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The Phoenix Program
May 27, 2003 12:32 PM   Subscribe

Created by the CIA in Saigon in 1967, Phoenix was a program aimed at "neutralizing"--through assassination, kidnapping, and systematic torture--the civilian infrastructure that supported the Viet Cong insurgency in South Vietnam. The CIA destroyed its copies of the documents related to this program, but the creator of Phoenix gave his personal copies to author Douglas Valentine. He, in turn, has given them to The Memory Hole. They have never previously been published, online or in print. Via Politech.
posted by gd779 (28 comments total)

 
Huh, no mention of MacGyver or the Phoenix Foundation.
posted by Frank Grimes at 12:45 PM on May 27, 2003


Isn't that who MacGyver worked for?
posted by Pollomacho at 12:46 PM on May 27, 2003


Damnit Grimes, you bastard!
posted by Pollomacho at 12:46 PM on May 27, 2003


With all due respect, save the MacGyver quips for some other thread. It's insensitive and inappropriate. Thanks for the amazing link, gd779.
posted by cobra libre at 12:54 PM on May 27, 2003


Uh oh, we're not all collectively offended enough? Oh dear, time for some mefi re-education.
posted by Space Coyote at 1:00 PM on May 27, 2003


Isn't "neutralizing"--through assassination, kidnapping, and systematic torture (of) the civilian infrastructure that support (the enemy) just part of modern warfare? With all due respect. I mean, wasn't it just called "shock and awe" in the Iraq campaign and "Sherman's march to the sea" in the Civil War? What is so different about this report, not that it isn't interesting, but it just seems like just another example of what we already know about the horror of warfare.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:01 PM on May 27, 2003


Tangentially, see also (French journalist) Bernard Fall's Theory and Practice of Counterinsurgency, 1965, wherein Fall discusses the staggering efficacy of the Viet Minh and the NLF. In particular, targeted executions were commonplace: "I would underline the fact that in 1958 the Vietnamese were losing something like three village chiefs a day."

To learn about further horrors from the U.S.'s side, predating Phoenix, try googling for strategic hamlet.

Space Coyote: Sorry, I just don't think this is funny.
posted by cobra libre at 1:04 PM on May 27, 2003


Could have done without the cheap prefatory remarks re: Ashcroft and Bush.
posted by aramaic at 1:06 PM on May 27, 2003


"We practice selective annihilation of mayors and government officials, for example, to create a vacuum. Then we fill that vacuum. As popular war advances, peace is closer."
posted by Cyrano at 1:12 PM on May 27, 2003


What remarks are you referring to aramaic?
posted by Pollomacho at 1:13 PM on May 27, 2003


Pollomacho, um, they're everywhere in the intros. For example: The case studies are particularly illuminating and forecast what is and will be happening under the Bush Regime's Homeland Security apparatus. A very important document.

...so I guess the writer can see the future, because otherwise that's just a quick little strawman jab.
posted by aramaic at 1:16 PM on May 27, 2003


Well, if you can't laugh at assassination, systematic torture, and kidnapping then you're just a sour puss.
posted by xmutex at 1:19 PM on May 27, 2003


Funny, I didn't even register those remarks until you mentioned it, I thought you were grousing at my mention of "shock and awe," sorry, but I suppose that it all just goes back to my earlier comment that this is nothing new now nor was it then.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:23 PM on May 27, 2003


xmutex: Guilty as charged!

aramaic: I agree that the comparison to Homeland Security is unneeded and spurious. The Phoenix Program and the wider topic of counterinsurgency in Vietnam, of course, are worthy of discussion in their own right, but yeah, I see your point.

pollomacho: The fact that war in general is a horrible business shouldn't negate our horror at any particular aspect of war, should it? I'm not sure if I see what you're trying to say, unless it's "forget it and move on." It behooves us as members of civilized societies to note such horrors as and after they occur, to recognize them in hopes that we can do what we can to ensure that they don't happen again.
posted by cobra libre at 1:39 PM on May 27, 2003


I’m on a Baudrillard kick lately, so let me merely quote America:

“Tocqueville describes the beneficial effects of democracy and the American constitution with considerable enthusiasm, praising the inherent freedom of the way of life, the regularity of mores (rather than the equality of status), supremacy of a moral (rather than political) organisation of society. He describes with equal lucidity the extermination of the Indians and the condition of the Negroes without ever bringing these two realities together. As if good and evil had developed separately. Is it possible that one can, while keenly feeling both these aspects pass over the relation between them? Certainly it is, and the same paradox faces us today: we shall never resolve the enigma of the relation between the negative foundations of greatness and that greatness itself. America is powerful and original; America is violent and abominable. We should not seek to deny either of these aspects, nor to reconcile them.”
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 1:43 PM on May 27, 2003


