167. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam1

1015. Ref: Embtel 1109.2

Greatly appreciate your most thoughtful message on VC reprisal executions of American prisoners and DRV threats to treat their US prisoners as war criminals. We agree that we can neither submit tacitly to these actions or threatened actions, nor can we ignore them. However, problem is to find ways and means of bringing effective pressure against DRV and VC to move them to treat prisoners in accordance with 1949 Geneva Convention. At same time, GVN must be free to go on treating VC terrorists in accordance with Vietnamese law (but ensuring that punishment is commensurate with crime) and we must continue to do everything possible to reaffirm and emphasize to world clear distinction between such terrorists and prisoners of war.
Your proposals reftel are under active consideration here. In meantime, hope shortly to get cable to you and other posts concerned on possibility of naming Protecting Power to assume responsibilities for US prisoners in Communist hands as provided for under Geneva Convention. We also are planning diplomatic approaches following up Vienna Conference and designed to stimulate international pressure on DRV/VC to abide by DRV’s obligation under Geneva Convention.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27-7 VIET. Secret; Exdis.
  2. In telegram 1109 from Saigon, September 30, the Embassy suggested that the Viet Cong executions of American prisoners were an effort to spare or save the lives of Viet Cong agents and terrorists convicted and sentenced to death by South Vietnam. The Embassy outlined three possible courses of action: 1) tacit submission, by convincing South Vietnam to declare a de facto moratorium on executions of Viet Cong agents and terrorists; 2) taking indirect action against Viet Cong reprisal executions by mobilizing world opinion against them; and 3) retaliation at a level of violence calculated to induce the Viet Cong to become reluctant to employ executions. The Embassy favored the third option. (Ibid.)