450. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson 1


  • Prisoners of War in Vietnam

Herewith a State memorandum on the prisoners of war situation and what we have been doing about it.2 In summary, here is what we have done:

Persuaded the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) repeatedly to
  • —call Hanoi’s attention to its obligations under the Geneva Convention;
  • —request lists of prisoners;
  • —request improved mail facilities;
  • —request right to visit prisoners.
Persuaded the UAR to offer itself as the Protecting Power for our prisoners in Vietnam. Hanoi refused.
Persuaded the ICRC to offer itself as substitute Protecting Power. Hanoi refused.
Generated storm of official, press and public protests when Hanoi announced its intention to try American pilots as war criminals. Ho Chi Minh publicly set the trials aside and stated that the prisoners would be humanely treated.3
We have also generated a good deal of pressure protesting the Hanoi practice in late 1966 and early 1967 of pressuring our prisoners to make public statements criticizing our actions and sympathizing with the North Vietnamese. As a result, these statements have stopped and Hanoi has permitted selected prisoners to be interviewed by journalists and other travelers.
We continue to press for better mail facilities (80 letters a week going forward through the ICRC with no indication that they are being delivered to the prisoners—and Christmas packages from the American Red Cross, all of which were returned).
We have put great effort into ensuring that the GVN treatment of prisoners meets all the requirements, thus focussing world humanitarian concern for the welfare of prisoners on Hanoi and the VC.
We continue to keep the record clear that we are interested in a prisoner exchange (the Manila Communiqué, the White House statement of July 17,4 and the actual release of North Vietnamese prisoners last February).5 We are now attempting to arrange a further release of some sick and wounded prisoners in GVN hands.
We responded to the few prisoners released by the VC (nine in two years) by getting the GVN to make reciprocal releases.
We are also encouraging U.S. commanders in Vietnam to try to arrange battlefield exchanges, but so far without success.
Finally, the Pope’s assistance has been enlisted through your appeal to him last week.6

W.W. Rostow 7
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Walt Rostow, Vol. 55 (1 of 2). Secret.
  2. Not printed. A number of “displays” of U.S. “war criminals” were arranged and statements about potentially convening war crimes trials were made by the North Vietnamese during June and July 1966. The official assertions that such trials would take place ended after the President’s news conference of July 20, 1966, when he implied that strong action would take place in the carefully worded statement: “I think that the people of this country and the peaceful people of the world would find this action very revolting and repulsive, and would react accordingly.” See Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1966, Book II, p. 745.
  3. Not found.
  4. The statement called on the NLF and the DRV to treat American prisoners humanely and invited prisoner exchanges. See Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1967, Book II, p. 702.
  5. Two North Vietnamese sailors were released from a group captured during a July 31, 1966, naval attack and subsequently held at Danang.
  6. See Document 442.
  7. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.