No, I don't think we should forget it and move on, more akin to what Pseudophed noted, the greatness and the negatives are inseparable. At times war is inevitable and necessary. I don't think you will find many who will argue that Hitler was a menace to civilization that needed to be stopped and much of what was necessary to stop his massive war machine was clandestine and horrific, but very needed. Strategic carpet bombing of factories full of civilians, derailment of trains and assassinations by resistance groups, without operations like these Hitler would have been a hell of a lot harder to overcome. Similar arguments have been made for the atom bomb attacks on Japan. Modern warfare is horrific, this phoenix documentation is another fine example, interesting in its own right and interesting in terms of its history as well as its modern context, but I don't really understand how we should feel any more shock or horror in dealing with these documents than with documents pertaining to daytime bombings of factories or of memoranda regarding the French resistance sniping the mayor of a Vichy town.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:57 PM on May 27, 2003


We have done these things.We continue to do these things. We do what other nations have done. We do what other nations do. Here, a brief excerpt via Antongist, just posted:
US News and World Report: With all the headlines about the latest attacks and warnings, it is easy to miss the amount of damage America's terrorist hunters have inflicted on bin Laden's ragtag army. U.S. News has retraced the war on terror, starting in the very first weeks after 9/11, to examine in detail how Washington and its allies launched an unprecedented drive, led by the Central Intelligence Agency, to disrupt and destroy bin Laden's operation. Interviews were conducted with over three dozen past and current counterterrorism officials in a half-dozen countries; the magazine also reviewed thousands of pages of court records and analytical reports.

America's frontline agents in the war on terror have hacked into foreign banks, used secret prisons overseas, and spent over $20 million bankrolling friendly Muslim intelligence services. They have assassinated al Qaeda leaders, spirited prisoners to nations with brutal human-rights records, and
posted by Postroad at 2:01 PM on May 27, 2003


pollomacho: I'm afraid that I've only read a smattering of Baudrillard -- none of it from America, though I appreciate the quote, pseudoephedrine -- but I wonder how pertinent the quote is to the discussion. That is to say, no one is asking anybody to deny the "greatness" of America with respect to its "negative foundations." Nor is anybody asking anyone to construct a hierarchy of horror, where the terror of the Phoenix program must be ranked above or below the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Allied bombings of Germany, etc. I am not uninterested in how people relate America's "negative foundations" with their general feelings about the country, but I don't think I was trying to push the discussion in that direction.*

One thing that certainly interests me is the implication of your reply that the more repugnant aspects of the U.S.'s war in Vietnam were necessary and justified.

* I'm not sure if I was trying to push it in any direction. My only hope was that the topic of the Phoenix program wouldn't be dismissed out of hand.
posted by cobra libre at 2:25 PM on May 27, 2003


The Phoenix program was effective. But it was ugly as hell. And there were instances, I'm told, of corrupt officials denouncing one another to remove the competition.

I sure as hell hope we're not going to dust this off and start it under the guise of protecting ourselves from terrorism. The "Patriot" Act (puke) is enough of a slap in the face of liberty and human dignity as it is.

I'll hate having to emigrate. Especially when the US is the only country I know of that constitutionally guarantees my rights to start with before it starts whittling them away.
posted by alumshubby at 3:14 PM on May 27, 2003


cobra libre> Fair enough. I’m not looking to be an apologist for the CIA, either. The main purpose of posting the quote was to characterise how a nation can be both a “utopia achieved” (B.’s description of America) and yet at the same time not merely condone but actively perform rather horrific things, such as this, and the “death camp” evidently being formed at Guantanamo. It’s an irreconcilable paradox, not merely a problem awaiting some solution (whether socialist, libertarian or whatever). Part of America is wonderful material abundance and near total freedom. The other part is world-wide terror and death. It’s not even that these things are linked, as the Chomskites would like to say they are, some grand conspiracy on the part of multinational capital to dominate the world. The left hand and right hand simply don’t know what the other is doing, and have no way to communicate with one another.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 3:45 PM on May 27, 2003


Damn. Looks like they got to Postroad.
posted by Sonny Jim at 3:49 PM on May 27, 2003


I would like to point out that fretting about what the Phoenix Program *was* misses the big point. Namely that SOG has been reactivated:

(Unfortunately, the following is a "premium" article published in Time Magazine.)

http://makeashorterlink.com/?C58915A33

...and if you think they were vicious and deadly *then*...

