May 17, 2001
A CounterPunch Special Report
Fragging Bob: Bob Kerrey, CIA War Crimes, And The Need For A War Crimes Trial
by Douglas Valentine
By now everybody knows that former Senator Bob Kerrey led a seven-
member team of Navy Seals into Thanh Phong village in February 1969,
and murdered in cold blood more than a dozen women and children.
What hardly anyone knows, and what no one in the press is talking
about (although many of them know), is that Kerrey was on a CIA
mission, and its specific purpose was to kill those women and
children. It was illegal, premeditated mass murder and it was a war
And it's time to hold the CIA responsible. It's time for a war crimes
tribunal to examine the CIA's illegal activities during and since the
War Crimes As Policy
War crimes were a central was part of a CIA strategy for fighting the
Vietnam War. The strategy was known as Contre Coup, and it was the
manifestation of a belief that the war was essentially political, not
military, in nature. The CIA theorized that it was being fought by
opposing ideological factions, each one amounting to about five
percent of the total population, while the remaining ninety percent
was uncommitted and wanted the war to go away.
According to the CIA's mythology, on one side were communist
insurgents, supported by comrades in Hanoi, Moscow and Peking. The
communists fought for land reform, to rid Vietnam of foreign
intervention, and to unite the north and south. The other faction was
composed of capitalists, often Catholics relocated from North Vietnam
in 1954 by the CIA. This faction was fighting to keep South Vietnam
an independent nation, operating under the direction of quiet
Caught in the crossfire was the silent majority. The object shared by
both factions was to win these undecided voters over to its side.
Contre Coup was the CIA's response to the realization that the
Communists were winning the war for the hearts and minds of the
people. It also was a response to the belief that they were winning
through the use of psychological warfare, specifically, selective
terror the murder and mutilation of specific government officials.
In December 1963, Peer DeSilva arrived in Saigon as the CIA's station
chief. He claims to have been shocked by what he saw. In his
autobiography, SubRosa, DeSilva describes how the VC had "impaled a
young boy, a village chief, and his pregnant wife on sharp poles. To
make sure this horrible sight would remain with the villagers, one of
the terror squad used his machete to disembowel the woman, spilling
he fetus onto the ground."
"The Vietcong," DeSilva said, "were monstrous in the application of
torture and murder to achieve the political and psychological impact
But the methodology was successful and had tremendous intelligence
potential, so DeSilva authorized the creation of small "counter-
terror teams," designed "to bring danger and death to the Vietcong
functionaries themselves, especially in areas where they felt secure."
How Counter-Terror Worked In Vietnam
Thanh Phong village was one of those areas where Vietcong
functionaries felt secure. It was located in Kien Hoa Province, along
the Mekong Delta. One of Vietnam's most densely populated provinces,
Kien Hoa was precariously close to Saigon, and is criss-crossed with
waterways and rice paddies. It was an important rice production area
for the insurgents as well as the Government of Vietnam, and thus was
one of the eight most heavily infiltrated provinces in Vietnam. The
estimated 4700 VC functionaries in Kien Hoa accounted for more than
five percent of the insurgency's total leadership. Operation Speedy
Express, a Ninth Infantry sweep through Kien Hoa in the first six
months of 1969, killed an estimated 11,000 civilians-supposedly VC
These functionaries formed what the CIA called the Vietcong
Infrastructure (VCI). The VCI consisted of members of the People's
Revolutionary Party, the National Liberation Front, and other
Communist outfits like the Women's and Student's Liberation
Associations. Its members were politicians and administrators
managing committees for business, communications, security,
intelligence, and military affairs. Among their main functions were
the collection of taxes, the recruitment of young men and women into
the insurgency, and the selective assassination of GVN officials.
As the CIA was well aware, Ho Chi Minh boasted that with two cadre in
every hamlet, he could win the war, no matter how many soldiers the
Americans threw at him.
So the CIA adopted the Ho's strategy-but on a grander and bloodier
scale. The object of Contre Coup was to identify and terrorize each
and every individual VCI and his/her family, friends and fellow
villagers. To this end the CIA in 1964 launched a massive
intelligence operation called the Provincial Interrogation Center
Program. The CIA (employing the US company Pacific Architects and
Engineers) built an interrogation center in each of South Vietnam's
44 provinces. Staffed by members of the brutal Special Police, who
ran extensive informant networks, and advised by CIA officers, the
purpose of the PICs was to identify, through the
systematic "interrogation" (read torture) of VCI suspects, the
membership of the VCI at every level of its organization; from its
elusive headquarters somewhere along the Cambodian border, through
the region, city, province, district, village and hamlet committees.
The "indispensable link" in the VCI was the District Party Secretary
the same individual Bob Kerrey's Seal team was out to assassinate in
its mission in Thanh Phong.
Initially the CIA had trouble finding people who were willing to
murder and mutilate, so the Agency's original "counter-terror teams"
were composed of ex-convicts, VC defectors, Chinese Nungs,
Cambodians, Montagnards, and mercenaries. In a February 1970 article
written for True Magazine, titled "The CIA's Hired Killers," Georgie-
Anne Geyer compared "our boys" to "their boys" with the qualification
that, "Their boys did it for faith; our boys did it for money."
