CONSTRUCTIVE BLOODBATHS IN VIETNAM
French and Diemist Bloodbaths
Although the only pre-1965 bloodbath recognized in the official doctrine is that which occurred in North Vietnam during its land reform of the mid-5Os, there were others. In 1946, without warning, the French bombarded Haiphong, killing an estimated 6000 civilians (108), probably greater than the number of victims of the well publicized North Vietnamese land reform episode (discussed below). But as part of the French recolonization effort, and with Vietnam of little interest to the American leadership, this bloodbath was ignored and has not been mentioned yet by President Nixon or Douglas Pike in their historical reconstructions.
Diem’s bloodbaths also were impressive, but as they were in the service of anti-Communism and the preservation of our client, Diem, they fall into the constructive or benign categories. Under our tutelage, Diem began his own “search and destroy” operations in the mid-and late 1950s, and his prison camps and torture chambers were filled and active. In 1956 the official figure for political prisoners in South Vietnam was fifteen to twenty thousand. Even the Diem friend and adviser, P. J. Honey, concluded on the basis of talks with former inmates, that the majority of these were “neither Communists nor pro-Communists.” (109) The maltreatment and massacre of political prisoners was a regular practice during the Diem period, although these problems have become much more acute in recent years. (110) The 1958 massacre of prisoners in Diem’s concentration camp Phu Loi led to such an outcry that P. J. Honey was dispatched to inquire into these events; and according to Lacouture, Honey could not verify more that twenty deaths at Phu Loi. (111)
“Pacification” as it developed from the earliest Diem period consisted in “killing, or arresting without either evidence or trials, large numbers of persons suspected of being Vietminh or ‘rebels.’ (112) This resulted in many small bloodbaths at the local level, plus larger ones associated with military expeditions carried out by Diem against the rural population. One former Vietminh resistance fighter gave the following account (113) of the Diemist terror and bloodbath in his village:
My village chief was a stranger to the village. He was very cruel. He hunted all the former members of the Communist Party during the Resistance to arrest and kill them. All told, he slaughtered fourteen Party members in my village. I saw him with my own eyes order the killing of two Party members in Mau Lam hamlet. They had their hands tied behind their backs and they were buried alive by the militia. I was scared to death.
Another former resistance fighter in Central Vietnam claimed that (114): In 1956, the local government of Quang Nam started a terrorist action against old Resistance members. About 10,000 persons of the Resistance Army were arrested, and a good many of them were slaughtered. I had to run for my life, and I stayed in the mountains until 1960. I lived with three others who came from my village. We got help from the tribal population there.
The general mechanics of the larger bloodbaths were described (115) by Joseph Buttinger, another former Diem supporter and advisor.
In June 1956 Diem organized two massive expeditions to the regions that were controlled by the Communists without the slightest use of force. His soldiers arrested tens of thousands of people... Hundreds, perhaps thousands of peasants were killed. Whole villages whose populations were not friendly to the government were destroyed by artillery. These facts were kept secret from the American people.
According to Jeffrey Race, a former U.S. Army adviser in South Vietnam who had access to extensive documentation on recent Vietnamese history (116), the government terrorized far more than did the revolutionary movement - for example, by liguidations of former Vietminh, by artillery and ground attacks on “communist villages,” and by roundups of “communist sympathizers.” Yet it was just these tactics that led to the constantly increasing strength of the revolutionary movement in Long An from 1960 to 1965.
