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Although prisoner of war and detainee operations ultimately tend to become quite extensive, military planners and policymakers have repeatedly treated such operations as an afterthought. In reality, such operations can be a central part of the successful prosecution of a conflict. Determining how to gain knowledge from, hold, question, influence, and release captured adversaries can be an important component of military strategy and doctrine, both during the conflict and in reconstruction afterward. This monograph finds parallels in U.S. prisoner and detainee operations in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq: underestimation of the number to be held, hasty scrambling for resources to meet operational needs, and inadequate doctrine and policy. During the later phases of military operations, an attempt is often made to better understand prisoners and detainees and influence their social and political values, which is particularly important in an insurgency where the value of understanding the motivation and morale of opposing forces is heightened. A key recommendation, based on lessons learned from these conflicts, is the development of standard doctrine for detention operations. This doctrine must be responsive to the dynamic nature of military campaigns and should include standard methods for assessing the composition of the detention population, managing special populations, and developing strategic plans for detention operations, including how detention operations should inform the wider operational strategy, especially in a counterinsurgency.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    The Recurring Importance of Prisoner and Detainee Operations

  • Chapter Two

    U.S. Programs for German Prisoners in World War II

  • Chapter Three

    Korean War Prisoner Programs

  • Chapter Four

    Prisoner and Detainee Operations in Vietnam

  • Chapter Five

    Detainee Operations in Iraq

  • Chapter Six

    Conclusions and Recommendations

  • Appendix

    The Legal Source of MNF-I's Authority to Intern for Security Reasons

The research described in this report was prepared for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). The research was conducted within the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by OSD, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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