Phoenix Comes Home To Roost
By 1969 the CIA, through Phoenix, was targeting individual VCI and
their families all across Vietnam. Over 20,000 people were
assassinated by the end of the year and hundreds of thousands had
been tortured in Province Interrogation Centers.
On 20 June 1969, the Lower House of the Vietnamese Congress held
hearings about abuses in the Phoenix VCI elimination program. Eighty-
six Deputies signed a petition calling for its immediate termination.
Among the charges: Special Police knowingly arrested innocent people
for the purpose of extortion; people were detained for as long as
eight months before being tried; torture was commonplace. Noting that
it was illegal to do so, several deputies protested instances in
which American troops detained or murdered suspects without
Vietnamese authority. Others complained that village chiefs were not
consulted before raids, such as the one on Thanh Phong.
After an investigation in 1970, four Congresspersons concluded that
the CIA's Phoenix Program violated international law. "The people of
these United States," they jointly stated, "have deliberately imposed
upon the Vietnamese people a system of justice which admittedly
denies due process of law," and that in doing so, "we appear to have
violated the 1949 Geneva Convention for the protection of civilian
During the hearings, U.S. Representative Ogden Reid said, "if the
Union had had a Phoenix program during the Civil War, its targets
would have been civilians like Jefferson Davis or the mayor of Macon,
But the American establishment and media denied it then, and continue
to deny it until today, because Phoenix was a genocidal program --
and the CIA officials, members of the media who were complicit
through their silence, and the red-blooded American boys who carried
it out, are all war criminals. As Michael Ratner a lawyer at the
Center for Constitutional Rights told CounterPunch: "Kerrey should be
tried as a war criminal. His actions on the night of February 24-25,
1969 when the seven man Navy Seal unit which he headed killed
approximately twenty unarmed Vietnamese civilians, eighteen of whom
were women and children was a war crime. Like those who murdered at
My Lai, he too should be brought into the dock and tried for his
Phoenix, alas, also was fiendishly effective and became a template
for future CIA operations. Developed in Vietnam and perfected with
the death squads and media blackout of Afghanistan and El Salvador,
it is now employed by the CIA around the world: in Colombia, in
Kosovo, in Ireland with the British MI6, and in Israel with its other
kindred spirit, the Mossad.
The paymasters at the Pentagon will keep cranking out billion dollar
missile defense shields and other Bush league boondoggles. But when
it comes to making the world safe for international capitalism, the
political trick is being more of a homicidal maniac, and more cost
effective, than the terrorists.
Incredibly, Phoenix has become fashionable, it has adhered a kind of
political cachet. Governor Jesse Ventura claims to have been a Navy
Seal and to have "hunted man." Fanatical right-wing US Representative
Bob Barr, one of the Republican impeachment clique, has introduced
legislation to "re-legalize" assassinations. David Hackworth,
representing the military establishment, defended Kerrey by
saying "there were thousands of such atrocities," and that in 1969
his own unit committed "at least a dozen such horrors." Jack Valenti,
representing the business establishment and its financial stake in
the issue, defended Kerrey in the LA Times, saying, "all the
normalities (sic) of a social contract are abandoned," in war.
A famous Phoenix operation, known as the My Lai Massacre, was
proceeding along smoothly, with a grand total of 504 Vietnamese women
and children killed, when a soldier named Hugh Thompson in a
helicopter gunship saw what was happening. Risking his life to
preserve that "social contract," Thomson landed his helicopter
between the mass murderers and their victims, turned his machine guns
on his fellow Americans, and brought the carnage to a halt.
Same with screenwriter and journalist Bill Broyles, Vietnam veteran,
and author Brothers In Arms, an excellent book about the Vietnam War.
Broyles turned in a bunch of his fellow Marines for killing civilians.
If Thompson and Broyles were capable of taking individual
responsibility, everyone is. And many did.
There is no doubt that Bob Kerrey committed a war crime. As he
admits, he went to Vietnam with a knife clenched between his teeth
and did what he was trained to do kidnap, assassinate and mass
murder civilians. But there was no point to his atrocity as he soon
learned, no controlling legal authority. He became a conflicted
individual. He remembers that they killed women and children. But he
thinks they came under fire first, before they panicked and started
shooting back. The fog of war clouds his memory
But there isn't that much to forget. Thanh Phong was Kerrey's first
mission, and on his second mission a grenade blew off his foot,
abruptly ending his military career.
