ACCELERATING BLOODBATH IN SOUTH VIETNAM:
The Thieu Police State
Thieu and the Thieu regime represent the last word in counterrevolutionary “stabilization.” This end product of “Vietnamization” is a centralized, corrupt and exceptionally brutal police state. It is the ultimate satellite - the pure negative, built on antiCommunism, violence, and external sustenance. The base of the Thieu regime is a huge foreign-organized and -financed military and police apparatus; its own population is increasingly brutalized and “pacified” as enemy. At the same time, its foreign sponsors speak, virtually without challenge, of a role in helping to bring “security” to the population undergoing a unique process of terrorization. Ngo Cong Duc, former deputy and president of the Saigon publishers association, recently estimated not only a minimum of 200,000 political prisoners,but that a million South Vietnamese had been incarcerated at one time or another in South Vietnam's prisons. (222)
With American “know-how” placed in the hands of the most fanatic and vicious elements of the dying old order in South Vietnam, the modes and scope of torture and systematic police violence in the Thieu state bear comparison with anything Europe produced during the heyday of fascism. (There are no crematoria in South Vietnam, but methods of torture there are more refined and more broadly employed; even Hitler did not engage in crop defoliation or wholesale bombing and forced transfer of a large part of his own agrarian population.) Electrical and water torture, the ripping out of fingernails, enforced drinking of solutions of powdered lime, the driving of nails into prisoners' _ bones (kneecaps or ankles), beatings ending in death, have become standard operating procedure in the Thieu prisons. (223) In Quang Ngai, for example, Dr. Marjorie Nelson saw “dozens of patients who had coughed up, vomited or urinated blood after being beaten about the chest, back and stomach.” (224) In another AFSC report: “A 17- year old boy, near death, had been unable to urinate for four days and was in extreme pain. After treatment by a Quaker doctor, we were informed that the prisoner had been tortured by electrical charges to his genital organs. A young girl had seizures, stared into space and exhibited symptoms of loss of memory. She said she had been forced to drink a lime solution many times while being interrogated.” (225)
Following the release of ten students from Thieu's jails in April, these students put themselves on display in a college laboratory. One of them was in a state of semi-shock and was still being fed dextrose intravenously. His fingernails were blackened as a result of pins and slivers of wood being inserted under them. His hearing had been impaired by soapy water having been poured into his ears. Luu Hoang Thao, Deputy Chairman of the Van Hanh Student Association, described what happened to him after his arrest, as follows: (226)
For the first three days, the police beat me continuously. They didn't ask me any questions or to sign anything. They just beat my knee caps and neck with their billy clubs. Then they beat me with chair legs. When a chair leg broke, they took another one. I was beaten until I was unconcious. Wnen I regained consciousness, they beat me again. Finally, after three days, they asked me to sign a paper they had already written. They read the paper but would not let me see it. I wouldn't sign it, so they beat me some more. They put pins under my fingernails. They attached electrodes to my ears, my tongue and my penis. They forced soapy water into my mouth, tramping on my stomach when it became bloated with water. Then they hung me from the ceiling and extinguished lighted cigarettes in my nipples and penis.
In a still more recent (1972) study of the treatment of prisoners in South Vietnam, the Quaker team from Quang Ngai Province reports that there has been a further increase in torture in that stricken country. (227) Ngo Cong Duc claims that the typical prisoner in South Vietnam “undergoes three torture sessions at the arresting agency, with the most brutal design to force the divulgence of names. (228) The evidence streaming in from prisons all over the Thieu state indicates that it is not only the torture capital of the world, but that in scope and viciousness of torture, the “Vietnamized' South Vietnam may set a historic precedent.
