The Biden administration is debating whether to designate Travis King, the US Army soldier who crossed into North Korea last month, as a prisoner of war, defense officials told CNN.
No final decision has been made, officials said, and as of now King’s status is still AWOL, or absent without leave.
King could potentially qualify for POW status since the Korean War ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty, meaning the US and North Korea are still technically at war.
Granting King prisoner-of-war status could afford him greater protections under the Geneva Convention, which provides strict guidelines to signatories about how a prisoner must be treated while in captivity. The US and North Korea are both signatories.
But officials have repeatedly emphasized that King was seized by the North Koreans after crossing into the country of his own volition, while dressed as a civilian and on a private tour of the demilitarized zone – not as part of any active fighting between the US and North Korean militaries.
A Defense official told CNN that “a final determination has not been made regarding Private King’s status,” but emphasized that King “must be treated humanely in accordance with international law.”
“Although I’m not able to comment on any ongoing internal deliberations, I can emphasize that the Department’s priority is to bring Private King home, and that we are working through all available channels to achieve that outcome,” the official said.
King, a junior enlisted soldier assigned to US Forces Korea, had faced assault charges in South Korea and was due to be removed from the US military upon his return to Fort Bliss, Texas, in July, CNN has reported.