Prisoners of War

We have the deepest concern for the plight of our prisoners of war of Indochina. Some sixteen hundred Americans, including pilots and soldiers and some forty civilians, are missing or held in North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Some have been held as long as six years, longer than for any other prisoners of war in our story.

The enemy violates specific requirements of the Geneva Prisoner of War Convention, by which they are bound. They violate common standards of decency as well.

They have not permitted impartial inspection of prison camps despite constant attempts to arrange such visits. They have refused to repatriate seriously sick and wounded prisoners. They have failed to identify all prisoners and to allow many of them to correspond with their families.

We and the South Vietnamese have made intensive efforts this past year to secure better treatment and the release of allied prisoners- through global diplomacy, through proposals in Paris and through the courageous raid at Son Tay. Congressional expressions have been valuable in underlining American public concern. The world increasingly condemned the other side's practices, and the U.N. General assembly passed a resolution this fall which underscored the international obligation to treat prisoners humanely.

I repeat my October 7 proposal for the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of war held by both sides. All prisoners, journalists and other civilian captives should be released now to return to the place of their choice. Such action would not only meet humanitarian concerns; it might also lead to progress on other aspects of a peace settlement.

As first steps, the Republic of Vietnam, with our support, has offered to repatriate all sick and wounded prisoners of war. It has unilaterally returned groups of such prisoners, despite North Vietnam's refusal to make orderly arrangements for their repatriation. And it has proposed the release of all North Vietnamese prisoners of war in return for all U.S. and allied prisoners in Indochina and any South Vietnamese prisoners held outside South Vietnam. We profoundly regret the other side's refusal to respond to these initiatives.

The treatment of prisoners of war anywhere is not a political or military issue, but a matter of simple humanity. As I said on October 7, "War and imprisonment should be over for all these prisoners. They and their families have already suffered too much." This government will continue to take all possible measures to secure the end of imprisonment as well as the end of the war.

No discussion of Vietnam would be complete without paying tri- bute to the brave Americans who have served there. Many have sacrificed years of their lives. Others have sacrificed life itself.

These Americans have fought in a war which differed from our previous experience. We have not sought a traditional military victory. The complex nature of this conflict posed unprecedented difficulties for those involved.

It is to their lasting credit that Americans in Vietnam have overcome these difficulties and conducted themselves in our best tradition.