They called it Phung Hoang, the South Vietnamese, after the mythological bird of conjugal love that appears in times of peace, holding a flute and representing virtue, grace, and harmony. To the CIA, which "just thought it up and did it," the tortures, rapes, kidnappings, unlawful detainments without trial and, yes, murders which were performed with impunity and tacit approval from the Pentagon by civilian contractors in Vietnam from 1967 till 1972 were known collectively as The Phoenix Program.
Described by the Central Intelligence Agency at the time as "counter-terror methods," the systematic "neutralizing" of the Viet Cong Infrastructure (targeting civilians as opposed to soldiers) without due process during America's Southeast Asian genocide could easily be defined by any reasonable observer as a "final solution" that violated both the Geneva Conventions and any decent sense of morality.
The fact that we know anything about Phoenix at all is pretty-much accidental. The man who was most responsible for the program's creation, retired CIA officer Nelson Brickham, a good, responsible bureaucrat, kept copies of the documents he created during his tenure. When Saigon was evacuated in April of 1975, most documents regarding the program were destroyed. The really big news, however, as of this date (and ironically at this juncture in George W. Bush's "War on Terror"), is that information on the Phoenix Program kept at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia cannot be obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. The reason for this, according to Douglas Valentine, author of 1990's The Phoenix Program, Hotel Tacloban, and TDY, is because Phoenix "is the model for the US Homeland Security apparatus."
We were getting our asses waxed. It wasn't so much the uniformed, organized, systematic, well-led and motivated North Vietnamese Regular Army that was sending American boys home in body bags by 1967 (though of course the NVA did plenty of damage), but rather the Viet Cong, a homegrown rag-tag gang of "terrorists" that seemed to float like shadows out of the night and disappear again with the morning dew. That Viet Cong tactics resembled most those utilized by freedom fighters we called "patriots" during the American Revolution was a fact overlooked by William Colby, the CIA agent who oversaw the program and later became the agency's director under President Richard Nixon. (He was subsequently fired by Gerald Ford and replaced by George H. W. Bush, but that's another story.)
The concept was simplicity itself—maintain "internal security" by assassination. In cooperation with South Vietnamese police, army, and intelligence units, the United States gathered intelligence on Viet Cong operatives. Utilizing computers (for the first time), the managers of the Phoenix Program prepared "blacklists" of suspects in each village or province and then dispatched "hunter-killer" teams (Army Special Forces, Navy SEALS, civilian commandos) to apprehend and/or execute the targets.
Nelson Brickham managed the CIA officers who worked with Police Special Branch officers throughout Vietnam's 44 provinces. His Hamlet Informant Program (HIP) created informers who, being snitches and by nature untrustworthy, of course often set up innocent people for money or revenge.
The Province Interrogation Center program (PIC) built secret torture chambers in each of the country's provinces. Under the cover of a company called Pacific Architects and Engineers, the CIA hired local Vietnamese contractors to construct simple, functional, and secure prisons which upon completion were "donated" to the Vietnamese National Police, at which point they became National Police facilities under the direction of the Special Branch.
Comprised of four one-story buildings fashioned from concrete blocks linked around a courtyard, each PIC contained from twenty to sixty solitary confinement cells the size of closets. Each cell had a steel door and a panel at the bottom through which food could be passed. There were no toilets, just holes to squat over. "They didn't have them in their homes," gloated an American operative, "Why should we put them in their cells?"
The Vietnamese cadre attached to the PIC was selected by John Winne, the CIA's top psychologist, who used a Korean version of the standard Wechsler Intelligence test which was correlated with the agency's own Personality Assessment System, created by the legendary John Gittinger.
Secret police are recruited as CIA assets in every country in which the agency operates to this day, utilizing the same procedure. In his book The Search for the Manchurian Candidate, author John Marks quotes an agency assessor: "Anytime the Company spent money for training a foreigner, the object was that he would ultimately serve our purposes." CIA officers "were not content simply to work closely with these foreign intelligence agencies; they insisted on penetrating them, and the Personality Assessment System provided a useful aid.
In Vietnam, after penetrations into the Viet Cong Infrastructure (VCI) had been achieved through blackmail or targeting an individual's family, the really "black" business began. CIA "advisors" trained their counterpart Vietnamese Special Branch operatives in the requisite techniques, which, interestingly, in light of recent events in Iraq, involved "doing to them what they were doing to us."
According to John Patrick Muldoon, the first director of the CIA's PIC program, the Special Branch utilized "the old French methods." That meant interrogation that included torture, since the Vietnamese "looked upon torture as a normal and valid method of obtaining intelligence."