During the period 1955-60 the Vietminh mission was political, and “though it used assassinations and kidnapping,” according to the Pentagon Papers historians it “circumspectly avoided military operations.” (117) A USMAAG report of July 1957 stated: “The Viet Cong guerillas and propagandists ... are still waging a grim battle for survival. In addition to an accelerated propaganda campaign, the Communists have been forming ‘front’ organizations ... seeking to spread the theory of ‘Peace and Co-existence.’ “ (118) On the other hand, Diem, at least through 1957, was having “marked success with fairly sophisticated pacification programs in the countryside.” (119) In a precise analogy with his sponsor’s pacification efforts of 1965-72, “By the end of 1956, the civic action component of the GVN pacification program had been cut back severely.” (120) The Pentagon historians refer to “Diem’s nearly paranoid preoccupation with security,” which led to policies that “thoroughly terrified the Vietnamese peasants and detracted significantly from the regime’s popularity.” (121)
According to the Pentagon historians, “No direct links have been established between Hanoi and perpetrators of rural violence.” (122) The phrase “perpetrators of rural violence” is applied by the Pentagon historians only to the Vietminh, who admittedly were concentrating on political activities, and not to the Diem regime, which as they note was conducting a policy of large-scale reprisals and violence, so extensive and undiscriminating as to be counterproductive. It is not difficult to establish “direct links” between Washington and perpetrators of the Diemist repression,incidentally. Once again it is clear that “constructive” bloodbaths can never involve “violence” for establishment propagandists and scholars; the word is reserved for those seeking social change in an illegitimate direction and under improper auspices.
Diem’s extensive use of violence and reprisals against former Resistance fighters was in direct violation of the Geneva Accords (Article 14c), as was his refusal to abide by the election proviso. Diem had publicly repudiated the Accords in January, 1955, and the United States gave him complete support until he became a liability in 1963. The analogy with the later scenario and the Agreement of January, 1973 and its surrounding events is, once again, depressingly apt. Thieu has plainly expressed a similar disdain for the Accords. The constitutional structure of his regime -- which remains “intact and unchanged” with full U.S. support, Washington announces -- outlaws the second of the two parallel and equivalent parties that are to achieve peaceful reconciliation in South Vietnam. And Thieu’s open retaliatory activities and intentions are completely incompatible with those parts of the 1973 Agreement that prohibit all acts of reprisal (Article 11), and require settlement through negotiations (Articles 10,12 and 13). But then, the entire U.S. strategy and policy of militarization of and support for its minority faction is incompatible with the commitment to nonintervention (Article 4), selfdetermination for the South Vietnamese (Introduction and Article 9), settlement of all disagreements “through negotiations, and avoid(ance of) all armed conflict” (Article 10). In brief, even more clearly than in 1954 the United States and its agent have entered into an agreement, which is incompatible with their clearly stated aims and policies -- indeed, with the very nature of the Saigon regime. (123)
The Overall U.S. Assault as the Primary Bloodbath
In a very real sense the overall U.S. effort in South Vietnam may be regarded as a deliberately imposed bloodbath. Military escalation was undertaken to offset the well understood lack of any significant social and political base for the elite military faction supported by the United States. Despite occasional expressions of interest in the welfare and free choice of the South Vietnamese, the documents made available as part of the Pentagon Papers show that U.S. planners consistently regarded the impact of their decisions on the Vietnamese at most as a peripheral issue, more commonly as totally inconsequential. Nonintervention and an NLF takeover were unacceptable for reasons that had nothing to do with Vietnamese interests, they were based on an assumed adverse effect on our material and strategic interests. It was assumed that an American failure would be harmful to our prestige and would reduce the confidence of our satellite governments that we would protect them from the winds of change. (124) The Thai elite, for example, might “conclude that we simply could not be counted on” to help them in suppressing local insurgencies. What is more, there was the constant threat of a “demonstration effect” of real social and economic progress in China (125), North Korea (126), and North Vietnam (127).
In spite of official reiterations of the alleged threat of Chinese and North Vietnamese “expansionism,” it was recognized by U.S. policy makers that a unified Communist Vietnam probably would have limited ambitions itself, and would provide a barrier to any Chinese moves further South. (128) It is not the threat of military expanison that official documents cite as the justification for the huge assault on Vietnam. Rather, it was feared that by processes never spelled out in detail, “the rot (might) spread to Thailand” (129) and perhaps beyond. The “rot” can only be the Communist “ideological threat” that is, the possibility of social and economic progress outside the framework of American control and imperial interests, which must be fought by American intervention against local Communist uprisings, whether or not any armed attack is involved. This is the rot that might spread to Thailand and beyond, inspiring Communist-led nationalist movements. But no skillful ideologist would want such implications spelled out too clearly, to himself or to others. Consequently, the central factors involved remain vague, their place taken by propagandistic fabrications about aggression, threatened bloodbaths, and our interest in self-determination.
