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Murphy's determination to make Phoenix a political issue in the United States began on October 15, while he was participating in the March Against Death outside the Pentagon. There he encountered colleagues from the 116th MIG

. "I was being surveilled," he told me. "I know, because the people doing it told me so. 'I've been reading about you,' one of the officers said." [17]

Having fought for his country in defense of its liberties, Murphy was angry to find that military intelligence was being used against American citizens who were exercising their constitutional rights. To him, this represented "the Phoenix mentality in the United States."

Just how serious Murphy considered this threat is made clear by his definition of the program.

"Phoenix," he said, "was a bounty-hunting program -- an attempt to eliminate the opposition. By which I mean the opposition to us, the Americans, getting what we wanted. Which was to control the Vietnamese through our clients -- the Diems, the Kys, the Thieus." For Murphy, all other definitions of Phoenix are merely "intellectual jargon."

Murphy is a man of conscience, a former novitiate at a seminary in Baltimore whose deep-seated patriotism prompted him to enlist, despite his compunctions about the morality of the Vietnam War. After basic training, Murphy was sent to Fort Holabird, where he was trained as a counterintelligence specialist, then to the Defense Language Institute in Texas for Vietnamese-language training. From there he was assigned to Fort Lewis.

"On the plane from Fort Lewis to Cam Ranh Bay," he recalled, "I was given an article to read. It was a study by the American Medical Association on ... interrogation methods used in the Soviet Union. It showed how to do things without laying a hand on a person -- how you could torture a person just by having them stand there." That manual was his introduction to the doctrine of Contre Coup.

Upon his arrival in Vietnam on May 12, 1968, Murphy was assigned to Fourth Division headquarters outside Pleiku City, where his understanding of counterinsurgency warfare rapidly evolved from theory to reality. There were five enlisted men in his counterintelligence team, each with a sector, each sector having ten agents.

Murphy's job was to conduct sabotage investigations and to run undercover agents, furnished by the MSS, who acted as day workers on the military base.

Murphy also inherited agents eleven miles away in Pleiku City and acted as the Fourth Division's liaison to

the local Phoenix coordinator, a CIA contract officer named Ron who was posing as a Public Safety adviser conducting currency investigations.

Once a week Murphy went to the local CIA compound, along with various civilian and military intelligence people in the vicinity, to submit to the Phoenix Committee the names of VCI suspects their agents had fingered. Surrounded by a concrete wall, its gate manned by a Montagnard Provincial Reconnaissance Unit, the embassy house was located in a remote corner of Pleiku.

Inside the compound was a barbed-wire "cow cage" for prisoners. The cage, according to Murphy, was too small for prisoners to stand up in. Murphy was not permitted in the PIC

, which "sat on a hill and looked like a U-shaped school."

As for the identity of the people his agents surveilled and targeted, Murphy said, "I would never see a North Vietnamese or Vietcong soldier. This is post Tet, and those people are all dead. What we're talking about are civilian infrastructure people supporting the NVA and VC. It could be anybody. It could be somebody who works in a movie theater ... somebody sweeping up."

When asked what kind of information he needed before he could have a suspect arrested, Murphy answered, "None. Whatever you wanted." When asked what sort of criteria he used to classify VCI suspects, Murphy replied, "Nothing. One of my agents says somebody's a spy. If I had reason to believe ... that he was telling the truth, and if I wanted to bring somebody in for interrogation, I could do it. It was that easy. I had an agreement with the team leader that I could do anything I wanted. I even wore civilian clothes. My cover identity was as a construction worker with Pacific Architects and Engineers."

Murphy called his agents "hustlers -- entrepreneurs making money off intelligence." After noting the difficulty of verifying information submitted by agents at Phoenix Committee meetings, "the lack of files and things like that,"

Murphy told how one suspect was raped and tortured simply because she refused to sleep with an agent.

"Phoenix," said Ed Murphy, "was far worse than the things attributed to it. It was heinous, but no worse than the bombing.