"All this had to be stopped by the agency," Muldoon said. "They had to be re-taught with more sophisticated techniques." But of course, in the classic manner of the committed fascist, he continued: "You can't have an American there all the time watching these things."
"These things" included: rape, gang rape, rape using eels, snakes, or hard objects, and rape followed by murder; electrical shock ("the Bell Telephone Hour") rendered by attaching wires to the genitals or other sensitive parts of the body, like the tongue; "the water treatment"; "the airplane," in which a prisoner's arms were tied behind the back and the rope looped over a hook on the ceiling, suspending the prisoner in midair, after which he or she was beaten; beatings with rubber hoses and whips; and the use of police dogs to maul prisoners.
All this and more occurred in PICs, one of which was run by Congressman Rob Simmons (R-CT) while he was the CIA officer in charge of the PIC in Phu Yen Province in 1972.
By any reasonable standard of American "decency" or "morality," the Phoenix Program was a crime, if not a sin.
By official reckoning, we killed over 26,000 "suspected Viet Cong." South Vietnamese sources (always suspect when it comes to numbers) claimed 40,000 dead. Regardless, the Phoenix Program was touted as an unqualified success, in spite of the fact, of course, that many "targets" had motivations which—though not perfectly honorable by Phoenix standards—did not run to terrorism and/or guerilla activity. Practically, technically, militarily, they were innocent. And murdered.
Civilian deaths in South Vietnam from 1965 until 1973 are estimated at 1.5 million; none is reported in U.S. military afteraction reports.
The end justified the means, you could say, for as Nguyen Van Thieu, America's puppet president in the "Republic" of South Vietnam, once observed, "Ho Chi Minh values his two cadres in every hamlet more highly than ten military divisions."
That was then; this is now. So what?
Well, I suppose it just depends on how you look at it. The problem, it seems to me, is that the animosity that developed between the U.S. Government and the American news media during Vietnam which—history shows us—was a good thing, has, through careful management of the media by the Bush Administration, disappeared.
Until three weeks ago, when the Iraqi prison scandal at Abu Ghraib broke, a discerning reader had to look mighty hard to uncover any fundamentally "Un-American" activity in this so-called War on Terror. If you were depending on The Tube for your facts, you were really out of luck. Not to oversimplify the situation, since I obviously have an ax to grind here, but it seems to me that
As sure as the hippies of the early 60's were enveloped in pot smoke and utopian fantasies while their government was committing genocide in their name, the Citizens of America 2004, enraptured by palliative TV, engorged by hormone-drenched carcinogenic "comfort foods," uneducated to a degree unmatched by many third-world countries—WE are standing by—doing nothing—while a President WE DID NOT ELECT employs, yet again, arrogance, ethnocentrism, violence, and lawlessness in a fatuous attempt to stop the unstoppable, to win the unwinnable, to DESTROY that which cannot be destroyed. America is trying to assure its tenuous future by repeating its unspeakable past. And to top it off, we are doing it in the name of GOD. The mind boggles.
There is no legislation that requires the President to notify Congress before authorizing an overseas Special Forces mission. The 2004 Pentagon budget provides more than six and a half BILLION dollars for their activities—a 34% increase over 2003.
The Special Forces in-country numbers are not included in troop totals. Though both George W. Bush and his henchman Donald Rumsfeld insist that MORE American troops are not needed in Iraq, that position is challenged by scores of professionals in private conversation.
"You need more people," said a retired admiral to Seymour Hersh, the investigative reporter who broke the My Lai massacre story (and laid the whole affair directly in the lap of the Phoenix Program), "but you can't add them because Rummy's taken a position. So you invent a force that won't be counted."
"When Special Forces target the Baathists, it's technically not assassination—it's normal combat operations."
The Office of Homeland Security was created by executive fiat on October 8, 2001. The USA Patriot Act has vastly expanded domestic intelligence gathering and the law enforcement powers of the government while curtailing individual rights and constitutionally-guaranteed protections from government intrusions. Most importantly, on January 29, 2003, Bush created the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC), which combines the essential anti-terror elements of the Justice Department and the CIA. It reports directly to the President, so the "War on Terror" is coordinated with the Homeland Security apparatus OUTSIDE the Department of Homeland Security and—surprise— Congressional scrutiny.
The "targets" of the Phoenix Program in Vietnam were civilians, not soldiers. Similarly, civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq who organize politically against "US" (whoEVER the hell "WE" are) are—guess what?—identified, hunted down, and "terminated" by the CIA. If they arm themselves IN THEIR OWN HOMELAND, in the name of THEIR OWN NATIONAL SECURITY, they become TERRORISTS and, yes, are eliminated.
