The phoenix program - səhifə 15
Indeed, by deducting more than a hundred thousand Self-Defense Forces and "political cadre" from the enemy order of battle, Westmoreland, Komer, and Hart were able to show success and in the process convince President Johnson that "the light" really was at the end of the tunnel.Meanwhile, having backed themselves into a corner, they decided to do the job themselves. So what if General Loan was resistant? As Nelson Brickham had said, "That's okay 'cause we're gonna do it anyway!"
Symbolizing this "get tough" policy was Phoenix, rising from the devastation of two years of a stalemated war. Phoenix in this hawkish manifestation represented the final solution to the problem of distinguishing between a covert Communist enemy and an inscrutable ally. Uninhibited by family ties, Americans in charge of irregular forces, or by themselves, began hunting the VCI in its villages, doing what the Vietnamese were reluctant to do -- even though they were never quite sure of whom they were stalking.
This desperate policy was not without its American detractors. Tempestuous Tully Acampora called it "detrimental and contradictory." Ed Brady, the Army captain assigned to the Phoenix Directorate as a cover for his CIA activities, concurs. "It's very hard to carry out secret covert operations and repressive kinds of things in order to separate guerrillas from people -- and then make a speech to them about how their individual rights are so important," Brady said in an interview with Al Santoli. 
But while Acampora and Brady believed the United States had no business preempting the Vietnamese when it came to the attack against the VCI, other Americans thought that the time for patience and cooperation had come and gone. From Evan Parker's perspective, the problem was competition between the Special Branch and the ARVN. "It involved one Vietnamese agency saying, 'Well, we can't give [information] to them, because they're penetrated by the VC.' That sort of thing. And in some cases undoubted it was true."
Parker raised a legitimate point. In order for an intelligence coordination and exploitation program like Phoenix to work, institutional mistrust between the police and the military had to be overcome. But, Parker explained, "Having the Special Branch have such an active role made it difficult in many provinces and many of the more rural areas, because the special policeman was probably the equivalent of a sergeant. So ... he doesn't have much clout .... And the [outgunned, outmanned] police are pretty subordinate to the military, so you have all this business of army versus police. It's a wonder it worked at all."
Moreover, frustration with Vietnamese security leaks gave Americans yet another reason not to wait for the Vietnamese to throw their support behind Phoenix. As Evan Parker said, "One of the great problems with the Vietnamese in getting this started was that the classification of the directive was so high -- in order to prevent it from falling into enemy hands -- that it was very difficult to handle these documents in the field ... and tell people what they were supposed to do."
Typically, Tully Acampora refuted Parker's explanation and interpreted the emphasis on secrecy in political terms. According to Acampora, for whom the switch from CT IV to Phoenix meant a loss in status, Parker "always envisioned Phoenix as a wholly U.S.-promoted, -managed, and -supported program." Moreover, "Hart's one mission was to undermine Loan's influence, to reduce his power base, and to superimpose Phoenix on CT Four. They bought off the head of Special Branch, Major Nguyen Tien. Then Parker started suborning guys on the MACV intelligence staff. He seduced Colonel Junichi Buhto [MACV's chief of counterintelligence] by promising to make him a GS-nineteen if he went along with the CIA .... Davidson's mission was to destroy CT Four, and in August, Davidson and the CIA began withdrawing Americans from the Combined Intelligence Staff. This involves the election of 1967."
There is no doubt that Phoenix, in its fledgling stage, was conceived and implemented by the CIA. Furthermore, Ralph Johnson writes, "The results obtained by ICEX by the end of 1967 were primarily, if not totally, stimulated and supported by the Americans."  There was early acceptance of Phoenix by the Vietnamese in I Corps, but as Parker himself noted, much of that activity was directed against Thieu's non-Communist political opponents. Otherwise, the majority of Vietnamese hesitated to embrace a program as politically explosive as Phoenix. As Johnson observes, "most province chiefs were waiting for instructions from the Central Government." 