It is important to bear in mind that these concepts -- in fact, even the terminology in which they were expressed -- were not invented by Vietnam planners. Rather, they merely adopted a standard mechanism of proven effectiveness in mobilizing support for American intervention. When Dean Acheson faced the problem of convincing the “leaders of Congress” (his quotes) to support the Truman Doctrine in February, 1947, he outlined the threat as follows: (130)
In the past eighteen months, I said, Soviet pressure on the Straits, on Iran, and on northern Greece had brought the Balkans to the point where a highly possible Soviet breakthrough might open three continents to Soviet penetration. Like apples in a barrel infected by one rotten one, the corruption of Greece would infect Iran and all to the east. It would also carry infection to Africa through Asia Minor and Egypt, and to Europe through Italy and France, already threatened by the strongest domestic Communist parties in Western Europe.
As Acheson well knew, Soviet pressure on the Straits and Iran had been withdrawn already and American control was firmly established. Further, there was no evidence of Soviet pressure on Northern Greece - on the contrary, Stalin was unsympathetic to the Greek guerrillas. Still the rot might spread unless the U.S. undertook to rescue the terroristic regime in Athens, and a “Soviet breakthrough” was a useful propaganda device with which to mobilize domestic support. Acheson was concerned with the more remote dominoes - the Middle East and the industrial societies that were subject to the “threat” of internal democratic politics that might bring Communist parties to power, thwarting American intentions. Similarly in the case of Indochina, it was the potential exit from the Free World of Indonesia with its rich resources, and industrial Japan, that obsessed American planners as they contemplated the threat of falling dominoes and rotting apples.
As the Pentagon Papers show, the U.S. leadership knew that in Vietnam the “primary sources of Communist strength in the South remain indigenous,” with a corresponding “ability to recruit locally” and it was recognized that the NLF “enjoys some status as a nationalist movement,” whereas the military government “is composed primarily of technicians” lacking in “positive support from various key segments of the populace” and determined “to remain the real power in South Vietnam” without any “interference from the civilians in the conduct of the war.” (131) The experienced pacification Chief John Paul Vann, writing in 1965, put the matter more brutally (132):
A popular political base for the Government of South Vietnam does not now ....... The existing government is oriented toward the exploitation of the rural and lower class urban populations. It is, in fact, a continuation of the French colonial system of government with upper class Vietnamese replacing the French The dissatisfaction of the agrarian population... is expressed largely through alliance with the NLF.
It was thus well known to American authorities in 1965 that we were fighting a nationalist mass movement in favor of a corrupt oligarchy that lacked popular backing. The Vietnam war was fought to return this nationalist mass movement to that measure of passivity and defeatism” identified by Pool as necessary for “stability” in the Third World (see note 12). It must be brought under comprador military control such as we have imposed or supported in the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Bolivia, Greece, Thailand, etc. The power to rationalize self-interest is great, however, and some American leaders may have been able to keep their minds from being cluttered with inconvenient facts. In so doing, they preserved the belief that because we were the good guys our purposes must be benign and democratic and must have some positive relationship to the interests of the South Vietnamese people. Even the evidence that we were directing a large part of our military effort to assaulting and uprooting the rural population of the South, already overwhelming before the end of 1965, was easily assimilated into the Orwellian doctrine of “defense against aggression.”