Under Vietnamization the previously tenuous rule of law has been terminated completely; the other side of the coin is the rise and triumph of essentially unrestrained police powers to seize, imprison and molest. (As an illustration, one recent Thieu Decree-Law states: “Those persons considered dangerous to the national defense and public security may be interned in a prison or designated area, or banished from designated areas for a maximum of two years, which is renewable.”) We have already quoted former military intelligence officer Michael Uhi, who pointed out several years ago that large numbers of detainees, the majority women and children, are “captured” in repeated dragnet operations, “and whatever looked good in the catch, regardless of evidence, was classified as VCI... Not only was there no due process” applied to these prisoners, “fully all the detainees were brutalized and many were literally tortured.” (229) In 1972 arrests were proceeding at an estimated rate of 14,000 to 15,000 persons per month. (230) The victims of this process have no protections in the Thieu state, especially if they are ordinary citizens seized in countryside villages.
The breakdown of what resembled any legal system has been paralleled by a huge increase in the numbers of police. The National Police Force, which is only one of a dozen agencies legally authorized to make arrests, was enlarged from 16,000 in 1963, to 88,000 in 1969; under Vietnamization the numbers rose to 122,000 in 1972 and still lurther increases are contemplated. Concurrently, there has been a pervasive spread of a large police-intelligence network throughout South Vietnam.
A police state is a prison state, and the Thieu state probably leads all others (even Indonesia) in the number of political prisoners. Over 200 national prisons and hundreds of local jails in South Vietnam house an estimated population of over 200,000 prisoners. (231) A great many of these prisoners are middle-of-the-road students, clergy, intellectuals, and labor leaders who have shown some interest in political affairs and therefore constitute a “threat” to the leaders of the police state. Under Vietnamization the Thieu government has engaged in a determined effort to destroy any non-communist opposition to its rule, largely by means of intimidation and violence. The vast repressive machinery of the Thieu regime has been employed to a great extent against these center elements, which it has properly regarded as threatening to its rule. The degeneration of this state is so extreme, however, that a great many subjects of police terror are essentially “random” victims - brutalized as a matter of course once they have fallen into police hands (as in the dragnet seizures described by Uhl above).
Jane and David Barton, whose on-the-spot account of South Vietnam is reproduced in the appendix, described the treatment meted out to the wife of a lieutenant in the Saigon army: (232)
We encountered a woman, Nguyen Thi Sanh, on March 6 (1973), in the prisoners' section of the hospital. Her body was swollen all over and had black and blue marks; she was immobilized on her bed, her eyes swollen and almost shut. She is a native of Duc My, district of Mo Duc. Four days earlier, she left her house to go to the fields; the village chief stopped her, accused her of wanting to make contact with soldiers of the P.R.G. She answered that she herself, her six children and her husband – a lieutenant of the Saigon army – had fled the communists six times, but the village chief ordered the police to interrogate her and beat her. She was severely beaten at the district center and sent to the provincial interrogation center, but she arrived there in such a state that she was hospitalized.
Many of the maltreated are victims of attempts at shakedowns. Staff of the American Friends Service Committee reported speaking with a young woman who had been imprisoned and tortured for rejecting the advances of an ARVN officer who had friends in the police. (233) And many arrests have payoffs in bribes from the families of the imprisoned, solicited or offered with knowledge that these may be useful in reducing the severity of tortures to be applied. (234)
Although it is sometimes said that the Thieu government is “a coalition of the extreme Right” (a description by the pro-Thieu Saigon Daily News), this characterization is rejected by informed Vietnamese, who prefer the term “Mafia1” to describe the Thieu coalition; they point to the huge thievery, the still common involvement in the heroin trade, and the long and parasitic dependence of this tiny faction on some foreign power for survival. The repressive character of the Thieu state epitomizes the long-term incapacity of the Diem regime and its increasingly militarized successors to respond to grievances except by violence. (235) With Thieu the blend of egotism, fanatical anti-communism, and a life of professional military service under foreign sponsorship, brings repression and police state violence to a new level of refinement.
The U.S. role in the police-repression apparatus of the Thieu state is simple (236); it finances, advises, provides technological improvements, and affords a public relations cover for the direct instruments of terror. From the time of Diem the United States has placed great weight on the police and intelligence; the funding and advising of the prison-police-intelligence ensemble of South Vietnam is now almost two decades old. A spokesman for AID told Congress: (237)
AID and its predecessor agencies have supported public safety programs (essentially police) in Vietnam since 1955... AID's task has been to assist the National Police in recruiting, training and organizing a force for the maintenance of law and order...