The first step in that direction was taken in late December 1967, two months after Thieu had been elected president and Ky had begun to lose influence. On December 20, 1967, Prime Minister Nguyen Van Loc signed Directive 89-Th. T/VP/M, legalizing Phung Hoang, the Vietnamese clone of Phoenix. However, the directive was not signed by President Thieu and thus carried little weight with cautious province chiefs hedging their bets while Thieu established himself more solidly.
It is also important to note that Prime Minister Loc's reasons for authorizing Phung Hoang were directly related to Robert Komer's attempt to undermine General Loan and Nguyen Cao Ky by ending support for CT IV. After December 1, 1967, when Komer managed to terminate Operation Fairfax, Loc had no choice but to support Phoenix. And, according to Tully Acampora, by withdrawing the U.S. units that shielded CT IV's Field Police, "Komer opened up all the avenues which led to Tet." Making matters worse, in an attempt to stimulate the South Vietnamese economy and, in the process, allow Thieu to reap the political rewards, Komer went so far as to remove police roadblocks and checkpoints around Saigon.
Meanwhile, Tully Acampora was pleading with as many American generals as he could find, asking them not to withdraw American forces from CT IV. "Loan was saying that there was a massive influx of VC into Saigon," Acampora recalled, "but Komer was calling it light, and Hart backed him. They wouldn't listen to Loan, who was trying to convince them for sixty days prior to Tet."
Nelson Brickham, for one, admitted to having been fooled. "The VC had pulled their good people out and sent them up North in 1966. We knew that. Then, in the summer and fall of 1967, they came back. But I misinterpreted it. In October 1967 I told Colby that we were in a position that no NVA or VC unit could move without us knowing it. We saw Loan's warnings as crying wolf." 
"We were picking up massive numbers of infiltrators," Acampora told me, "so Loan countermanded the Joint General Staff's orders to withdraw; he refused to pull out all of his people. He kept a paratroop unit and a marine unit in Saigon and canceled all police leaves. Those units, with the police, met the first assault in Tet. Then, of course, Loan was resurrected." But by then it was too late.
In Acampora's judgment, Komer's machinations brought about Tet. "The fact is," he said, "that Parker contributed to that disaster, too. Parker said Phoenix was the only impediment, that it turned defeat into victory. But the embassy was attacked! How could that happen? The fact is, Phoenix was a failure, and it was only because of Loan that the VC suffered a setback."
"In any event, the prime minister said, 'Do it.' He gave the order," Evan Parker said, "and he wrote the letters to empower them to do it, and Phung Hoang came into being on the Vietnamese side .... A Phung Hoang staff was set up by the Vietnamese consisting primarily of people from Special Branch. Then they set up quarters for them " at the National Police Interrogation Center. "The two organizations had separate quarters," Parker added, "because we wanted the Vietnamese to feel that Phoenix was a Vietnamese program and that the Americans were simply advisers."
"So anyway" -- Parker sighed -- "we went through this organizational phase. The Vietnamese went through the same thing, pulling together the police and whatever, trying to set up staffs, finding places for them to sit, providing them with pencils and paper, and trying to get them to actually conduct some sort of operations. And here you come to the nitty-gritty."
Tab 8 of "Action Program" called for review of VCI intelligence collection requirements and programs, especially Project Corral, a unilateral American operation started in October 1966 solely to collect information on the VCI at province level. After completing their review, CIA officers on the Phoenix staff began to prepare a standard briefing on the VCI for incoming officers and interested officials. They also began compiling handbooks, interrogation guides, and "related materials" like most wanted lists.
Especially effective against the VCI, most wanted lists had been used for years by Special Forces when, in April 1967, Renz Hoeksema's deputy, Robert Brewer, initiated a Most Wanted program in Saigon and expanded it nationwide. "Every province was directed to examine its files for a list of ten,"  Brewer explained noting that the object of the exercise was to show that the enemy was not "faceless." Soon most wanted "posters," replete with composite drawings (prepared by Special Branch officers using New York City Police Department makeup kits, of VCI suspects were being nailed to trees, DIOCC walls, and market stalls throughout Vietnam. The posters offered cash rewards and had a picture of the phoenix to catch people's attention. (See enclosure.)