Plus which there are plenty of other people to remind Kerrey of what
happened, if anyone will listen. There's Gerhard Klann, the Seal who
disputes Kerrey's account, and two Vietnamese survivors of the raid,
Pham Tri Lanh and Bui Thi Luam, both of whom corroborate Klann's
account, as does a veteran Viet Cong soldier, Tran Van Rung.
As CBS News was careful to point out, the Vietnamese were former VC
and thus hostile witnesses and because there were slight
inconsistencies in their stories, they could not be believed. Klann
became the target of Kerrey's pr machine, which dismissed as an
alcoholic with a chip on his shoulder.
Then there is John DeCamp. An army captain in Vietnam, DeCamp worked
for the organization under CIA executive William Colby that
ostensibly managed Phoenix after the CIA let it go in June 1969.
DeCamp was elected to the Nebraska State Senate and served until
1990. A Republican, he claims that Kerrey led an anti-war march on
the Nebraska state capitol in May 1971. DeCamp claims that Kerrey put
a medal, possibly his bronze star, in a mock coffin, and said, "Viet
Cong or North Vietnamese troops are angelic compared with the
Kerrey claims he was in Peru visiting his brother that day. But he
definitely accepted his Medal of Honor from Richard Nixon on 14 May
1970, a mere ten days after the Ohio National guard killed four
student protestors at Kent State. With that badge of honor pinned on
his chest, Kerrey began walking the gilded road to success. Elected
Governor of Nebraska in November 1982, he started dating Deborah
Winger, became a celebrity hero, was elected to the US Senate, became
vice-chair of Senate Committee on Intelligence, and in 1990 staged a
run for president. One of the most highly regarded politicians in
America, he showered self-righteous criticism on draft dodger Bill
Clinton's penchant for lying.
Bob Kerrey is a symbol of what it means to be an American, and the
patriots have rallied to his defense. And yet Kerrey accepted a
bronze star under false pretenses, and as John DeCamp suggests, he
may have been fragged by his fellow Seals. For this, he received the
Medal of Honor.
John DeCamp calls Bob Kerrey "emotionally disturbed" as a result of
his Vietnam experience.
And Kerrey's behavior has been pathetic. In order to protect himself
and his CIA patrons from being tried as a war criminals, Bob Kerrey
has become a pathological liar too. Kerrey says his actions at Than
Phong were an atrocity, but not a war crime. He says he feels
remorse, but not guilt. In fact, he has continually rehabbed his
position on the war itself-moving from an opponent to more recently
an enthusiast. In a 1999 column in the Washington Post, for example,
Kerrey said he had come to view that Vietnam was a "just war. "Was
the war worth the effort and sacrifice, or was it a mistake?" Kerrey
wrote. "When I came home in 1969 and for many years afterward, I did
not believe it was worth it. Today, with the passage of time and the
experience of seeing both the benefits of freedom won by our
sacrifice and the human destruction done by dictatorships, I believe
the cause was just and the sacrifice not in vain."
Then at the Democratic Party Convention in Los Angeles last summer
Kerrey lectured the delegates that they shouldn't be ashamed of the
war and that they should treat Vietnam veterans as war heroes: "I
believe I speak for Max Baucus and every person who has ever served
when I say I never felt more free than when I wore the uniform of our
country. This country - this party - must remember." Free? Free to
murder women and children. Is this a consciousness of guilt or
CBS News also participated in constructing a curtain of lies. As does
every other official government or media outlet that knows about the
CIA's Phoenix Program, which continues to exist and operate worldwide
today, but fails to mention it.
Because if the name of one targeted Viet Cong cadre can be obtained,
then all the names can be obtained, and then a war crimes trial
becomes imperative. And that's the last thing the Establishment will
allow to happen.
Average Americans, however, consider themselves a nation ruled by
laws and an ethic of fair play, and with the Kerry confession comes
an opportunity for America to redefine itself in more realistic
terms. The discrepancies in his story beg investigation. He says he
was never briefed on the rules of engagement. But a "pocket card"
with the Laws of Land Warfare was given to each member of the US
Armed Forces in Vietnam.