BTW, an unconfirmed report is that, since 9-11, over 200 US covert operatives have been killed in line of duty around the world, not counting in Iraq. I doubt 200 "Rambos" would go into that dark night quietly or peacefully. 200 out of 10,000? 30,000?
posted by kablam at 6:39 PM on May 27, 2003


A better link. See "CIA's Secret Army"
posted by kablam at 6:53 PM on May 27, 2003


The Iraq Intelligence there is very interesting:

While the Intelligence Community is still contorting itself to provide allies and others with publishable intelligence to serve as a fig leaf of justification, the planned US/UK invasion and occupation of Iraq is proceeding inexorably. It gives no pleasure to see our Secretary of State embarrassed by citing as evidence against Saddam a ten-year-old paper inserted by a partisan think tank, or to see the DCI waving the bin Laden statement as proof of a connection with Saddam, apparently unaware that the statement lambastes the Saddam government as an infidel regime. According to Nelson Mandela, Bishop Tutu, and high percentages of the populations of Western European states (including the UK), the case for a "just" war, substantiated by intelligence of an imminent threat, does not appear to have been made. The case has not been helped by foreign elites who have had their feathers ruffled by what they perceive as heavy-handed and rough US statements and handling. It sometimes was not what was done, but how it was done that aroused opposition.

But as noted before, the planned Iraq invasion is a move made for strategic reasons, and to remove an unpredictable, unpopular regime beyond our control. Media reporting indicates that the Administration is propelled by a strategic vision that draws its strength from RealPolitik power considerations of Pax Americana (American world dominance and peacekeeping), from proponents of security for Israel on its own terms (Israeli regional dominance), from various Christian fundamentalist notions, and finally, of course, from considerations of oil politics. At least three of these four are quite rational from their own perspectives.

There is still a chance that Saddam will be overthrown, but if not, the invasion should be a cake-walk. There is a fear that the oil wells may be set ablaze, but US and UK special operations forces undoubtedly plan to be on hand to limit the damage. Undamaged oil fields are important, for they will help us pay for the war.

With more disciplined and diplomatic behavior (carry a big stick but speak softly - to paraphrase TR) , the subjugation of Iraq, the Middle East, the Muslim world, etc. may become a good thing for all - if we don't go over the top in domestic policing and can maintain our domestic values, liberty and adherence to the Constitution. A sound and healthy intelligence capability will remain essential.


Now there's some vintage spooky wishful thinking.
posted by y2karl at 10:50 PM on May 27, 2003


Part of America is wonderful material abundance and near total freedom. The other part is world-wide terror and death. It’s not even that these things are linked, as the Chomskites would like to say they are, some grand conspiracy on the part of multinational capital to dominate the world. The left hand and right hand simply don’t know what the other is doing, and have no way to communicate with one another.

You appreciate that for a non-american the material abundance you refer to is one consequence (among others) of exactly that world wide terror. Indeed it's impossible not to make that link if one is guided by rational analysis and moral consistency. To imagine that things just happen with no cause or relation to one another (or to conflate causality with conspiratorial thinking) is the most irrationalist of worldviews (and Baudrillard would probably take that as a compliment I'm afraid).
Were similar documents to be unearthed regarding the Soviet operations in Afghanistan, I would be willing to wager that the "these things happen in wars" apologetics would not be the prominent response.

At times war is inevitable and necessary.
Yes, a defensive war against an immediate aggressor / occupier is always legitimate. Offensive war is rather less obviously so, I'd say.
posted by talos at 6:48 AM on May 28, 2003


One thing that certainly interests me is the implication of your reply that the more repugnant aspects of the U.S.'s war in Vietnam were necessary and justified.

That could be true if Vietnam as a whole were a justifiable conflict. It tragically was quite the opposite of a "defense of democracy" as the Government attempted to market i to the public. However, to achieve the objective the military set out to accomplish with a minimum of civilian collateral casualties, a certain amount of operations like that were necessary. Assassinate one to save ten later was the theory anyway.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:07 AM on May 28, 2003


You appreciate that for a non-american the material abundance you refer to is one consequence (among others) of exactly that world wide terror.

I am a "non-American".

the material abundance you refer to is one consequence (among others) of exactly that world wide terror. Indeed it's impossible not to make that link if one is guided by rational analysis and moral consistency.

Actually, it's quite possible to do so. It's not possible if one is trapped in a worldview which attempts to overlay a trite materialist scheme on history and combine it with crypto-liberal idealism to interpret the world.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 11:38 AM on May 28, 2003


Thanks for posting this.
posted by plep at 4:39 AM on May 29, 2003


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