In the spring of 1967 Komer appointed Brewer as senior adviser in Quang Tri Province. "When I got there, I got all the intelligence-gathering outfits together," Brewer recalled, "and we wrote up a list of the twenty-one most wanted VCI. One guy on my list, Bui Tu, had killed a district adviser's sergeant, and I wanted to get him. So I went to the high school and found his picture in the yearbook. That really paid off. On a sleepy afternoon in July the word came in from Special Branch that Bui Tu was in the area. The DIOCC notified district, district notified village, and the Marine combined action patrol went after him.
"Bui Tu had been spotted in a shelter on a rice paddy. Three guys jumped up and ran, and the Popular Force team and the Marines mowed them down. Bui Tu was number one. The top. He had captain's bars and a briefcase full of notes, with a quarter inch of papers on me! They knew where I slept in the compound and they were planning to kill me." Thanks to Bui Tu's documents and information provided by the defector, Brewer said, "We blew the VCI apart."
What Brewer described is a typical Phoenix operation: A most wanted poster led to a high-ranking VCI suspect's being spotted and killed, while his captured documents revealed the whereabouts and identities of many of his VCI comrades.
Most wanted posters also served to inhibit the VCI. As Jim Ward explained to me, "All of a sudden this guy who used to travel from place to place begins to wonder who is going to turn him in! It begins to prey on him. We found out later that this really had a significant psychological impact on these guys, making them hide and becoming less effective." Said Ward: "It
By the end of 1967 thirty-five provinces were compiling blacklists of VCI members, and twenty-two more had most wanted lists. 
Tab 9 of "Action Program" called for review and recommendations for action programs to exploit infrastructure intelligence. In theory this meant the training, direction, and coordination, by U.S. personnel, of Field Police and PRU in anti-VCI operations. Between the two, the PRU were more effective, accounting for 98 percent of all anti-VCI operations in I Corps alone. In November 1967, Ralph Johnson writes, "II Corps and III Corps reported that 236 significant VCI were eliminated by the PRU, which continued as the main action arm of the 'rifle shot' approach." 
"Basically the PRU were effective," Parker stated. "In some cases the police were effective. And in many areas more got done in capturing VCI in military operations. But I was interested in getting key people. You can arrest the little ones, but the operation goes on and on, and you haven't really hurt them. But it's very hard to get a really important man.
"I personally wasn't involved in any operations," Parker stressed. "Operational control was exercised at whatever level it was happening at, by the so-called action agencies. The idea was to use resources wherever they were .... If there needed to be cooperation, the Vietnamese would consult ... if they trusted the head of the other agency. Unfortunately the Americans would conduct operations without telling the Vietnamese. And vice versa."
By the end of 1967 the Field Police were conducting anti-VCI operations in twenty-six provinces; thirty-nine provinces were using systems taught by Phoenix staffers on how properly to "debrief" defectors, who were used as spotters, PRU, and interrogators. Included in the Phoenix arsenal were joint military-police search and destroy and cordon and search operations, population and resources control, and riverine and maritime operations.
Tab 10 charged the Phoenix program with improving the civilian detention system. About this subject Nelson Brickham remarked, "The one major element left out of all this was the civilian detainee problem. It starts with the Province Interrogation Centers, but the larger problem is, How do you screen detainees, and then what do you do with identified VCI?
"When you'd go through these village sweeps, you'd have whole corrals filled full with Vietnamese just sitting there looking at you all day long. In rural provinces you'd wind up with barbed-wire cages with tin roofs packed with people. It was a major problem basically because we were running a revolving-door operation. We'd capture VC; then a week later we'd capture them again ...assuming they were VC. The Vietcong always knew about these sweeps several days beforehand and always pulled out before we hit. In a lot of sweeps all you would get were the old men and women and kids. There were VC in there, too ... but nobody knows really who they are.