The other big problem was security. The VC had infiltrated nearly
every facet of the GVN-even the CIA's unilateral counter-terror
program. So in an attempt to bring greater effectiveness to its
secret war, the CIA started employing Navy Seals, US Army Special
Forces, Force Recon Marines, and other highly trained Americans who,
like Bob Kerrey, were "motivationally indoctrinated" by the military
and turned into killing machines with all the social inhibitions and
moral compunctions of a Timmy McVeigh. Except they were secure in the
knowledge that what they were doing was, if not legal or moral,
fraught with Old Testament-style justice, rationalizing that the Viet
Cong did it first.
Eventually the irrepressible Americans added their own improvements.
In his autobiography Soldier, Anthony Herbert describes arriving in
Saigon in 1965, reporting to the CIA's Special Operations Group, and
being asked to join a top-secret psywar program. What the CIA wanted
Herbert to do, "was to take charge of execution teams that wiped out
By 1967, killing entire families had become an integral facet of the
CIA's counter-terror program. Robert Slater was the chief of the
CIA's Province Interrogation Center Program from June 1967 through
1969. In a March 1970 thesis for the Defense Intelligence School,
titled "The History, Organization and Modus Operandi of the Viet Cong
Infrastructure," Slater wrote, "the District Party Secretary usually
does not sleep in the same house or even hamlet where his family
lived, to preclude any injury to his family during assassination
But, Slater added, "the Allies have frequently found out where the
District Party Secretaries live and raided their homes: in an ensuing
fire fight the secretary's wife and children have been killed and
This is the intellectual context in which the Kerrey atrocity took
place. This CIA strategy of committing war crimes for psychological
reasons to terrorize the enemy's supporters into submission also is
what differentiates Kerrey's atrocity, in legal terms, from other
popular methods of mass murdering civilians, such as bombs from the
sky, or economic boycotts.
Yes, the CIA has a global, illegal strategy of terrorizing people,
although in typical CIA lexicon it's called "anti-terrorism."
When you're waging illegal warfare, language is every bit as
important as weaponry and the will to kill. As George Orwell or Noam
Chomsky might explain, when you're deliberately killing innocent
women and children, half the court-of-public-opinion battle is making
it sound legal.
Three Old Vietnam Hands in particular stand out as examples of this
incestuous relationship. Neil Sheehan, CIA-nik and author of the
aptly titled Bright Shining Lie, recently confessed that in 1966 he
saw US soldiers massacre as many as 600 Vietnamese civilians in five
fishing villages. He'd been in Vietnam for three years by then, but
it didn't occur to him that he had discovered a war crime. Now he
realizes that the war crimes issue was always present, but still no
mention of his friends in the CIA.
Former New York Times reporter and author of The Best and The
Brightest, David Halberstam, defended Kerrey on behalf of the media
establishment at the New School campus the week after the story
broke. CIA flack Halberstam described the region around Thanh Phong
as "the purest bandit country," adding that "by 1969 everyone who
lived there would have been third-generation Vietcong." Which is CIA
revisionism at its sickest.
Finally there's New York Times reporter James Lemoyne. Why did he
never write any articles linking the CIA to war crimes in Vietnam?
Because his brother Charles, a Navy officer, was in charge of the
CIA's counter-terror teams in the Delta in 1968.
Phoenix Comes To Thanh Phong
The CIA launched its Phoenix Program in June 1967, after 13 years of
tinkering with several experimental counter-terror and psywar
programs, and building its network of secret interrogation centers.
The stated policy was to replace the bludgeon of indiscriminate
bombings and military search and destroy operations which had
alienated the people from the Government of Vietnam with the scalpel
of assassinations of selected members of the Viet Cong Infrastructure.
A typical Phoenix operation began in a Province Interrogation Center
where a suspected member of the VCI was brought for questioning.
After a few days or weeks or months undergoing various forms of
torture, the VCI suspect would die or give the name and location of
his VCI comrades and superiors. That information would be sent from
the Interrogation Center to the local Phoenix office, which was
staffed by Special Branch and Vietnamese military officers under the
supervision of CIA officers. Depending on the suspected importance of
the targeted VCI, the Phoenix people would then dispatch one of the
various action arms available to it, including Seal teams like the
one Bob Kerrey led into Thanh Phong.
In February 1969, the Phoenix Program was still under CIA control.
But because Kien Hoa Province was so important, and because the VCI's
District Party Secretary was supposedly in Thanh Phong, the CIA
decided to handle this particular assassination and mass murder
mission without involving the local Vietnamese. So instead of
dispensing the local counter-terror team, the CIA sent Kerrey's
And that, very simply, is how it happened. Kerrey and crew admittedly
went to Thanh Phong to kill the District Party Secretary, and anyone
else who got in the way, including his family and all their friends.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Tue May 29 2001 - 19:44:44 EDT