THE PHOENIX PROGRAMME
In 1954, believing that they should extend the "American way" abroad, Michigan State University offered the Government of Vietnam a huge technical assistance program in four areas: public information, public administration,finance and economics, and police and security forces. In exchange for this the Michigan State University Group became the vehicle through which the CIA secretly managed the South Vietnamese "Special Police."
Between 1967 and 1973 the United States undertook the most ambitious and far reaching operation of the Vietnam War. Staffed by American and Republic of Vietnam soldiers and police officers, and implimented by notorious "counter terror" and "hunter - killer" teams, Phoenix was the final solution to the problem posed by those Vietnamese civilians who supported the armed Vietcong insurgents.
Operation Phoenix was designed to neutralise, that is to assassinate or imprison civilian members of the National Liberation Front (NLF). Phoenix officers were sent from Saigon down to the district level. Their job was to gather intelligence about the Vietcong infrastrucure, interrogate civilians who were picked at random by military units carrying out sweeps through villages, and to neutralise targeted members of the NLF. The third task was often carried out by CIA led Vietnamese, organised in Provincial Reconnaisance Units (PRU).
Operation Phoenix was conceived in 1967 and ran between 1968 and 1971. The targets were VC who should be neutralised, so as to destroy the VC infrastrucure. The program name came from the Vietnamese Phung hoang - a mythical vietnamese bird that could fly anywhere. It was run by the CIA and military intelligence, there were 600 army case officers and 50 - 60 CIA operatives on it. Rival intelligence and police agancies had to throw away their competition and work together. The practical running was by National Police and Provincial Reconnaisance Units, the PRU's were the assassination squads. However, units like the SEALs and the Green Berets were both utilised. The SEALs actually dressed up as VC and tried to mimic them as accurately as possible. The target to neutralise was 3000 persons every month, between 1968 and 1971, 67,282 people were neutralised, 31% were killed, 26% rallied, and 43% captured or sentenced.
Corruption amongst the South Vietnamese military officials was rife and they frequently pocketed funds meant for the program. It is said that up to 70% of prisoners could buy their freedom. Villages were given monthly quotas under the program, and they were sometimes forced to say that villagers killed in a skirmish were dead VC sympathisers, thus increasing the figures for enemy dead. There is no question of Phoenix having an effect on the communists, Madame Nguyen Thi Dinh, a veteran VC leader says "We never feared a division of troops but the infiltration of a couple of guys into our ranks created tremendous difficulties for us". Colonel Bui Tin said Phoenix had been "devious and cruel" and cost "the loss of thousands of our cadres". Many Vietnamese bases were wiped out forcing the enemy to retreat into the safety of Cambodia.
Official figures from the Americans state 20,857 VC were killed, the present Vietnamese government state the figure is 40,994. In some parts of the south 95% of the local VC cadre were assassinated. Counter Spy Magazine says of the Phoenix Program "the most indiscriminate and massive programme of political murder since the Nazi death camps of World War 2". Approximately 5,000 innocent civilians were killed, South Vietnamese who appeared on a black list could be detained and tortured for 2 years without trial. Once arrested the suspect could not confront his accusers or see his dossier, was denied bail and legal counsel and was denied a trial or even a hearing!
In the opinion of Stan Fulcher (who in 1972 was the Binh Dinh Province Phoenix coordinator) and who's opinion was taken from the book "The Phoenix Program" written by Douglas Valentine...Fulcher says; "Phoenix was a creation of the old-boy network, a group of guys at highest level - Colby and that crowd - who thought they were Lawrence of Arabia."
Indeed, the Phoenix Program in South Vietnam was set up by Americans on American assumptions, in support of American policies. Unfortunately America's allies in South Vietnam were people whose prosperity depended on American patronage and who therefore implemented a policy they knew could not be applied to their culture. In the process the definition of the Vietcong infrastructure was misinterpreted to mean any Vietnamese citizen, and Phoenix was broadened from a rifle shot attack against the organisational hierarchy into a shotgun method of population control.
NOTES: .........................The only involvement by Australians that I could find in researching this article is that the CIA did aproach Australian advisors working with Montagnard units and tried to convince them to train small assassination units for use in the Phoenix program. They refused, saying that they wanted no part in training assassination squads, that it was not part of their charter.