WHAT IS A PRISONER OF WAR FOR?

  • John Hickman

Abstract

This article presents a conceptual map of the purposes served by continuingcustody of prisoners of war and captured non-combatants. Morally legitimate andnon-controversial purposes include preventing prisoners of war from rejoining theircomrades-in-arms, preventing both prisoners of war and captured non-combatantsfrom giving material support to combatants still in the field, facilitating orderlyrelease and repatriation at the end of hostilities, and the prosecution for war crimes.Morally illegitimate purposes include punishment, exploitation as conscript labour,recruitment or conscription as combatants, exploitation for intelligence, display asproof of victory, and ideological indoctrination. Analysis of historical casesillustrating each purpose reveal that continuing custody is often motivated bymultiple purposes, both legitimate and illegitimate. What explains adoption ofmultiple and illegitimate purposes for continuing custody? Prisoners are availablefor legitimate and illegitimate purposes because neither elites nor masses within thecaptor state typically view prisoners as members of the moral community.1Continuing custody does not alter the perceived status of the captured as aliens whocannot be intuitively invested with expectations of reciprocity. This suggests bothending custody as soon as legitimate purposes are served and bringing the capturedwithin the moral community while in continuing captivity.
Published
2011-08-08
Section
Articles