AID has provided police specialists to train Saigon's police, and advise them at all levels, and to work in Thieu's “Public Safety” programs. Over $100 million was spent on Public Safety in Vietnam from 1968 through 1971. (238) The Province Interrogation Centers which, according to former AID employee Jacqueney, uniformly employ torture, are funded directly by the United States. (239) The pacification programs in general, including Phoenix, have been paid for by the United States, at a cost estimated conservatively at about $5 billion for the period 1968-71. (240) AID has put more money into South Vietnamese prisons than schools, and has funded the construction of additional Tiger Cages for Con Son prison, even smaller than those already located on the Island. (241)
Advice has also been continuous, extending both to general stragegy and specific tactics. William Colby indicated: “The function of U.S. advice and support was to initiate and support a Vietnamese effort which can be taken up and maintained by the Vietnamese alone ... (and) a considerable degree of advice and support of the GVN pacification program has come from the U.S. side over the years.” (242) In recent years, in addition to Phoenix, U.S. advice and funds have gone toward (243)
Provision of commodity and advisory support for a police force of 108,000 men by the end of Fiscal 1971;... assisting the National Identity Registration Program (N.I.R.P.) to register more than 12,000,000 persons 15 years of age and over by the end of 1971; continuing to provide basic and specialized training for approximately 40,000 police annually; providing technical assistance to the police detention system, including planning and supervision of the construction of facilities for an additional 8,000 inmates during 1970; and helping to achieve a major increase in the number of police presently working at the village level.
Advice includes the introduction of western technology to improve Third World “security.” Some examples are mentioned in the AID statement quoted above. Another illustration was provided by a former prisoner in the Con Son Tiger Cages, who reported: (244)
I remember one thing done by the Americans during their visiting tours. It happened to my cage. Usually we were chained in a kind of ordinary shackle made in the form of the number 8, where the legs and hands go through the two holes of the number 8. Then, one day, three Americans came and inspected the shackles, the chains ... They showed signs of disagreement with these. A couple of days later, the number 8 cuffs were replaced with another kind of fetters. These new kinds of fetters had something like “In Good Will” with (word missing) on it. It is the kind of fetters that whenever the prisoners tried to move their legs, the fetters would lock further and further one step and yet another step through them.
Clearly the U.S. has played the decisive role in the evolution of South Vietnamese political life over the past several decades. United States authorities have not merely accommodated to events thrust upon them from the outside, as advisor, controller of the purse strings, and occupying power, the U.S. has had critical leverage, which it has exercised time and again to make specific choices. (245) The character of the Thieu regime reflects a series of consistent decisions made in Washington, and it expresses a preference and choice as to the nature of a client state that is not confined to South Vietnam. The Saigon authorities, in general, have gone along with U.S. advice, partly because of their proclivities, partly because they are dependents, but also because each new policy innovation has meant an additional inflow of cash which the Saigon leadership knew could be absorbed readily into the existing system of corruption.
In addition to funding, advising, and providing the equipment and know-how, the United States has provided a moral cover for the Thieu state. This results in part from the fact that the United States is a “democracy” its officials pretend that democracy and an open society are among its serious objectives in intervening. Thus moderate scholars and others determined to think well of the United States have found it possible to employ the argument from long-run benefit. This mystification is furthered by the constant reference of U.S. officials to “encouraging developments” in their client police states, and to the fact of “our working with the Vietnamese government,” which is making very substantial strides” toward eliminating the unjustifiable abuses that we all recognize and are doing our level best to eradicate. (246)
The apologetics include more or less continuous lying, especially at the higher levels of officialdom, as when Colby and Sullivan suggest that the 21,000 or 41,000 killings under Phoenix were all or almost all combat deaths. Or in Colby's constant reference to pacification as a program for the “defense of the people” against somebody else's terror. Or the statement of Randolph Berkeley, Chief of the Corrections and Detention Division of AID: “Generally speaking we have found the Vietnamese very light in their punishment.” (247) Or the statement of Frank E. Walton, Director of the AID Public Safety Program, that Con Son prison is “like a Boy Scout Recreational Camp.” (248) The same Frank Walton, who denied any knowledge of the Tiger Cages in 1970, signed a report dated October 1,1963, which stated that: (249)
In Con Son II some of the hardcore communists keep preaching the 'party' line, so these 'Reds' are sent to the Tiger Cages in Con Son I where they are isolated from all others for months at a time. This confinement may also include rice without salt and water - the United States prisons' equivalent of bread and water. It may include immobilization - the prisoner is bolted to the floor, handcuffed to a bar or rod, or leg irons with the chain through an eyebolt, or around a bar or rod.
