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Prisoner of war
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Prisoner of war

A prisoner of war (POW) is a soldier who is imprisoned by an enemy power during and immediately after an armed conflict.

The laws apply from the moment a prisoner is captured until he is released or repatriated. One of the main provisions of the convention makes it illegal to torture prisoners, and states that a prisoner can only be required to give his name, date of birth, rank and service number (if applicable).

Article 4 of the Third Geneva Convention protects captured military personnel, guerrilla fighters and certain civilians.

In principle, to be entitled to prisoner of war status, the captured soldier must have conducted operations according to the laws and customs of war, e.g. be part of a chain of command, wear a uniform and bear arms openly. Thus, franc-tireurs, terrorists and spies may be excluded. In practise these criteria are not always interpreted strictly. Guerrillas, for example, may not wear a uniform or carry arms openly, yet are typically granted POW status if captured.

The status of POW does not include unarmed non-combatants who are captured in time of war; they are protected by the Fourth Geneva Convention rather than the Third Geneva Convention.

The United States uses the term enemy prisoner of war (EPW) for hostile forces, reserving the term prisoner of war for its own or Allied forces.