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PJ Media
PJ Media
5 Aug 2023
Rick Moran

NextImg:U.S. Government Decides Not to Invoke POW Status for Travis King

To date, the United States Government has decided not to invoke prisoner of war status for Travis King, the U.S. soldier who escaped custody last month and ran across the heavily guarded border with North Korea.

If the U.S. fails to claim him as a captured combatant, King would be denied certain protections available under the Geneva Convention.

Ordinarily, King would automatically qualify as a prisoner of war, given that the U.S. and North Korea are still technically at war. But King’s decision to run across the border of his own free will and in civilian clothes appeared to have disqualified him from that status.

“Private King must be treated humanely in accordance with international law,” a Pentagon spokesperson said.

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The U.S. still has the option of calling King a POW, but the U.S. position on that is still evolving and may change as additional information is made available.


Rachel VanLandingham, a military law expert at Southwestern Law School, said King would benefit from being classified as a POW, even if that could be seen legally as a stretch.

“It provides a much clearer, very structured framework for exactly how they’re to treat him down to the number of cigarettes a day they’re required to give him if he asks,” she said.

It is not clear that labeling King a POW would change how the isolated North Korean government treats him. Pyongyang, which continues to develop nuclear weapons in violation of UN resolutions, has repeatedly shown it is not willing to be bound by international law.

Other experts aren’t so sure. Geoffrey Corn, a military law expert at Texas Tech University School of Law, said it would be difficult for the United States to claim that King is a prisoner of war — in part because there was no active fighting at the time in Korea.

“He wasn’t really captured in the context of hostilities. If that happened to us, we’d probably designate him as an undocumented alien who crossed the border without a visa,” Corn said.

I am extremely dubious about the prospect of North Korea treating King like some illegal alien who wandered across the border by mistake. They are far more likely to declare the young man a spy and start torturing him.

The Pentagon has so far described King’s formal status as “AWOL,” or absent without leave. He would automatically be declared a deserter after 30 days being AWOL, according to military regulations.

Corn said he could be declared a deserter sooner, given the likelihood King knew his decision had ended his military career.

“He can’t really run across that border without the knowledge and arguably the intent to remain away permanently,” Corn said.

There are possible mental health issues that need to be addressed, including his uncle saying that King was grief-stricken over the death of his six-year-old cousin.

“When my son was on life support, and when my son passed away … Travis started [being] reckless [and] crazy when he knew my son was about to die … It seemed like he was breaking down. It affected Travis a lot. Because he couldn’t be here. He was in the Army, overseas,” King’s uncle said.

The military will do everything they can to get King back given that it will be easier now than when the young man realizes that North Korea has little to offer in the way of distractions for a 23-year-old American. And there will be those who would say just let him rot.

But I don’t think I’d wish my worst enemy the fate of spending any amount of time in a North Korean prison.