The decision to employ technologically advanced conventional weaponry against the southern countryside made a certain amount of sense on two assumptions: first, that the revolutionary forces were predominant in the rural areas, so that the war had to be a true anti-population war to force submission; and secondly, that the “demonstration effect” is important to U.S. interests, and that our job was to terrorize, kill and destroy in order to prove that revolution “doesn’t pay.” The first assumption was true in fact and must be assumed to have contributed to the gradual emergence of a full-fledged and semi-genocidal policy of search and destroy and unrestrained firepower. The second assumption was evidently important in the thinking of high level U.S. planners and advisers and also contributed to the evolution of policy. (133)
The character of U.S. policy was also influenced by the gradual recognition of two additional facts: first, that the South Vietnamese victims of “pacification” were essentially voiceless, unable to reach U.S. or world opinion even as effectively as the North Vietnamese, (134) with the result that the population being “saved” could be and has been treated with virtually unrestrained violence (see the descriptions in the sections which follow) The second fact was that relevant U.S. sensitivities (i.e those of politically significant numbers of people) were almost exclusively related to U.S. casualties. Both of these considerations encouraged the development of an indiscriminate war of firepower, a war of shooting first and making inquiries later; this would minimize U.S. casualties and have the spin-off benefit of more thoroughly terrorizing the population. The enhanced civilian casualties need not be reported -- the enormous statistical service of the Pentagon always has had difficulty dredging up anything credible on this one question -- or such casualties could be reported as “enemy” or “Vietcong.” Years of familiarity with this practice has not caused the news services to refrain from transmitting, as straight news, Saigon and Pentagon handouts on “enemy” casualties.
Other factors were involved in making the entire U.S. enterprise in Vietnam a huge bloodbath; faith in technological solutions, racism reinforced by the corruption of “our” Vietnamese and the helplessness of the victimized population, and the frustrations of the war. But essentially the initial high level decisions to bomb freely, to conduct search-and-destroy operations, and to fight a war against the rural population with virtually unlimited force were the source of the bloodbath.
The immensity of the overall American-imposed bloodbath can be inferred to some degree from the sheer volume of ordnance employed, the nature of the weaponry, and the principles which have governed their use. Through the end of 1971 over 3.9 million tons of bombs were dropped on South Vietnam from the air alone - about double the total bomb tonnage used by the United States in all theaters during World War II - with ground ordnance also employed in historically unique volume. (135) A large fraction of the napalm used in Indochina has been dropped in South Vietnam, an illustration of the abuse visited on the voiceless South Vietnamese (in protecting them from aggression”!) by the American command in collaboration with its client government in Saigon Over 90% of the air strikes in South Vietnam were classified officially as “interdiction” (136), which means bombing not carried out in support of specific on-going military actions, but rather area bombing, frequently on a programmed basis, and attacks on “what are suspected” to be “enemy base camps, or sites from which a shot may have been fired.
One former military intelligence officer with the American Division in South Vietnam told a Congressional Subcommittee: “Every information report (IR) we wrote based on our sources’ information was classified as (1) unverifiable and (2) usually reliable source ... The unverified and in fact unverifiable information, nevertheless, was used regularly as input to artillery strikes, harassment and interdiction fire (H & I), B-52 and other air strikes, often on populated areas.” (137) In the words of Army Chief of Staff General Johnson, “We have not enough information. We act with ruthlessness, like a steamroller, bombing extensive areas and not selected targets based on detailed intelligence.” (138) This is an expression of indiscriminateness as a principle, and it is a perfect complement to the other facets of a policy which was from the beginning semi-genocidal in purpose and method, resting in large part on the fact that the civilian population has been regarded as enemy or, at best, of no account.
The number of civilian casualties inflicted on South Vietnam is unknown, but surely is underestimated by the Senate Subcommittee on Refugees at 400,000 dead, 900,000 wounded and 6.4 million turned into refugees. (139) Conservative as these figures are, however, they mean “that there is hardly a family in South Vietnam that has not suffered a death, injury or the anguish of abandoning an ancient homestead.” (140)
That the overall American assault on South Vietnam has involved a huge bloodbath can also be inferred from the nature of “pacification,” both in general concept and in the details of implementation. We shall not here go into the general concept and the ways in which it was applied and was rapidly transformed into the wholesale killing and forced transfer of civilians. (141) We shall confine ourselves to an examination of three cases: a specific operation by U.S. forces over a brief time period; a series of atrocities perpetrated over a six or seven-year period by our South Korean mercenary allies,with the certain knowledge and tacit acceptance of U.S. authorities; and the Phoenix program of extra-legal counter terror against enemy civilians. These are by no means the only blood baths that typify the constructive mode, but they are offered as illustrative and deserving of greater attention.