Does it matter that Kerrey would lie about this? Yes. General Bruce
Palmer, commander of the same Ninth Division that devastated Kien Koa
Province in 1969, objected to the "involuntary assignment" of
American soldiers to Phoenix. He did not believe that "people in
uniform, who are pledged to abide by the Geneva Conventions, should
be put in the position of having to break those laws of warfare."
It was the CIA that forced soldiers like Kerrey into Phoenix
operations, and the hidden hand of the CIA lingers over his war
crime. Kerrey even uses the same rationale offered by CIA officer
DeSilva. According to Kerrey, "the Viet Cong were a thousand per cent
more ruthless than" the Seals or U.S. Army.
But the Geneva Conventions, customary international law and the
Uniform Code of Military Justice all prohibit the killing of
noncombatant civilians. The alleged brutality of others is no
justification. By saying it is, Kerrey implicates the people who
generated that rationale: the CIA. That is why there is a moral
imperative to scrutinize the Phoenix Program and the CIA officers who
created it, the people who participated in it, and the journalists
who covered it up to expose the dark side of our national psyche,
the part that allows us to employ terror to assure our world
To accomplish this there must be a war crimes tribunal. This won't be
easy. The US government has gone to great lengths to shield itself
from such legal scrutiny, at the same it selectively manipulates
international institutions, such as the UN, to go after people like
According to human rights lawyer Michael Ratner the legal avenues for
bringing Kerrey and his cohorts to justice are quite limited. A civil
suit could be lodged against Kerrey by the families of the victims
brought in the United States under the Alien Tort Claims Act. "These
are the kinds of cases I did against Gramajo, Pangaitan (Timor),"
Ratner told us. "The main problem here is that it is doubtful the
Vietnamese would sue a liberal when they are dying to better
relations with the US. I would do this case if could get plaintiffs--
so far no luck." According to Ratner, there is no statute of
limitations problem as it is newly discovered evidence and there is a
stron argument particularly in the criminal context that there is no
statute of limitations for war crimes.
But criminal cases in the US present a difficult, if not impossible,
prospect. Now that Kerrey is discharged from the Navy, the military
courts, which went after Lt. Calley for the My Lai massacre, has no
jurisdiction over him. "As to criminal case in the US--my pretty
answer is no," says Ratner. "The US first passed a war crimes statute
(18 USC sec. 2441 War Crimes) in 1996--that statute makes
what Kerrey did a war crime punishable by death of life imprisonment--
but it was passed after the crime and criminal statutes are not
retroactive." In 1988, Congress enacted a statute against genocide,
which was might apply to Kerrey's actions, but it to can't be applied
retroactively. Generally at the time of Kerrey's acts in Vietnam, US
criminal law did not extend to what US citizens did overseas unless
they were military.
[As a senator, Kerrey, it should be noted, voted for the war crimes
law, thus opening the opportunity for others to be prosecuted for
crimes similar to those he that committed but is shielded from.]
The United Nations is a possibility, but a long shot. They could
establish an ad hoc tribunal such as it did with the Rwanda ICTR and
Yugoslavia ICTY. "This would require action by UN Security council
could do it, but what are the chances?" says Ratner. "There is still
the prospect for a US veto What that really points out is how those
tribunals are bent toward what the US and West want."
Prosecution in Vietnam and or another country and extradition is also
a possibility. It can be argued that war crimes are crimes over which
there is universal jurisdiction--in fact that is obligation of
countries-under Geneva Convention of 1948--to seek out and prosecute
war criminals. "Universal jurisdiction does not require the presence
of the defendant--he can be indicted and tried in some countries in
absentia--or his extradition can be requested", says Ratner. "Some
countries may have statutes permitting this. Kerrey should check his
travel plans and hire a good lawyer before he gets on a plane. He can
use Kissinger's lawyer." CP
Douglas Valentine is the author of The Phoenix Program, the only
comprehensive account of the CIA's torture and assassination
operation in Vietnam, as well as TDY a chilling novel about the CIA
and the drug trade
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Tue May 29 2001 - 19:41:35 EDT