National Alliance of Families

For The Return of America's Missing Servicemen

+ World War II + Korea + Cold War + Vietnam + +Yugoslavia

BITS 'N' PIECES - April 3, 1999

Dolores Apodaca Alfond

National Chairperson - (

Voice/Fax 425-881-1499

Lynn O'Shea

New York State Director - (

Voice/Fax 718-846-4350

Staff Sgt. Andrew A. Ramirez

Staff Sgt. Christopher J. Stone

Spec. Steven M. Gonzales

POW - Yugoslavia - Captured March 31, 1999

"We're trapped...they're all around us...we can't get out,"

The following is excerpted from a Reuters article dated April 1, 1999 by Tabassum Zakaria - "...The United States said the three soldiers were seized inside Macedonia. But Yugoslavia said they were inside Serbia and would be put on trial on Friday."

"In their last radio contact at 7:34 a.m. EST (12:34 GMT) on Wednesday, the captured soldiers gave the name of their unit and said, "We're in contact, we're taking direct fire," according to a transcript of the radio transmission. They had radioed another U.S. military vehicle patrolling the area with them and the soldier who received the radio call responded "you better not be bullshitting me."

"To which the captured soldiers replied: "We're not. We're taking direct fire...we're trapped...they're all around us...we can't get out..." Then contact was broken."

"A "massive" search operation was conducted of the rugged mountainous area for hours before the soldiers were shown on Serb television with battered faces, still dressed in Army camouflage...."

"The second Humvee and a third Humvee that had been working together with the one that was reported lost immediately went to try to find the missing Humvee," Bacon said. "They tried to reestablish radio contact, and they tried to find it. They could not."

"The soldiers were armed and believed to be carrying M-16s, Bacon said. "We do not know whether they returned fire. We believe that they were trying to take escape or evasive action, but obviously that failed," he said. They were patrolling an area that they had patrolled previously and was familiar to them."

"We do not know who abducted these people and we don't know the circumstances under which they were abducted or exactly where they were abducted," Bacon said.

We've watched the news, we've seen the photos, once again American servicemen are held as Prisoners of War.

We, at the National Alliance of Families,

support our troops in "Operation Allied Force"

and pray for the safe return of our POW's.

Our hearts are with their families during this most difficult time.

POW bracelets cut with the names of our three servicemen held in Yougoslavia are available from the "Last Firebase." Cost is $15.00 per bracelet, price includes shipping. To order: call 1-800-452-8906 during duty hours EST.

At this writing, there is confusion as to Serb plans to put our POWs on trial. Some news reports state the trial has been been postponed. Other reports state that evidence is being gathered for a trial as early as Saturday (April 3rd.) Any trial would be in direct violation of the Geneva Convention. President Clinton has threatened the Serbs with dire consequences, should any harm come to Ramirez, Stone, and Gonzales.

Unfortunately, we know and the Serbs know, the threats are empty. There are many things we could say right now, but we will limit our comments to these:

Once again, the Department of Defense played fast and loose with American Servicemen. It is a disgrace that it took DOD almost 15 hours to determine the status of these men. Secretary Cohen's original reference to the men as "illegal detainees" sent a chill down the collective spine of every POW/MIA family member and activist. We were even more shocked to learn that DOD's General Council was meeting Thursday morning (April 1, 1999) to determine if U.S. actions in the Balkans was indeed an "international armed conflict." We are bombing and the Serbs are shooting back, sounds like an "international armed conflict" to us.

Make no mistake this action in the Balkans is a U.S. action, under NATO cover. There are 19 member nations of NATO. Yet, Fox News reported that some 70% of the aircraft involved in the bombing are U.S. aircraft with U.S. pilots. That leaves the remaining 18 nations supplying 30% of the aircraft and pilots, for an average of 1.666% of pilots and aircraft per nation. A NATO operation, hardly!

We are in danger of repeating past mistakes. A war that is micromanaged from the White house, by a President who does not have a clue, is a disaster waiting to happen. we have underestimated the will of this enemy. Shortly before the bombing started, a radio news report quoted a serb official who stated "we are prepared to eat grass for a generation" rather than submit to NATO demands.

"Prepared to eat grass for a generation" does that sound familiar?

The following e-mail was received from Dino Carluccio, aide to Senator Bob Smith (R-NH) - we think it important that we share the full text with you.

Subject: Re: Here we go again... U.S. POWs in Yugoslavia --- Review this timeline, which I think shows that the Administration has done a POOR job in dealing with and reacting to the capture of three U.S. Army personnel by Serb-Yugoslav forces this week.

Despite all the laws (both U.S. and international), all our collective work, and all the proclamations by Administration policy-makers about how on top of POW/MIA and personnel recovery issues they are, even in regard to Kosovo (see this week's DPMO weekly update from Deputy Asst. Secretary of Defense for POW/Missing Personnel Affairs, Robert Jones), we are nonetheless witnessing an inexcusable performance and public relations disaster so far this week, let alone the terrible signals being sent to active duty U.S. military personnel. (I'm still keeping my fingers crossed, and hoping for some good luck and skill by our men in uniform, with respect to Personnel Recovery planning and operations on this matter.)