And I don't apologize. But it was a watershed for me. It focused things. I realized it wasn't just a war, but that based on the assumption that nothing is worse than communism,

the government of Vietnam, backed by the U.S., felt justified in suppressing all opposition while extending its control throughout the country." That control, Murphy explained, served an economic, not an idealistic, purpose. "Phil Lapitosa [an employee at Pacific Architects and Engineers] told me about two million dollars in materiel and cash being unaccounted for at PA and E ... that goods being sold on the black market didn't come from the Vietnamese, but from the Americans.

"In order to get into military intelligence school," Murphy continued, "I and the other candidates had to write an essay on the debate about the Vietnam War. And the thrust of my paper was 'What we do in Vietnam will come back to us.' It was a one world thesis. Well,

I go to Vietnam and I see the bullshit going down. Then I come back to the United States and see the exact same thing going on here. I'm at the Hundred Sixteenth MI unit, and as you leave the room, they have nine slots for pictures, eight of them filled: Rennie Davis, Abbie Hoffman, Ben Spock, Jerry Rubin. And I'm being sent out to spot and identify these people. This is Phoenix. This is Phoenix," he repeated, then added for emphasis,

"This is Phoenix!"

"In Nam I had composite descriptions," Murphy acknowledged. "But then I wasn't in a place where we had technology. It doesn't make any difference. The point is that it was used in Vietnam, it was used in the U.S., and it still is used in the United States."

Thus, Murphy felt justified in taking tactics the military had taught him and using them against his former masters. "To me," he explained, "Phoenix was a lever to use to stop the war. You use what you got. I got Phoenix. I'm a former intelligence agent, fluent in Vietnamese, involved in Phoenix in the Central Highlands. That means I'm credible. I'm using it."

Intent on making Phoenix a domestic political issue to be used to stop the war, Murphy joined two other Vietnam veterans -- Bob Stemme and Mike Uhl -- in an effort to inform the public. At news conferences held simultaneously in New York, San Francisco, and Rome on April 14, 1970, the three veterans issued a joint press release -- without naming names -- laying out the facts about Phoenix. And even though the release was not widely reported, it did perpetuate the controversy that had begun in February, when Phoenix was first examined by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. By then Phoenix was nearly three years old.

How the Senate hearings came to address Phoenix is unusual. It concerns Francis Reitemeyer, a Seton Hall Divinity School dropout who was drafted and attended officer candidate school in late 1968. Along with forty other air defense artillery officers, Reitemeyer was trained at Fort Holabird for duty as a Phoenix coordinator in Vietnam.

He was appalled by the instruction he received from veteran Phoenix advisers

.

Loath to participate in what he considered a program that targeted civilians for assassination, Reitemeyer approached American Civil Liberties Union lawyer William Zinman in November 1968.

On behalf of Reitemeyer, Zinman filed a petition for conscientious objector status in U.S. District Court on February 14, 1969, while the rest of Reitemeyer's class was departing for Vietnam.

In the petition Reitemeyer said that he was told that he would supervise and fund eighteen mercenaries "who would be explicitly directed by him" to "find, capture and/or kill" as many VCI as possible within a given area.

The VCI were defined as "any male or female of any age in a position of authority or influence in the village who were politically loyal or simply in agreement with the VC or their objectives." Reitemeyer was told that he would be required to maintain a "kill quota" of fifty bodies per month and that for him to locate VCI, "resort to the most extreme forms of torture was necessary." As an example of what was expected of him, Reitemeyer was told of one VCI suspect being killed by "said mercenaries and thereafter decapitated and dismembered so that the eyes, head, ears and other parts of the decedent's body were displayed on his front lawn as a warning and an inducement to other VC sympathizers, to disclose their identity and turn themselves in to the Advisor and the mercenaries."

Reitemeyer was told that Phoenix "sought to accomplish through capture, intimidation, elimination and assassination what the U.S., up to this time, was unable to accomplish through the ... use of military power." The Vietnamese were characterized in racist terms, so that the cruelties perpetrated upon them might be more easily rationalized. Reitemeyer was told that if captured, he could be tried for war crimes under "precedents established by the Nuremberg Trials as well as ... the Geneva Convention."

On the basis of this account of his Phoenix instruction, Reitemeyer was granted conscientious objector status on July 14, 1969. The Army filed an appeal but, for public relations purposes, withdrew it in October, just as the March Against Death was getting under way.