“Operation Speedy Express”
Operation Speedy Express was only one of a great many major pacification efforts carried out by the U.S. command. It is unusual, apparently, only in that it was studied and reported by a competent and experienced correspondent, Kevin P. Buckley of Newsweek. He examined the military and hospital records of the Operation and interviewed South Vietnamese inhabitants and pacification officials of the Mekong Delta province of Kien Hoa, the site of Speedy Express. In the latter part of 1968 the American command launched an “accelerated pacification program” to wrest territory from the NLF and place it back under the “control” of Saigon. “Operation Speedy Express” was the code name for a six-month campaign by the U.S. Ninth Infantry Division under that program. The campaign was carried out in a heavily populated Delta province that had traditionally supported the NLF. Buckley reported (142):
All the evidence I gathered pointed to a clear conclusion: a staggering number of noncombatant civilians - perhaps as many as 5,000 according to one official - were killed by U.S. fire power to “pacify” Kien Hoa. The death toll there made the My Lai massacre look trifling by comparison... The Ninth Division put all it had into the operation. Eight thousand infantrymen scoured the heavily populated countryside, but contact with the elusive enemy was rare. Thus, in its pursuit of pacification, the division relied heavily on its 50 artillery pieces, 50 helicopters (many armed with rockets and mini-guns) and the deadly support lent by the Air Force. There were 3,381 tactical air strikes by tighter bombers during “Speedy Express”... “Death is our business and business is good,” was the slogan painted on one helicopter unit’s quarters during the operation. And so it was. Cumulative statistics for “Speedy Express” show that 10,899 “enemy” were killed. In the month of March alone, “over 3,000 enemy troops were killed... which is the largest monthly total for any American division in the Vietnam war,” said the division’s official magazine. when asked to account for the enormous body counts, a division senior ofticer explained that helicopter crews often caught unarmed “enemy” in open fields. But Vietnamese repeatedly told me that those “enemy” were farmers gunned down while they worked in their rice tields... There is overwhelming evidence that virtually all the Viet Cong were well armed. Simple civilians were, of course, not armed. And the enormous discrepancy between the body count (i.e 11,000) and the number of captured weapons (i.e 748) is hard to explain - except by the conclusion that many victims were unarmed innocent civilians... The people who still live in pacified Kien Hoa all have vivid recollections of the devastation that American firepower brought to their lives in early 1969. Virtually every person to whom I spoke had suftered in some way. “There were 5,000 people in our village before 1969, but there were none in 1970,” one village elder told me. “The Americans destroyed every house with artillery, air strikes, or by burning them down with cigarette lighters. About 100 people were killed by bombing, others were wounded and others became refugees. Many were children killed by concussion from the bombs which their small bodies could not withstand, even if they were hiding underground.” Other officials, including the village police chief, corroborated the man’s testimony. I could not, of course, reach every village. But in each of the many places where I went, the testimony was the same: 100 killed here, 200 killed there. One old man summed up all the stories: “The Americans killed some VC but only a small number. But of civilians, there were a large number killed”
Although Buckley states that pacification chief John Paul Vann found that Speedy Express had alienated the population (a profound discovery), he reports that the Army command considered its work well done. After all, “the ‘land rush’ succeeded. Government troops moved into the ravaged countryside in the wake of the bombardments, set up outposts and established Saigon’s dominance of Kien Hoa.” The commander of the unit responsible for this achievement was promoted with an accolade from General Abrams, who felt that “the performance of this division has been magnificent.” On another occasion, when awarding him the Legion of Merit, Abrams referred to George Patton III, the man most noted for converting “pacification” into plain killing, as “one of my finest young commanders.” (143)
The 43-plus My Lais of the South Korean Mercenaries
South Korean mercenary forces were contracted for and brought into South Vietnam by the Johnson Administration in 1965, and they remained there into 1973. News reports in 1965 and 1966 described these South Korean forces as “fierce” and “effective,” but only in January 1970 was it disclosed publicly that their effectiveness rested on a policy of simple and deliberate murder of South Vietnamese civilians. At that time it was reported that they had carried out a policy of simply shooting one of ten civilians in villages which they occupied. (144)