Dino L. Carluccio

(All times EST and approximate)

Wednesday, 7 a.m. -- U.S. Army three-man patrol reported missing along Macedonia/Kosovo border in the Balkans.

-- Last radio transmission is that they are receiving fire and surrounded by enemy forces.

-- (Note: Under Missing Persons Act, as amended, the U.S. Army Commander of the unit or area to which the missing patrol was assigned is required to "recommend" that the persons be placed in a "missing status." I'm assuming this happened.)

Wednesday, 9 p.m. -- U.S. media outlets report the U.S. Army 3-man patrol as missing.

Thursday, 2 a.m. -- President Clinton informed by National Security Advisor Berger that the 3 U.S. Army personnel are being held by Serb forces and that a video of the three men has appeared on Yugoslav television in which they appear to be making statements, and in which they also appear to have been beaten with obvious bruises.

Thursday, 7 a.m. -- America awakes to morning news programs showing the Serb video of the 3 captured U.S. Army personnel.

Thursday, 10 a.m. -- Senator Smith's office places call to contacts in Defense Department Office of General Counsel with simple question -- is the United States of America engaged in an armed conflict of an international character against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia? Under the Geneva Conventions of 1949 on the Treatment of Prisoners of War (Part One, Article Two) - of which both Yugoslavia and the United States are signatories - if the answer is yes, then "any member of the Armed Forces of a party to the conflict who has fallen into the power of the enemy" is a "Prisoner of War" (Part One, Article 4, Section 1) "from the time they fall into the power of the enemy and until their final release and repatriation" (Part One, Article 5). It doesn't matter what side of the Kosovo/Macedonia border they were on, or in what capacity they were operating under in the region (ie: NATO, U.N., U.S., etc...).

-- Senator Smith's office is informed that the lawyers within the Pentagon have not reached a decision on the above-referenced question, but that they have been meeting on it all morning with DoD's General Counsel and her staff. We are incredulous at this statement, which potentially means none of the U.S. pilots flying bombing missions over Yugoslavia the last week have been informed by their own Government that, if captured, we will insist that they be treated as "POWS" in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, not just that they be treated humanely as individuals as a matter of U.S. policy alone. In view of Milesovic's inhumane atrocities in Kosovo, one would think the Administration would have thought this question through prior to launching Operation Allied Force last Wednesday.

Thursday, 12 noon -- Appearing at an event led by President Clinton for military personnel and their families at Norfolk Naval Air Station in Virginia, Secretary of Defense Cohen is asked by a reporter "do you consider them (the 3 US Army personnel) prisoners of war?" Cohen responds:

"At this point, their status is that of being illegally detained, and so they are illegal detainees at this point, and whether that status changes will depend upon the legal interpretation of what their -- where they were, what circumstances under which they came into Serb hands, and that will take some time to resolve."

(Note: as previously noted, it does NOT matter WHERE they were and the circumstances under which they CAME INTO SERB HANDS, in order for the prisoner of war terminology and protections under the Geneva Conventions on Treatment of Prisoners of War to apply. Moreover, under current U.S. law applicable to U.S. military personnel (Missing Persons Act, as amended, Title 10, Section 1513), there is no legal status "illegal detainees." The term is "missing status" which includes subcategories such as "captured, interned, detained, besieged, beleaguered, missing in action, etc...)

Thursday, 12:15 p.m. -- President Clinton speaking at Norfolk Naval Air Station, with Secretary Cohen, states that he holds Yugoslav President Milesovic responsible for the "safety and well-being" of the 3 US Army personnel. He does NOT refer to requirements concerning their release, but more importantly, he does NOT reference Yugoslavia's obligations under the international Geneva Conventions on the Treatment of Prisoners of War, and does not call on Yugoslavia to adhere to this international agreement which protects POWs.

President Clinton further states there is "no basis for them to be held and no basis for them to be tried" within Yugoslavia.

But, in point of fact, the Geneva Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War allows for these 3 US Army personnel to be held until "after the cessation of active hostilities" (Part 4, Section 2, Article 118), and allows for their trial by Yugoslavia provided certain procedures are followed - Part 3, Section 6, Chapter 3, III-Judicial Proceedings, Articles 99-108.

Thursday, 12:30 p.m. -- Reuters wire service reports, via London, that the feared Serbian paramilitary leader known as Arkin has stated, "The Yugoslav army is keeping them (the 3 US Army personnel) and they'll be treated under the Geneva Convention regulating the treatment of prisoners of war."

Thursday, 2:00 p.m. -- State Department spokesperson Jamie Rubin dodges questions from reporters about the status of the 3 US Army personnel, instead referring to them as "abducted" personnel - a term not found in U.S. or international laws relative to military personnel. Rubin further indicates Rubin further refers to any trial by Yugoslavia as a violation of international law (which it is NOT).

(See transcript of press briefing, - what a disaster!)