Meanwhile, the ramifications of the case set in motion the series of events that brought Phoenix under congressional scrutiny. Reitemeyer was satisfied with having escaped service in Phoenix and faded into obscurity. Zinman, however, like Murphy, saw Phoenix as a lever to be used to stop the war. He pressed a copy of the petition into the palm of a senator on the Foreign Relations Committee. While the committee prepared to hold hearings on CORDS in February 1970, a staff aide to Senator William Fulbright leaked a copy of the petition to reporters Judy Coburn and Geoffrey Cowan. Their investigation resulted in an article titled "Training for Terror: A Deliberate Policy?" Printed in the Village Voice in December 1969, the article brought the subject of Phoenix into open debate.

The military responded to Coburn and Cowan's article and Reitemeyer's "wild allegations" on the day they appeared in print.

Colonel Marshall Fallwell, commandant of Fort Holabird, suggested that some instructors might have told "war stories," but he insisted that torture and assassination were not part of the school's curriculum.

He did acknowledge that Fort Howard contained a mock Vietnamese village where Phoenix advisers "Plan[ned] and mount[ed] an operation for seizure of the village," then rehearsed interrogating VCI suspects whom they identified from blacklists. Because the object of such "proactive" operations was uncovering the enemy's secret agents, this was called an offensive counterintelligence operation.

Fallwell's answers fell short of allaying congressional concerns, however, and one week later gasoline was poured on the smoldering controversy when George Gregory -- an attorney representing one of seven soldiers charged with murdering a Vietnamese agent -- discussed his investigation at the Atlanta Press Club. According to Gregory, Phoenix advisers were flocking to military lawyers in Saigon in the wake of the famous Green Beret murder case, in which seven American Army officers in the B-57 detachment were nearly put on trial for murdering one of their agents. Apparently, the Phoenix advisers were concerned that they were susceptible to similar charges.

Here it is important to note that the killing of enemy spies was a counterintelligence function, while the attack against the VCI was a "positive" intelligence function aimed at bureaucrats managing the insurgency's terror campaign. However, the termination with extreme prejudice of agents and the assassination of civilian members of the enemy's underground organization did overlap in cases in which penetration agents inside the VCI were found to be doubles, playing both sides of the fence. Dealing with such people was the prerogative of the CIA and its special unit.

In any event, the results of the Green Beret murder case were the termination of B-57 and a blow to the morale of Phoenix advisers in the field -- although their anxieties were relieved in September 1969, when, at the request of President Richard Nixon and DCI Richard Helms, charges against the soldiers were dropped by Army Secretary Resor. The agent's wife, who worked for the CIA, was awarded death benefits, and the case was closed. A Gallup poll showed 58 percent of all Americans disapproved of the war.

***


On January 12, 1970, Newsweek ran a story called "The Rise of Phoenix," in which the program was described as "a highly secret and unconventional operation that counters VC terror with terror of its own."

In response, ISA's director of East Asian and Pacific affairs, Dennis Doolin, professed that a counterterror program of the kind Phoenix was alleged to be "would subvert and be counter-productive to the basic purpose of pacification in reorienting the allegiance of all the South Vietnamese people toward support of the government of Vietnam." [18] And

rather than acknowledge Contre Coup as official policy -- as legitimate conflict management -- the war managers mounted a congressional "information" campaign. Leading the charge up Capitol Bill was Henry Kissinger, "who," writes Erwin Knoll, "is known to believe the program can play a crucial role in destroying the Vietcong opposition during the period of American military withdrawal from South Vietnam

. Emissaries from Kissinger's White House National Security staff," Knoll says, "have carried encouraging reports on Phoenix to Capital Hill." [19]

As the Senate hearings approached, the battle lines were drawn. On one side were senators who on faith accepted Kissinger's explanation that Phoenix was part of an overall strategy to protect the retreating American army -- hardly something a patriot could fault. [i] These senators used the hearings to praise Phoenix as it was defined by William Colby and his entourage, which included John Vann, then IV Corps DEPCORDS; Clayton McManaway; Hawthorne Mills, the Tuyen Duc Province senior adviser; a district senior adviser; a mobile advisory team adviser; and a member of the Quang Nam Marine combined action platoon.

