The Borg assimilate species to add their distinctive to the Borg’s collective. Cultures uniformly resist, resulting in their military being assimilated by the Borg. Would the crew of the USS Enterprise NCC 1701-E in Star Trek First Contact who were assimilated by the Borg be considered Prisoners of War? Did they have an obligation to try to escape? Did Captain Picard owe the assimilated crew a duty to rescue them?

Provided the Federation has similar laws to the United states, a “prisoner of war” is “any regularly appointed, enrolled, enlisted, or inducted member of the military or naval forces of the United States who was held as a prisoner of war for any period of time subsequent to December 7, 1941, by any government of any nation with which the United States has been at war subsequent to such date.” 50 U.S.C. § 4105.

A Prisoner of War is defined under the Geneva Convention as “Members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict, as well as members of militias or volunteer corps forming part of such armed forces…[fallen into the power of the enemy].” USCS Geneva III, Article 4. However the language might differ in the fictional 24th Century, Starfleet officers and crew would meet the definition of members of the armed forces who had fallen into the power of the enemy, after they were assimilated.

The Uniform Code of Military Justice and Code of Conduct for Members of the Armed Forces of the United States defines how the US Military prohibits service personnel from collaborating with the enemy. See, Uniform Code of Military Justice, 904 Article 104. Judge George Latimer highlighted the reason for President Eisenhower’s Executive Order No. 10631 as follows:

We cannot and should not close our eyes to the fact that the alleged offenses occurred at a time when the accused was a prisoner of the enemy, and that he is not the first American whose activities during that time led to prosecution. United States v Dickenson, 6 USCMA 438, 20 CMR 154; United States v Batchelor, 7 USCMA 354, 22 CMR 144. These and similar incidents led to the promulgation of a formalized Code of Conduct by the President — one which reaffirmed the duty of every serviceman to resist this Nation’s enemies, in mind and spirit, in combat and captivity, to the bitterest of bitter ends. Executive Order 10631, August 17, 1955, 20 FR 6057. What, then, are we to say to those who did thwart the enemy and his designs while in captivity? Must they serve side by side with others such as this accused, who informed, and collaborated, and murdered — and benefited thereby? Will not discipline, morale and good order suffer measurably if one who murders his compatriot can remain in the service and escape punishment because he re-enlists before his crime is detected? Should the authority of military justice to punish the wrong done depend upon the illogical and fortuitous contingency of an intervening honorable discharge when it is delivered only after the accused has re-enlisted in the service? The answer should be obvious — and is to us.

UNITED STATES v. GALLAGHER (U.S.C.M.A. 1957) 22 CMR 296, 302.)

Starfleet likely has similar rules prohibiting officers and crew from providing the enemy with arms, supplies, or money. The Federation would likely have a similar Code of Conduct for Members of Starfleet to that of the United States:

“All members of the Armed Forces of the United States are expected to measure up to the standards embodied in this Code of Conduct while in combat or in captivity. To ensure achievement of these standards, members of the armed forces liable to capture shall be provided with specific training and instruction designed to better equip them to counter and withstand all enemy efforts against them, and shall be fully instructed as to the behavior and obligations expected of them during combat or captivity.”

“I

“I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.

“II

“I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender the members of my command while they still have the means to resist.

“VI

“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.”

53 FR 10355

In the aftermath of Wolf 359 with a death toll near eleven thousand and 39 starships destroyed, angry family members of victims might argue those who were assimilated by the Borg were collaborators. See, Star Trek the Next Generation, Best of Both Worlds, Parts 2; Star Trek the Next Generation, The Drumhead. However, those assimilated by the Borg could not be prosecuted for Collaboration or Aiding the Enemy (assuming they could escape after the events of Star Trek Voyager Unimatrix Zero Part 2 or Endgame). First, those assimilated did not “surrender of their own free will”; they were forcibly altered with technology. 53 FR 10355. Second, while the bodies of those assimilated did aid the Borg “with arms, ammunition, supplies,” it was not a voluntarily act. Uniform Code of Military Justice, 904 Article 104.

Starfleet officers assimilated by the Borg would have a strong insanity defense for their actions against the Federation. A defense attorney could prove those assimilated by the Borg were “unable to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of [their] acts.”  18 USCS § 17(a). Liberated Starfleet officers would need to testify how the Borg used them as weapons, completely destroying their free will. Expert testimony could prove how Borg technology infects their victims at the cellular level, physically altering them, and suppressing their individual decision making ability.

Assimilated officers on the Enterprise did not have the free will necessary to mount an escape from the Borg, such as Commander Worf and Doctor Bashir did from the Dominion (see Deep Space Nice, By Inferno’s Light). While it would be prudent to vaccinate all Starfleet officers with the inhibitor created by the Doctor in Star Trek Voyager Unimatrix Zero Part 2, that was after the events of Star Trek First Contact.

The morally troubling issue is Captain Picard “euthanizing” an officer assimilated by the Borg in the failed attempt to re-capture the Engine Room. While the necessity defense does not permit murder, the Borg are relentless killing machines. The issue of trying to rescue assimilated officers was a no-win scenario in First Contact, given the risk of assimilation and ensuring Zefram Cochrane’s first warp flight. Picard was justified in killing Ensign Lynch and any other Borg, since the risk of failure in stopping the Borg would destroy the future. While this on its face is the abandonment of Federation values in war, a board of inquiry would support Picard’s command decision, as destroying the Enterprise-E should have been only done as a last resort to stop the Borg.

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Josh Gilliland
Josh Gilliland is a California attorney who focuses his practice on eDiscovery. Josh is the co-creator of The Legal Geeks, which has made the ABA Journal Top Blawg 100 Blawg for 2013 to 2016, and was nominated for Best Podcast for the 2015 Geekie Awards. Josh has presented at legal conferences and comic book conventions across the United States. He also ties a mean bow tie.