Thursday, 5:00 p.m. -- A full 15 hours after the President was informed the 3 US Army personnel had indeed been captured by Serb forces, and 5 hours after Secretary Cohen's comment that the men's status was "illegal detainees" not prisoners of war, Pentagon spokesperson Kenneth Bacon was finally able to announce at a Pentagon news conference, in response to Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz' question, that "WE CONSIDER THEM TO BE POWS."

Imagine that. Their picture has been splashed over Yugoslav TV monitored in the West, yet 15 additional hours go by before the U.S. is willing to acknowledge them as Prisoners of War protected under the Geneva Conventions.

For a good website to help you monitor whether our Government is now finally going to ensure that it takes full advantage of the provisions of the Geneva Conventions concerning POWs, check out --

You don't need Pentagon "legal interpretations that will take some time" as referenced by Secretary Cohen at 12 noon Thursday to figure out for yourself that these men were immediately POWs protected by the Geneva Conventions. The U.S. should have been already prepared to deal with this situation clearly and concisely the second the Serb video of the men appeared, especially given all the alleged attention the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for POW/Missing Personnel Affairs has been giving to "future conflicts" these last few years.

Moreover, these men should not have been left wondering the last two days whether they would be viewed as POWs by their own Government in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, in the event their capture was made known. The sad irony is that Yugoslav government officials publicly acknowledged their obligations under the POW Geneva Conventions at a time when the Clinton Administration was not even willing to call on Yugoslavia to honor this specific convention earlier today (Thursday). U.S. military personnel engaged in the region deserve much better from their Government leaders than what happened on Thursday.

For information on U.S. law relating to missing military personnel, see Title 10. Armed Forces, U.S. Code Annotated, Subtitle A-General Military Law, Part II-Personnel, Chapter 76, Missing Persons. (the so-called Missing Persons Act).

End of Message from Dino Carluccio

The following is excerpted, with permission, from a Press Release issued by Lt. Col. Robin Higgins USMC (Ret) on april 1st, 1999. Col. Higgins is the wife of Col. William R. (Rich) Higgins assigned to the U.N. peacekeeping operation in Lebanon. He was captured by Hezbollah terrorists, and subsequently murdered with "a picture of his body hanging from a noose released to the news media in July 1989." His remains were returned in December 1991.

From Col. Higgins: "I have heard from more than one President, U.N. Secretary General, Defense Secretary and Joint Chiefs Chairman what I am hearing today, that "we have long memories," that "we will hold these captors accountable," " that we will go after them." Sadly, I haven't found this to be true."

"When I tried to find a voice for my story, no major publisher would publish my book, saying that the story is "too old" and "not relevant." Sadly, they are being proved wrong today. I fear for and I pray for the safety of these brave men, and my heart goes out to their families."

"Colonel Higgins was never declared a Prisoner of War by his country, and it seems that is the case with the men being held today. It is my contention that when servicemen or women are captured, they are "prisoners of war," not "hostages" or "detainees." A "hostage" is a civilian caught in the line of fire, and held for some sick political or financial reason. Servicemen are held because they represent to those who would harm us, all the perceived weaknesses of democracy."

"When a man or woman in the uniform of our country are captured, they behave as prisoners of war. They live day by day by the code of conduct that says: "I am an American, fighting in the Armed Forces that guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.... I will never forget that I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America."

"Because Rich was always a "hostage" and never a "prisoner," there were never any demands of international rules of treatment, no Red Cross visits, no insistence on medical care or humane treatment."

"Because neither the U.S. nor the U.N. wanted to give "legitimacy" to the terrorists, insisting that neither the state of Lebanon nor Syria had anything to do with it, they put no special pressures or demands, placed no sanctions on them or anyone else. "

"The State Department, not the Defense Department, had the lead. That meant diplomacy, not military might. There was no retribution, no retaliation, no rescue."

"Servicemen and women wear the uniform of this country and leave their families behind to fight for this country because they believe this country will come after them when they fall. I believe we broke this pledge to Rich - and I hope we don't break this pledge to the three brave men who are now being held My points are:

1. We must acknowledge whenever we commit American servicemembers outside our shores, they will be subject to those who would harm them, whether in combat or terrorist acts.

They are Americans, and whether they are armed with multiple rocket launchers, rubber bullets, or blue berets, nothing will disguise the fact they are Americans.

When taken, they are "prisoners of war."

2. We must not attach American troops to U.N. command and control. The U.N. was never designed to be a military force.

Our military men and women join our armed forces to fight and defend our country, our people, our flag, not the United Nations.

3. Only by publicly pursuing, relentlessly tracking down, and punishing those who commit terrorist acts will we begin to deter them...."

Col. Higgins book, "Patriot Dreams" is published by the Marine Corps Association. To order call 1-888-BE-PROUD.

The National Alliance of Families Tenth Annual Forum is scheduled for June 17th - 19th, at the Sheraton Center City Hotel, Washington D.C. (same as last year.) Room rates at $105.00 per night. To make your reservation call 800-526-7495 or 202-775-0800. Remember to say you are with the Alliance.

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