Not until 1972, however, did the scale of South Korean civilian murders become public knowledge (although still of little interest to the mass media these murders fall into the “constructive” category). (145) Two Vietnamese-speaking Quakers, Diane and Michael Jones, carried out an intensive study of a portion of the area that had been occupied by the South Koreans for half a decade. To summarize their findings (146):
(a) The South Korean “rented soldiers,” as the South Vietnamese describe them, committed a whole series of My Lai-scale massacres, twelve separate massacres of 100 or more civilians having been uncovered in the Jones’ study. These soldiers carried out dozens of other massacres of twenty or more unarmed civilians, plus innumerable isolated killings, robberies, rapes, tortures, and devastation of land and personal property. The aggregate number of known murders by the South Koreans clearly runs into many thousands; and the Joneses examined only a part of the territory “pacified” by these “allied” forces. (b) The bulk of the victims of these slaughters were women, children, and old people, as draft-age males had either joined the NLF, been recruited into the Saigon army, or were in hiding. (c) These mass murders were carried out in part, but only in part (147), as reprisals for attacks on the South Korean forces, or as a warning against such attacks. Briefly, the civilians of the entire area covered by the South Koreans served as hostages; if any casualties were taken by these mercenaries, as by an exploding mine, they often would go to the nearest village and shoot twenty, or 120, unarmed civilians. This policy is similar to that employed by the Nazis, but South Korean hostage murders of civilians have been relatively more extensive and undiscriminating than those perpetrated by the Nazis in Western Europe during World War II, considering the relative scale of the occupation. (d) These mass murders were carried out over an extended time period, and into 1972, with certain knowledge by U.S. authorities. (148) There is no evidence that U.S. officials made any effort to discourage this form of “pacification” or that any disciplinary action was ever taken in response to these frequent and sustained atrocities. In fact, there is reason to believe the South Korean policy of deliberate murder of civilians was not merely known and tolerated but was looked upon with favor by some U.S. authorities. Frank Baldwin, of Columbia University’s East Asia Institute, reports that the Korean policy was “an open secret in Korea for several years.” American officials admitted to Baldwin that these accounts were true, “sometimes with regret, but usually with admiration.” (149) (e) In its request for $134 million for fiscal 1973 to support the continued presence of South Korean troops in Vietnam (raising the 1966-73 total to $1.76 billion), the DOD pointed out to Congress that the South Korean troops “protect” an important section of South Vietnam. It is a fact that the South Koreans have “protected” and given “security” (150) to people in South Vietnam in precisely the Orwellian- official American sense that Nixon, Westmoreland, and the pacification program in general have done.
The acceptability of this form of pacification and the now well established and consistent propensity of American forces and each of their “allies” -- not merely South Koreans (151) -- to carry out systematic acts of violence against South Vietnamese civilians, suggest that such atrocities and bloodbaths must be “built in” to the American effort and mission, they must be an integral part of “pacifying” a poor, virtually defenseless, but stubbornly uncooperative, foreign population.
Phoenix: A Case Study of Indiscriminate “Selective” Terror
With unlimited resources available for killing, one option fitfully pursued by the American invaders of Vietnam -- supplementing bombing, search and destroy, and the organization of forces of mercenaries -- has been selective counter-terror. If the NLF had a political infrastructure that was important to its success, and if their own terror against the Saigon political machine effectively had made a shambles of the latter, why not duplicate and better their program of selective force? By doing so we would, as in providing them with the South Koreans and Ninth Division, help “to protect the Vietnamese people against terrorism” (to quote William Colby) (152), and thus bring “security” to the peasantry, threatened by the terror employed by their sister1 brothers and other relatives among the NLF cadres. Phoenix was a late-comer on the stage of selective counter-terror; it illustrates as well as any program, the inability of the American leadership to grasp the reasons for the NLF successes and the failures of Saigon. It points up the ease with which American programs are absorbed into (and add further corrupting impetus to) a system of rackets and indiscriminate torture and killings, and the willingness of the U.S. political/military bureaucracy actively to support and rationalize the most outlandish and brutal systems of terror. The defense of this degenerate program by Komer, Colby, Sullivan and other American officials is also unusual in the quality of the rationalizations offered for U.S.-planned and financed bloodbaths.
