CIABASE: The Phoenix Program

This is in response to Hayden Peake’s query. It should be noted that
the article in the Washington Post of 1/28/97 re CIA’s coercive
interrogation manual also mentioned the CIA manual that taught
CIA-backed, Nicaraguan contra rebels about “neutralizing” enemies.
(The Washington Post noted that the Baltimore Sun obtained the manual
under the Freedom of Information Act and published its article on

So we have documentary proof not only of CIA-sponsored torture but
also assassinations – i.e. “neutralizations” not only in Latin America
in the eighties but also in Vietnam earlier — as cited below. This of
course does not cover the gamut of CIA operations to sponsor torture
and assassinations but does record a few of these operations.

The CIA and its officers, retired and active, are loathe to admit to
such but the evidence is overwhelming. I, can attest,to the agonies of
accepting the truth about CIA and its activities. In Vietnam, I
contemplated suicide as the only way out of my moral dilemma. I do not
wish to be dramatic or confessional — it took many years before I
could admit this to anyone — butit is extremely difficult to view
your life’s endeavorsas primarily a lie and a cruel, destructive hoax.

This is one of the reasons why I protest — can we expect that those
subjected to CIA operations to forgive and forget?Should we expect
them to? Should we excuse these operations? Should we continue these
operations? Lastly, is this an intelligence organization?

Ralph McGehee

Operation Phoenix

The Phoenix or Phuong Hoang Operation was originally designed to
“neutralize,” that is assassinate or imprison, members of the civilian
infrastructure of the National Liberation Front (NLF). Phoenix offices
were set up from Saigon down to the district level. Their functions
were to: (1) collate intelligence about the “Vietcong Infrastructure”;
(2) interrogate civilians picked up at random by military units
carrying out sweeps through villages; (3) “neutralize” targeted
members of theNLF. This third task was often carried out by CIA-led
Vietnamese organized into Provincial Reconnaissance Units (PRU).

The original Phoenix concept was quickly dilute, for two main
reasons: (1) pressure form the top to fill numerical quotas of person
to be neutralized; (2) difficulties at the bottom of identifying NLF
civilian infrastructure, who were often indistinguishable from the
general population, and the near impossibility of proving anyone
membership in the NLF. The result was vastly to increase the numbers
of innocent persons rounded up and imprisoned, indiscriminately
murdered, and brutally tortured in an effort to show results….

One of the principal tasks of high-level U.S. officials, led by Colby,
was to establish quotas for the number of Vietnamese to
be”neutralized” each month.

Vietnam Information Notes, published by the U.S. State Departmentin
July 1969, reports that “The target for 1969 calls for the elimination
of 1800 VCI per month….The Phoenix program…[has] served notice to
Province Chiefs that their performance will in large part be measured
by Phoenix results.

MACV said until….Tet 1968, the GVN was reluctant to carryout a
systematic program of “neutralization”…as negotiations progress
…the pressures within families to reach accommodation will increase
and, correspondingly, the effectiveness of the Phoenix-Phuong Hoang
program could decrease.

U.S. advisers — CIA, U.S. Army and Office of Public Safety were
placed in the field to assess and direct operations. A number of such
U.S. personnel testified that one of Phoenix’s main results was the
mass and indiscriminate murder of Vietnamese civilians.

In a document entitled Vietnam: Toward Peace and Prosperity, published
by the Saigon Ministry of Information, the GVN states that

The Phoenix program was launched on August, 1, 1968, in
orderto eradicate the communist infrastructure, with the
following results;…Killed–40,994.

Colby himself testified that Phoenix had resulted in the deaths of
20,587 persons as of May 1971. This number proportionate to
population, would total over 200,000 Americans deliberately
assassinated over a three-year period, were Phoenix in practice in the
United States.

Michael Uhl, a Phoenix military intelligence operative, testified
before Congress: a Phoenix military intelligence team measured its
success…not only by the body count and kill ratio but by the number
of CD’s [civil detaineess] it had captured….

Between 1968 and 1972 hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese civilians
were rounded up and turned over to the Vietnamese police for
questioning. Such interrogation has usually been marked by brutal
torture. Uhl also said “All CD’s, because of command pressure…were
listed as VCI. To my knowledge, not one of these people ever freely
admitted to being a cadre member. An again contrary to Colby’s
statement, most of our CD’s were women and children.

The yearly processing of hundreds of thousands, this detention of tens
of thousands, inevitably led Phoenix to change judicial procedures.
Civilians rounded up by Americans. The U.S. Phoenix program
resuscitated the Security Committee as a means of jailing detainees
without a trial. Under the An Tri law, the Security Committees have
been empowered to jail any South Vietnamese citizen for up to two
years, renewable. The Security Committee does not see or talk with the
accused. The accused has no right to be represented by a lawyer,
confront witnesses, present evidence, or even plead in his or her own

The quota system, was also used for sentencing. The Phoenix program
decreed that at least 50 percent of those captured were to be
sentenced. Colby said: The reason for putting in the 50 percent
sentencing was to put a greater pressure on officials to do a more
professional job of capturing and interrogating and then sentencing
…. From: UNCLOAKING THE CIA, H. Frazier editor, 1978, The Free
Press,pages 111-119.

A few CIABASE references to Phoenix report:

Vietnam, 67-73 CIA developed Phoenix program in 67 to neutralize:
kill, capture or make defect VCI. VCI means civilians suspected of
supporting communists. Targeted civilians not soldiers. Phoenix also
called Phung Hoang by VNese. Due process totally nonexistent. svnese
who appeared on black lists could be tortured, detained for 2 years
without trial or killed. Valentine, D. (1990). The Phoenix Program,

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