It doesn't take a major leap of the imagination to note, in closing, that in a "free" society such as our own, such essential "national security" items as the INS-State Department TIPOFF blacklist, the No-Fly blacklist (distributed to the airlines by the FBI and the Transportation Security Administration, identifying PEACE ACTIVISTS), CAPPS II, which uses credit card information and secret databases to assess an individual's security risk level, and local blacklists which are beginning to be prepared by organizations like the Denver Police Department can easily be classified as double-edged swords.
In a world where common decency has all but disappeared, it is naive to depend upon "the good guys" to be, in fact, honest and morally incorruptible. A Congressional Investigation found the Phoenix Program had been used by the CIA as "an instrument of mass political murder" to neutralize politicians and activists who opposed America's puppet government in Vietnam.
"By analogy," said Representative Ogden Reid (D-NY) at the time, "if the Union had had a Phoenix program during the Civil War, its targets would have been civilians like Jefferson Davis or the mayor of Macon, Georgia."
When four Congresspersons charged that the administrative detention laws under the Phoenix Program violated that part of the Geneva Conventions guaranteeing protection to civilians in time of war, CIA legal experts argued that Article 3 applied, "only to sentencing for crimes, and does not prohibit a state from interning civilians or subjecting them to emergency detention when such measures are necessary for the security or safety of the state."
In this way indefinite detention, torture, and summary execution, all carried out without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, will be perfectly legal in the forthcoming, legally criminal Homeland Security state, because they will result from "administrative procedures" and will not involve a "criminal sentence."
—Douglas Valentine, ABC's of American Interrogation Methods
Political "terminations" in the homeland? Transportation "accidents" that are, in fact, NOT accidents? Anthrax letters mailed to Democratic senators? Indefinite incarceration absent any criminal charge with no access to legal council? Blackmail as mandatory self-censorship, lest the truth (God Help Us) set someone free?
Major General Bruce Lawlor, a former CIA officer who ran counter-terrorist teams in Vietnam, is now Chief of Staff of the Department of Homeland Security. Roger Mackin, who operated Phoenix programs in Da Nang is the department's Chief of Counter-Narcotic Operations. The Freedom Corps, the Citizen Corps, Community Emergency Response Teams, the Medical Reserve Corps—each will train cadres. Somewhere, maybe someday everywhere, someone will be watching YOU.
Be careful what you say. Be careful what you do. The Phoenix is a creature supremely selective in its prey.
And the God-damned bird just keeps coming back.
“Until we go through it ourselves, until our people cower in the shelters of New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles and elsewhere while the buildings collapse overhead and burst into flames, and dead bodies hurtle about and, when it is over for the day or the night, emerge in the rubble to find some of their dear ones mangled, their homes gone, their hospitals, churches, schools demolished — only after that gruesome experience will we realize what we are inflicting on the people of Indochina...”
— William L. Shirer, author of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, in 1973.
Douglas Valentine, The Phoenix Program, New York, William Morrow Company, 1990.
Douglas Valentine, ABC's of American Interrogation Methods http://www.counterpunch.org/valentine05152004.html.
John L. Cook, The Advisor: the Phoenix program in Vietnam Atglen, PA, Schiffer Military History, 1997.
Stuart A. Herrington, Silence was a weapon: the Vietnam war in the villages: a personal perspective, Novato, CA, Presidio Press, 1982.
Richard A Hunt, Pacification: the American struggle for Vietnam's hearts and minds, Boulder, Westview Press, 1995.
Michael J. Walsh and Greg Walker, SEAL!: from Vietnam's PHOENIX program to Central America's drug wars: twenty-six years with a special operations warrior, New York, Pocket Books, 1994.
Dale Andrade, Ashes to ashes: the Phoenix program and the Vietnam War, Lexington, Mass, Lexington Books, 1990.
William Egan Colby and James McGar, Lost victory: a firsthand account of America's sixteen-year involvement in Vietnam, Chicago, Contemporary Books, 1989.
John Marks, The Search for the Manchurian Candidate, Times Books, 1979.
Homeland Security Mission & Management statement, www.whitehouse.gov/homeland. Homeland Security Act of 2002, TITLE IX--NATIONAL HOMELAND SECURITY COUNCIL.
Dana Priest: "The CIA Is Expanding Domestic Operations," Washington Post, 23 October 2002.
Matthew Rothschild, "More Anti-War Activists Snagged by "No Fly" List, 16 October 2002, The Progressive.
Warnings by an FBI agent that Moslem extremists were planning to fly planes into the World Trade Center were lost in a bureaucratic shuffle in August, only weeks before the 9/11 attacks. We are told that these warnings never reached the White House, although Attorney General John Ashcroft himself was warned not to fly on commercial airlines at precisely that same time. (Jake Tapper, Salon.com, 12 September 2001.)
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