The immediate predecessor (153) of the Phoenix program was the Intelligence Coordination and Exploitation (ICEX) programs initiated in mid-1967 (154) under the direction of Westmoreland and Komer, and involving CIA, American civilian and military personnel, and the Saigon military-intelligence-police apparatus. Early internal directives describe the Phoenix program as a U.S. effort of advice, support, and assistance to the Saigon Phung Hoang program. Later modifications delete reference to “Phoenix” and refer merely to the Saigon Phung Hoang program, in line with the approach of “keep(ing) the GVN foremost in the picture presented to its own people and the world at large.” (155) On March 4,1968 the U.S. Secretary of Defense recommended that “Operation Phoenix which is targetted (sic) against the Viet Cong must be pursued more vigorously in closer liaison with the U.S.” while “Vietnamese armed forces should be devoted to anti-infrastructure activities on a priority basis.” (156)
After Westmoreland’s and Komer’s ICEX became Phoenix the coordinated U.S.-Saigon intelligence-military-police program succeeded in “neutralizing” (157) some 84,000 “Viet Cong infrastructure,” with 21,000 killed, according to one set of reported official figures (158). The Saigon government claims that, under Phoenix, 40,994 suspected enemy civilians were killed, from its inception in August 1968 through the middle of 1971. (159) Just who these victims have been is not entirely clear to William E. Colby, former head of Civil Operations and Rural Development (sic) Support Program (CORDS), and now up for confirmation to head the CIA. Colby told a Congressional Committee that he has “never been highly satisfied with the accuracies of our intelligence efforts on the Vietcong Infrastructure,” conceding that “larger numbers” than the thousand suggested to him by Congressman Reid “might have been improperly identified” as Vietcong Infrastructure in the course of Phoenix operations. (160) However, he assured the Committee that things are steadily “improving” (Colby’s favorite word), and while we have not yet reached perfect due process or comprehensive knowledge of VC Infrastructure, Phoenix has actually improved the quality of U.S.-Saigon counter terror by its deep concern with accurate intelligence and its dedication to “stern justice.” (161) Most of the Vietnamese killed, Colby assured the Committee, were killed “as members of military units or while fighting off arrest.” (162) Conveniently these dead enemy have usually had incriminating documents on their person that permits identification. (“What they are identified from is from documents on the body after a fire fight.”) (163) Thus although things are not perfect South Vietnam is not the “pretty wild place” it was at one period “when the government was very unstable.” Though there are “unjustifiable abuses,” “in collaboration with the Vietnamese authorities we have moved to stop that sort of nonsense.” (164)
Colby’s suggestions that intelligence of VC Infrastructure has improved, that such intelligence has been relevant to Phoenix operations, and that deaths have occurred mainly in combat are contradicted by all nonofficial testimony on the subject. The program initially was motivated by the belief that U.S. forces were developing much valuable information that was not being put to use. (165) Actually, much of this intelligence was unverified and unverifiable even in the best of circumstances. And Komer and his colleagues were aware of the fact that the “primary interest” of Saigon officials “is money,” (166) with the potential, therefore, that a counter-terror program using Saigon machinery would be corrupt, indiscriminate, and ineffective, except for the “spinoff’ from mass terror. Potential corruption would be further heightened under a body quota system, which was quickly installed and subsequently enlarged with specific prize money of $11,000 offered for a live VCI and half that for a dead one. Corruption would be maximized by using dubious personnel to carry out the assassinations. And, in fact, the actual assassinations were carried out regularly by former criminals or former Communists recruited and paid by the CIA, by CIA-directed teams drawn from ethnic minorities, American military men, and Nationalist Chinese and Thai mercenaries. An American IVS volunteer reports picking up two hitchhikers in the Mekong Delta, former criminals, who told him that by bringing in a few bodies now and then and collecting the bounty, they can live handsomely. (167)
The quota system is applied at many levels. Michael J. Uhi, a former military intelligence (MI) officer, testified that a Phoenix MI team “measured its success ... not only by its ‘body count’ and ‘kill ratio’ but by the number of CD’s (civil detainees) it had captured... All CD’s, because of this command pressure ... were listed as VCI. To my knowledge, not one of these people ever freely admitted being a cadre member. And again, contrary to Colby’s statement, most of our CD’s were women and children...” (168) Quotas were also fixed for local officials in an effort to produce “results” on a wider front; and as one American adviser noted, “They will meet every quota that’s established for them.”(169)