The bureaucracy that could implement American policies in South Vietnam clearly will not hesitate to cover up by suppression and lies any forms of violence that contribute to a constructive bloodbath.
Saigon's Political Prisoners and the Accelerating Bloodbath
It is an important fact that a key stumbling block in the signing of the Peace Agreement was the disposition of civilian prisoners. Virtually the only “progress” achieved by Kissinger between October 1972 and the January 1973 settlement date was that the “question of the return of Vietnamese civilian personnel captured and detained in South Vietnam” was left unresolved in the final Agreement, whereas the October plan suggested, albeit vaguely, that they were to be released on a firm time schedule. However, the prisoners would be released very shortly under the January agreement in any case, if the United States and Saigon had any intention of adhering to the political principles and modes of resolution of the issues incorporated into the Agreement. The Agreement prohibits reprisals and guarantees freedom of organization, beliefs, and political activities (Article 11), and it provides for the disposition of civilian detainees “in a spirit of national reconciliation and concord,” and with both parties pledged to “do their utmost to resolve this question within 90 days after the cease fire comes into effect” (Article 8(c)). In brief, the political prisoners could be an important issue only on the assumption of an, anticipated wholesale violation of the terms of the Agreement and continuation of Thieu control via terror.
A major concern of many observers has been that Thieu would use any period of grace given under this Agreement to carry out a large-scale liquidation of political prisoners. It is evident that it is in Thieu's interest to violate the Agreement to the limit of his capacity, since a renewed U.S. direct involvement not only would provide a welcome inflow of cash but also offers his sole long-term hope for survival. It is possible, but not certain, that he may not be able to bring this about; and he may be under pressure from his North American sustainer to move a certain distance toward adherence to the Agreement - not so far as to negotiate a political settlement or abandon his mode of control by terror, but at least freeing substantial numbers of political prisoners in order to parallel the PRG-DRV release of U.S. and Saigon prisoners.
That Thieu will release a large fraction of his political prisoners, in condition to resume normal lives as citizens of South Vietnam, is, unfortunately, by no means assured. Freeing these prisoners would be costly to Thieu, as he has a great many and their experiences in his torture chambers will not have endeared him to them. His American sponsors have made no serious objections to his large-scale use of torture and political murders in the past, and the world at large has become insensitized after many years of torment seemingly beyond the control of decent humanity. A serious possibility remains that the mass murder of political prisoners may take place -- may be taking place -- in Thieu's prisons, if these actions can be carried out without undue publicity and without inducing major international reactions.
This is why many recent developments in South Vietnam have been so disquieting. Thieu has threatened a bloodbath in quite explicit terms, and his stated intentions have elicited little protest in the West. Shortly after the peace scare of late October, government backed groups in Danang began distributing leaflets which “called upon South Vietnamese to 'exterminate the Communists' before, during and after the cease-fire.” (250) Thieu has made it plain on several occasions that he intends to kill all Communists, or that they all must be killed before peace is possible. (251) On January 22, 1973, just a few days before the signing of the January 27th “reconciliation” Agreement, Thieu issued a series of edicts, still in effect, that virtually nullified Articles 8 and 11 of the forthcoming settlement. Among them is one that says: “All police and military forces are permitted to shoot to kill all those who urge the people to demonstrate, and those who cause disorders or incite other persons to follow communism...” (252) This quite open announcement of intent to disregard the main elements of the Agreement was largely ignored by U.S. media.