No Phoenix advisers were invited to testify, so presenting the other side of the argument were several senators armed with newspaper and magazine articles written by established reporters sent to Vietnam specifically to investigate Phoenix. Among the journalists were Robert Kaiser of the Washington Post and Peter Kann from the Wall Street Journal. Portions of their articles portrayed Phoenix as a program employing "assassination" and "counterterror."

One article in particular, "The CIA's Hired Killers," by Georgie Anne Geyer, raised congressional eyebrows. Calling the PRU "the best killers in Vietnam," she compared them to terrorists, with the qualification that "our terror" was different from "their terror" in that "there was no real political organization -- no political ideology -- behind our terror. Their boys did it for faith; our boys did it for money." [20]

Apart from Geyer's failure to recognize the worship of Mammon as religion, her allegation that the CIA hired killers to commit terror cast a dark cloud over the hearings, one that William Colby, despite his initial opposition to the program, was called on to dispel. Colby's testimony earned him the reputation as Phoenix's staunchest defender.

_______________

Notes:

i.

Kissinger meanwhile was plotting the Cambodian invasion for the same purpose.

CHAPTER 22: Hearings

On February 17, 1970, the same day the Senate Foreign Relations Committee began hearing testimony on U.S. government pacification policy in South Vietnam,

Robert Kaiser reported that some people were calling Phoenix "an instrument of mass political murder ... sort of Vietnamese Murder Inc." [1] Coming on top of the Green Beret murder case and reports about the My Lai massacre, sensational reports like Kaiser's formed a disturbing pattern, one suggesting that terror and political repression were official policies of the U.S. government.

The senators wanted to know if that was true. William Colby was willing to put their minds at ease.

Colby's strategy was outlined in State Department Telegram

024391, dated February 17, 1970, which says in part:

"We believe the line of questioning attempting to establish the Phoenix program as an assassination program [can be] successfully blunted by repeated assertions regarding US/GVN policies, coupled with admissions of incidents of abuses." Using this approach, Colby alternately confounded and assuaged his congressional challengers. By saying, "I will not pretend to say that no one has been wrongfully killed there," [2] Colby came across as a decent, honest, fallible human being. He did not admit premeditated murder, but the master of the "art of the possible" did lay a credible foundation for the plausible fictions that followed.

Making his job easier were the absence of witnesses who might contradict his claims, the fact that lurid reports of Phoenix abuses were often derived from secondhand sources and were replete with melodramatic language which detracted from their reliability, and the lack of background information available to the senators -- a blank slate Colby used to his advantage early in the proceedings by introducing a carefully prepared "Statement for the Record on the Phung Hoang Program," which defined Phoenix not as a broad symbol of Contre Coup, but in the context of the CORDS bureaucracy.

Phoenix in this manifestation was merely a block in an organizational chart, a box on a shelf with a warning label listing all its dangerous ingredients, not a concept of counterterror.

Colby defined Phoenix as an internal security program designed to protect "the people" from "Communist terrorism." And

by defining "the people" apart from the VCI, as the object of VCI terror and as voluntarily participating in the program, he established a moral imperative for Phoenix.

Next, he established a legal basis for the program. Phoenix, Colby said, was designed "to single out key personnel for primary attention." The "key people" were guilty of "crimes against national security" and were subject to judicial proceedings in military courts and to "administrative detention under emergency powers" similar to those used in Malaya, Kenya, and the Philippines. He cited the preamble to Ministry of Interior Circular 757, which said,

"Government policy is to completely eliminate the VCI by capturing as many as possible, while the lenient rehabilitation policy aims at releasing as many as possible."

He did not mention that the circular was not understood or properly applied. Nor did he mention the existence of Province Interrogation Centers, or that the CIA asset -- the deputy chief for security -- managed the affairs of the Province Security Committee, or that "mandatory sentencing" was an official policy that meant two years in Tan Hiep, Chi Hoa, Thu Duc, or Con Son Prison. The laws were on the books; did it matter that they were not enforced?