Torture, a long-standing policy of the Saigon regime is greatly encouraged by quotas and rewards for “Vietcong Infrastructure.” A sardonic saying favored by the Saigon police is: “If they are innocent beat them until they become guilty.” (170) According to Uhl, “Not only was there no due process. ..but fully all detainees were brutalized and many were literally tortured.” (171) A woman interviewed by Tom Fox after her release from a Saigon interrogation center in July 1972 claimed that more than 90% of those arrested and taken to the center were subjected to torture. (172) K. Baron Osborn, who served in a covert program of intelligence in Vietnam, not only testified to a wide variety of forms of torture used by U.S. and Saigon personnel, but also made the startling claim that “I never knew an individual to be detained as a VC suspect who ever lived through an interrogation in a year and a half, and that included quite a number of individuals.” (173)
In some respects the Phoenix system has been biased in favor of the PRC and its cadres and against the ordinary citizen. The former are more elusive and better able to defend themselves and sometimes have established a modus vivendi with local officials. But Phoenix can be “widely used to arrest and detail non-Communist dissidents,” according to Theodore Jacqueney, a former AID and CORDS employee in Vietnam. (174) The Phoenix program also serves for personal vendettas, or for obtaining cash rewards for producing bodies. Meeting quotas is always possible in Free Vietnam by simply committing violence against the defenseless.
A system of terror-run-amok is facilitated by the incompetence and chronic irrelevance of the “intelligence” system that Colby claimed to be “improving” and which gave him hopes of “stern justice.” According to Michael Uhi, Colby’s claim of increasingly adequate intelligence as a basis for the huge number of Phoenix victims simply reflects Colby’s “general lack of understanding of what is actually going on in the field.” (175) According to Uhi, the MI groups in South Vietnam never had the capacity to do such a major intelligence job. “A mammoth task such as this would greatly tax even our resourceful FBI, where we have none of the vast cross-cultural problems to contend with.” As noted earlier, in the reality of practice (176),
We had no way of determining the background of these sources, nor their motivation for providing American units with information. No American in the team spoke or understood Vietnamese well enough to independently debrief any “contact.” ... Our paid sources could easily have been either provocateurs or opportunists with a score to settle. Every information report (IR) we wrote based on our sources’ information was classified as (1) unverifiable and (2) usually reliable source. As to the first, it speaks for itself; the second, in most cases was pure rationale for the existence of the program. The unverified and in fact unverifiable information, nevertheless, was used regularly as input to artillery strikes, harassment and interdiction fire (H& I), B52 and other air strikes, often on populated areas.
K. Barton Osborn testified, also, that the Phoenix bureaucracy unofficially encourage killing on the spot rather than going through the required administrative procedures: (177)
After all, it was a big problem that had to be dealt with expediently. This was the mentality. This carries a semi-official or semi-illegal program to the logical conclusion that I described here. It became a sterile depersonalized murder program... There was no cross-check; there was no investigation; there were no second opinions. And certainly not whatever official modus operandi had been described as a triple reporting system for verification. There was no verification and there was no discrimination. It was completely indiscriminate and at best the individuals were either able to escape capture and neutralize them or interrogated and let go.
The indiscriminateness of the Phoenix murders was so blatant that in 1970 one senior AID adviser of ‘the Danang City Advisory Group told former AID employee Theodore Jacqueney that he refused ever to set foot in the Province Interrogation Center again, because “war crimes are going on there.” (178) A UPI report of November 1971 cites another U.S. adviser, who claims that local officials in the Delta decided simply to kill outright 80% of their “suspects,” but American advisers were able to convince them that the proportion should be reduced to 50%. (179) This is the “selective” counter-terror by which the United States and its client have been bringing “security” to the benighted.