DRV and U.S. officials agree that the Thieu regime has “drawn up long lists of opposition political figures who would be arrested when an accord is signed.” (253) Thieu's closest adviser, Hoang Duc Nha, stated in a recent interview that with Thieu in power, the communists “are afraid of an Indonesian-style coup even in a coalition. They are afraid we would cut their throats.” (254) Nha does not suggest that this fear is unreasonable. After the Diem regime was installed in power by the United States in 1954 it hunted down former resistance fighters, many inactive and some even hostile to the Vietminh, with such blind ferocity, that (in the words of a Rand study) their campaign “created conditions which surviving Vietminh agents were able to exploit in rebuilding the insurgent organization.” (255) The Saigon diplomatic representative in Phnom Penh in 1959 told a reporter: “You must understand that we in Saigon are desperate men. We are a government of desperadoes.” (256) True enough, though the Diem regime was authentically nationalist and relatively benevolent in comparison with the Thieu clique. The desperation stems in part from the fact that, as each successive American client has found, terror does not make for popular support, but on the contrary generates more “communists.” More violence is required to give the people “security.” Thus, after many years of American-sponsored protective terror, Thieu once more acknowledged to Saigon officials in early 1973 his continued inability to compete with the PRG on a purely political basis: “If we let things go the population may vote for the Communists, who know how to make propaganda.” (257)
Furthermore, quite apart from the stated intentions and survival needs of the Thieu state, the threatened extensive roundups of “enemy suspects” (potentially 90% of the population) did take place on a large scale in 1972. In June 1972 several thousand persons were arrested and shipped to Con Son Island, many of them “merely relatives of political suspects” and many of them women and children. (258) George Hunter reports that: (259)
Special Branch Police swooped down on houses all over South Vietnam and arrested anyone under the remotest suspicion of being “left-wing”... The government has a blacklist of suspects, but I understand that wives, mothers and fathers - anyone with the slimmest association with those on it are being caught in the net.
A vast roundup took place during the period of threat of a Peace Agreement in October and November of 1972. On November 10, 1972, Hoang Duc Nha proudly announced the seizure of over 40,000 persons over the previous two-week period. Thus the mammoth scale of arrests to which the population of Free Vietnam has been subject for years was sharply intensified, at just the time when Thieu and Nixon were readying themselves for signing an agreement committing them to a policy of national reconciliation. Again, this major development was largely ignored by the media.
Another closely related development indicating that Thieu's political prisoners are threatened with extermination is the recent use by Thieu of several devices that obscure their numbers, whereabouts, and status. This is facilitated by the massive roundups themselves, but at least two other techniques have been employed. In an official telegram sent by the Commander in Chief of Thieu's police and the Saigon head of Phoenix on April 5, 1973, police and other arresting agents are advised as follows on the proper classification of detainees: (260)
Do not use the expression “condemned communist or communist agent.” Write only: “Disturbs the peace.
