up under Article 5 of the Geneva Convention on prisoners-of-war should have at least three members.

As to (b):

There is attached a proposed reply to General Clark which NA has drafted.5 It would (a) authorize General Clark to set up military commissions as part of his effort to assure uncontested control over prisoners of war and (b) seal off the political repercussions of reopening the Dodd incident and former conditions in the camps. The proposed reply would do this by separating post-capture offenses into (1) those committed after July 1, 1952, for which General Clark would be authorized now to set up commissions and proceed with trials, and (2) post-capture offenses prior to July 1, 1952, for which he would not be authorized at this time to proceed until each case is thoroughly documented and until Washington felt that the timing for such trials was not so disadvantageous to the overall position of the United States. That date has no paricular meaning; it merely separates the Koje period from the subsequent period. It might possibly be better to start with September 1, or whenever authorization is sent to Clark.

I am not at all convinced that the Unified Command requires military commissions to assure “uncontested control” over the compounds. There appears to be conflicting evidence over the recent and current egree of control. Embassy Tokyo mentions daily incidents of a grave nature, often resulting in loss of life, and persistent and flagrant violaons of discipline. Embassy Pusan speaks of a great improvement in establishing internal order since General Boatner assumed command. A [Page 461] civilian official of the Department of the Army who recently visited Koje-Do described to me in glowing terms the complete control which General Boatner has established over the Korean prisoners in the compounds on Koje-Do. The prisoner-of-war situation reports from CINCUNC do not indicate any threat of a breakdown in control. Yet, the Department of State is not in a position to dispute the military judgment of CINCUNC when he declares that the establishment of military commissions is essential.

At the same time, the Department of State should strongly assert the political implications of the initiation of trials at this time and the grave consequences that the United States would suffer if the Communists seize on such trials to propagandize conditions in the camps prior to the establishment of control. Therefore, I believe that the attached proposed reply is a reasonable response to the military requirement of General Clark and the political requirements of the Department of State.

  1. This memorandum was drafted by Young.
  2. See telegram CX 54177, Aug. 25, p. 456.
  3. For this discussion, see the memorandum, infra.
  4. For a discussion of Clark’s request, see the memorandum by Young to Johnson, Aug. 5, p. 449.
  5. The draft reply, which was attached to the source text, is not printed.