US declines to invoke prisoner of war status for Travis King
DOT Desk: The United States has declined so far to classify Army Private Travis King as a prisoner of war, despite his being taken into North Korean custody after he crossed into the country last month, four US officials told Reuters. The decision, which could mean King is not covered by the protections entitled to prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention, is highly sensitive for the US military given its commitment to leave no soldier behind enemy lines.
How to classify the 23-year-old, who dashed across the heavily guarded border during a civilian tour of the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea, has been an open question for the military. As an active-duty soldier he might appear to qualify as a POW, given that the United States and North Korea technically remain at war. The 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty. But factors including King’s decision to cross into North Korea of his own free will, in civilian attire, appear to have disqualified him from that status, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity. A Pentagon spokesperson declined to comment on King’s POW status, but said the defense department’s priority was to bring him home and it was working to achieve that through all available channels. “Private King must be treated humanely in accordance with international law,” the spokesperson said.
Washington has conveyed that message in private communications to Pyongyang, the US officials said, adding that those communications have not invoked POW status. The United States still has the option to call King a POW. A US official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said there was no final decision and that the US view on King’s status could evolve as it learns more about his case. The State Department referred a request for comment to the Pentagon. White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.