A disturber of the peace can be regarded as a common criminal; a communist agent would be a political prisoner covered by the January 27th Agreement. This practice can be supplemented by the reclassification of current prisoners to common law status. For example, Mme. Ngo Ba Thanh, president of the Saigon-based Women's Committee Struggling for the Right to Live, with a degree from Columbia University Law School, was among those recently transferred to a prison for common-law criminals in Bien Hoa Province. Documents from inside the prisons allege that prison authorities have incited common-law prisoners to provoke and even to kill reclassified political prisoners. (261)
The other technique used by the Thieu government has been the alleged release of political prisoners, not to the PRC and DRV as stipulated in the January Agreements, but at large within South Vietnam. In early February Thieu announced the release of 40,000 prisoners, with no 'specifics as to names and places of release.' (262) The media failed to see the most significant aspect of this action, portraying it as a magnanimous act, although in technical violation of the Agreement. The crucial point was missed that, by this device, prisoners who are murdered can be alleged to have been “released” and thus are no longer a Thieu responsibility. (263) Families of prisoners, held at Phu Quoc and whose terms had expired, report that they were informed of the prisoners' release, yet these individuals have disappeared. (264)
Another ominous development is the accelerated mistreatment of political prisoners. Important official evidence of this is the reduction of the prisoner rice ration from 700 to 500 grams per day in January 1972. (265) Official rations for refugees have also been cut sharply, (266) which suggests a new stage in “pacification,” with Thieu and his sponsor extending the policy of “drying up the seas” to the prisons and refugee camps. The mechanism is to weaken and destroy by starvation and physical debilitation. Prison authorities, in recent months, also have been mingling healthy prisoners with others in advanced stages of contagious diseases such as tuberculosis - another happy innovation in pacification. Direct physical violence against the prisoners has greatly increased. (267) As explained by Jean Pierre Debris, recently released from Chi Hoa, “The aim of the Thieu regime is to break the prisoners physically so that they will never be able to take any part in national life again ... The conditions under which thousands are held are critical and becoming more dramatic at the present time.” (268)
Finally, reports of the direct killing of prisoners have been filtering through with increased frequency. The two French prisoners released in December reported that just prior to their departure “there were massive deportations to the Paulo Condor (Con Son) camp,” the scene of numerous reported atrocities in the past. They speculate that their sudden release may have been motivated by concern that they might witness what they expect will now take place,” a liquidation operation which might begin in the prisons.” (269) Amnesty International since has cited “evidence that selective elimination of opposition members had begun” in the prisons, and a report that 300 prisoners being moved from Con Son to the mainland were killed. (270) On Sunday, March 25, NBC Monitor News transmitted a report from the Swedish office of Amnesty International that observers have sighted thousands of bodies in prison uniforms floating in the area off South Vietnam. The PRC and DRV report a steady stream of killings and disappearances, impossible to verify at present but frequently specific as to place, and hardly to be ruled out in the light of processes at work in the Thieu state.
At a press conference held on November 2, 1972, Amnesty International urged the acceptance, by all parties to the Vietnam conflict, of a Protocol specifically oriented to the protection of political prisoners held in Indochina. Mr. Sean McBride, chairman of the Executive Committee of Amnesty International (and former Irish Minister of External Affairs), the author of the Protocol, estimated that there were at least 200,000 civilian detainees in Indochina (a number which must have risen significantly since then). The Protocol would have established a supervisory authority to take an inventory of prisoners and to fix the reasons for their detention; it would have provided for an independent Judicial Review Board to review prisoner classifications and to resolve disputes on the application of the Protocol; and it would have involved the appointment of a Commissioner to facilitate the rehabilitation, repatriation and resettlement of civilian prisoners.
The Amnesty proposal was motivated explicitly by the failure of the Kissinger-Tho agreement of October to provide clearly for the prompt release of civilian detainees, and by the lack of any protection for civil prisoners similar to the guaran tees theoretically afforded military prisoners of war under the 1949 Geneva Convention. There is no question that the Amnesty move was directed mainly, if not entirely, to the threat posed to the political prisoners of Thieu. It goes without saying that the United States, despite its alleged concern over bloodbaths, showed no interest whatsoever in this effort to prevent a real (but “constructive”) one.
Contradictions abound in the Orwellian world produced by American counterrevolutionary intervention. Opposed to violence and bloodbaths, the United States and its clients in South Vietnam have employed both on such a massive scale and in such an undiscriminating manner that they have probably created more “communists” than they have destroyed, and they have destroyed many. The United States has forged a state and selected a leadership that exists solely by and for violence, under whose auspices torture and brutalization have become institutionalized as the virtually exclusive mode of handling dissent and social problems. Openly acknowledging an inability to compete politically with the PRG, surviving solely by American-sponsored terror, its pacification policies are nonetheless still referred to by American officials (Colby, Sullivan, etc.) as an attempt to “protect” and provide “security” for the population. Perhaps other terror regimes have been as brutal in their assault on human dignity and life as that of Thieu and Washington. It is certain that none have been so hypocritical.