"There were legal questions. Do we reindoctrinate them? Do we shoot them? Do we put them back on the farm? It was just out of control. So one of John Hart's tasks on the original ICEX charge was, What to do with these civilian detainees? Do they have prisoner of war status? Remember, there's no war going on! But in Geneva Americans were saying, 'We're treating these people like POWs.' The Swiss were saying, 'Okay. We want a look into the prison system.'So Hart became concerned with the problem, and the reason it shows up in the ICEX proposal is at John Hart's insistence.
"It went 'round and 'round, and the long and short of it was, nobody wanted to get the name of the Jailer of Vietnam attached to them. USAID didn't want to touch the problem with a ten-foot pole .... Same with the military. Their attitude was 'He's a POW. Forget him. When the war's over, we'll ship him back to the farm.'
And so one of our tasks was to investigate the problem and recommend a solution to it. But we never did. What we did was to beg the question. We tasked the problem over to the new plans and programs element of the ICEX staff. What they did, I don't know."
What the ICEX staff did was state the problem. As listed in Tab 10, the major issues were: (1) overcrowding, substandard living conditions, and indiscriminate crowding of POWs, common criminals, VC suspects, and innocent bystanders in ramshackle detention facilities; (2) lack of an adequate screening mechanism to determine who should be interrogated, jailed, or released; and (3) a judicial system (lacking due process, habeas corpus, arrest warrants, and lawyers, that might delay someone's trial for two years while he languished in a detention camp or else might release him if he could afford the bribe.
In seeking solutions to these problems, Tab 10 proposed: (1) the construction of permanent detention facilities; (2) a registration system, coordinated with refugee and Chieu Hoi programs, to eliminate the revolving-door syndrome; and (3) judicial reform aimed at the rapid disposal of pending cases, as devised by Robert Harper, a lawyer on contract to the CIA. In addition, a study team from the CORDS Research and Analysis Division (where Phoenix operational results were sent along with a weekly summary of significant activities, conducted "a comprehensive and definitive study of all aspects of the problems of judicial handling and detention of civilian infrastructure."  This three-man study team (John Lybrand, Craig Johnstone, and Do Minh Nhat) reported on apprehension and interrogation methods; the condition and number of jails, prisons, and stockades; and graft and corruption.
Regarding overcrowding, by early 1966 there was no more space available in the GVN's prison system for "Communist offenders." And as more and more people were captured and placed in PICs, jails, and detention camps, a large percentage was necessarily squeezed out. Hence the revolving door.
In the fall of 1967 the forty-two province jails where most VCI suspects were imprisoned had a total capacity of 14,000. Of the four national jails, Con Son Prison held about 3,550 VCI members; Chi Hoa Prison in Saigon held just over 4,000; Tan Hiep Prison outside Bien Hoa held nearly 1,000; and Thu Duc held about 675 VCI, all women. Approximately 35,000 POWs were held in six MACV camps scattered around South Vietnam. VC and NVA prisoners fell under U.S. military supervision while ARVN camps handled ARVN deserters and war criminals. 
As attorney Harper wrestled with the problem of judicial reform, a mild-mannered, medium-built, retired Marine Corps colonel, Randolph Berkeley, tackled the detention camp problem. Before retiring in 1965, Berkeley had been the corps's assistant chief of staff for intelligence. In 1966 he was hired by the Human Sciences Research Corporation to do a study in Vietnam on civil affairs in military operations, and in early 1967 he briefed Komer in the White House on the subject. Komer liked what he heard and hired Berkeley (who had no corrections experience) as his senior adviser on corrections and detentions) in which capacity Berkeley returned to Saigon in July 1967 as a member of the ICEX staff.Upon arriving in Saigon in July 1967, Berkeley was assigned by Evan Parker to manage the SIDE (screening, interrogation, and detention of the enemy) program. Berkeley and five assistants -- all experienced corrections officers -- were listed on paper as employees of Public Safety's Department of Corrections.
"Shortly after my arrival," Berkeley recalled in a letter to the author, "I was called to report to General Westmoreland. I found him with staff members and Ambassador Komer, and it was explained to me that I needed to draft a plan, within a few weeks, which would make the prisons secure from attacks, as valuable lives were being lost in capturing VC who would then be sprung quickly to fight again .... The Westmoreland meeting turned me into an operator so busy with his requirements," Berkeley explained, "that my focus was more on prisons than detentions. 