Colby then proceeded to abstract fact from form. Citing Directive 044 of March 1969, he described the PRU as part of the National Police. However, in order to protect an ongoing covert action, he neglected to mention, as Colonel Pappy Grieves explained, that "The PRU were supposed to voluntarily enter the police, province by province, man by man. But none of them ever did." [3]

Meanwhile, in early 1970, National Police Chief Tran Van Hai gave Field Police Chief Nguyen Van Dai oversight of the PRU. "To be a 'Force,'" writes Colonel Dai, "I must accept PRU in the Support Division, which originally consisted of the Field and Marine police forces." But, Dai adds, he only monitored the PRU, while Major Lang actually commanded them under the supervision of Tucker Gougleman. "I did not have any major problems between NPFF and PRU," Dai continues. "Only myself and the American PRU advisers had a misunderstanding, and

the PRU advisers accused me of having 'anti-American' spirit."

[4]

According to Pappy Grieves, the trouble between Dai and Gougleman developed when Dai inspected a company of PRU in I Corps, "and found they were short 400 tons of plastique .... They couldn't account for a number of M-sixteens and pistols either," Grieves revealed. "I said, 'Dai, where did they go?' He said, 'Colonel, there's only one place they could go.'

"This again is the problem of the Company." Grieves sighed. "No accountability out of Saigon."

Or in Washington. As reported at the hearings,

the CIA funded the PRU in 1969 at a cost of more than five million dollars, and, Colby said, "plans are in progress for the transition of the PRU to full GVN funding and support." In 1970 the CIA funded the PRU at an increased cost of more than six million dollars.

Having defined Phoenix as moral, "popular," and legal, Colby took questions from the senators, some of whom used the opportunity to promote themselves. Others tried to get at the truth. For example, Tennessee Senator Albert Gore asked Colby to explain "the difference between the Vietcong terror efforts against the political infrastructure of the Saigon government, on the one hand, and the counter-terror program of the [GVN] against the political infrastructure of their opposition, the NLF." [5]

Dodging the question, Colby said, "There is no longer a counter-terror effort." One had existed a few years earlier, for about "six months to a year," but, he said, he had stopped it because they did "some unfortunate things."

After some verbal jousting, Gore asked Colby, "What were the goals of the Phoenix program when it was, by your terms, a counter-terror program?" [6]

COLBY: "... to capture, rally or kill members of the enemy apparatus."

GORE: "As I understand your answer, the goals are the same. You used identically the same words -- capture, rally or kill. I do not quite get either a distinction or a difference...." [8]

COLBY: "The difference ... was that at the time there were these special groups which were not included in the normal government structure .... Since that time, this has been more and more integrated into the normal government structure, and correspondingly conducted under the government's rules of behavior." [9]

Was it really? In her article "The CIA's Hired Killers," Georgie Anne Geyer tells how "[i]n the absence of an American or South Vietnamese ideology, it was said in the early days, why not borrow the most workable tenets of the enemy's. After all," she quotes Frank Scotton as saying, "they stole the atomic bomb secrets and all from us." And so, Geyer writes, "Scotton and a few other Americans ... started a counter-guerrilla movement in northern Quang Ngai Province .... Terror and assassination were included in their bag of tricks. At one point, USIS printed 50,000 leaflets showing sinister black eyes. These were left on bodies after assassination or even -- 'our terrorists' are playful -- nailed to doors to make people think they were marked for future efforts.

"But," Geyer goes on, "whereas Scotton's original counter-guerrillas were both assassins in the night and goodwill organizers of the people, the PRUs are almost exclusively assassins in the night." Their emphasis "of late," she writes, "has been ... to murder, kidnap, terrorize or otherwise forceably eliminate the civilian leadership of the other side." In one village "a VC tax collector will be assassinated in his bed in the night. In another, wanted posters will be put up for a VC leader, offering a reward to try to persuade his friends to turn him in. The PRU may also drop down from helicopters and terrorize whole villages, in the hope that they will be frightened to deal with the VC in the future." Furthermore, "the PRUs are excellent torturers. ...

Torture has now come to be so indiscriminately used that the VC warn their men to beware of any released prisoner if he has not been tortured."


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