"The CIA provided me space in one of their offices at MACV headquarters, and for several weeks I flew about in an Air America plane, scouting locations for attackproof detention facilities and prisons, taking aerial photographs myself, and developing the plan." While doing this, Berkeley learned: "There were over forty prisons nationwide, detention facilities [usually 'just a barracks surrounded by barbed wire'] in every province, and the GVN had neglected all of them in nearly every aspect, including protection from attack by the enemy.
"When my plan was presented on schedule, General Westmoreland approved it and directed that I execute it. In the next few months the prisons were provided defensive weapons and guards trained to use them, and ... attacks on prisons quickly lost their popularity. One other device we used was to fly VC prisoners to Con Son Island, which was secure from any enemy attack."
Having satisfied Westmoreland's requirement for prison security, Berkeley turned to the issue of detention facilities. "I visited Singapore and Malaya to look at prefab construction for possible use in detention camp construction but decided it was cheaper to do the job with local resources available in Vietnam. Meaning the detention problem was dropped like a hot potato, this time into the hands of the GVN." ICEX Memo No. 5, dated November 2, 1967, handed responsibility for the operation and security of detention camps to the province chiefs, with advice and some resources provided by MACV through Berkeley and the Department of Corrections.
On December 27, 1967, MACV issued Directive 381-46, creating Combined Tactical Screening Centers and stating: "The sole responsibility for determining the status of persons detained by U.S. forces rests with the representatives of the U.S. Armed Forces." Case closed. In every Combined Tactical Screening Center, the detaining unit did the screening, interrogating, and classifying of rows and civilian detainees, sending enemy soldiers to POW camps or to Saigon if they had strategic intelligence, to provincial jails if they were common criminals, or to PICs if they were deemed to be VCI.
"There were, in effect," Evan Parker explained, "two prison systems: "the civil one under USAID and the military one for POWs. PICs were separate and staffed as an agency program ... but there had to be a lot of understanding between us in order not to waste money." For example, the CIA would provide PICs with vans but not gas or oil or mechanics. The Phoenix coordinator would then have to persuade the Public Safety adviser to persuade the Vietnamese police chief to provide these materials and services to the Special Branch, which, considering the ongoing rivalries, got done grudgingly, if at all.
"The problem Phoenix dealt with," Evan Parker added, "was making sure that when a knowledgeable person got picked up, the right person got to talk to him and he just didn't disappear in the system." This weeding-out process happened in the PICs "because there you had the Vietnamese whose salaries were paid by the agency. They weren't beholden to the military or AID."
Ultimately Phoenix did nothing to alleviate the problems of civilian detainees. Rather, as Phoenix threw its dragnet across South Vietnam, tens of thousands of new prisoners poured into the already overcrowded system, and the revolving door syndrome was simply converted by province chiefs into a moneymaking proposition. Meanwhile, ICEX lawyers tried to paper over the problem by compiling a handbook on national security laws and procedures, which legalized the attack against the VCI by permitting the administrative detention of VCI suspects for up to two years without trial. No steps were taken to establish due process for civilian detainees.
Tab 11 called for the Phoenix Directorate "to conduct an on the ground review of interrogation facilities, practices and procedures, including coordination, exploitation, and follow through, with a view to optimum support to the attack on the infrastructure." The object was to focus interrogations on intelligence concerning the VCI at province and district levels and to improve coordination with other agencies. No report was required from the CIA compartment within the Phoenix Directorate on this sensitive subject.
Regarding the "practices" of the PIC program, what is known of official policy comes from Nelson Brickham.
"I had an absolute prohibition in field operations activities toward conducting or sanctioning or witnessing any acts of torture," he said. "I said the same thing to my province officers from the third day I was in-country. My statement [which he never put in writing] simply was 'Any of you guys get caught in this stuff, I'll have you going home within twenty-four hours.' And there never was such a case that came into existence, although it's possible that there was and the reports never got to me."
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