The top counterinsurgency adviser to Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq advocates practicing a “global Phoenix Program,” alluding to the notorious Vietnam-era CIA operation that provoked a worldwide uproar because of the detention, torture and execution of thousands of Vietnamese.
The mainstream media has never reported on the use of the “global Phoenix program” in Iraq, perhaps because the explosive terminology has largely disappeared from the writings and résumé of Lt. Col. David Kilcullen after he first being referred to it in a forty-eight-page strategy paper, “Countering Global Insurgency” published in the obscure Small Wars Journal in September-November 2004.
Kilcullen, an Australian PhD who served for twenty-one years in the Australian army, was the “chief adviser on counterinsurgency operations” to Petraeus in planning the 2007 US troop surge. He also served as chief strategist in the State Department’s counterterrorism office in 2005 and 2006, and has been employed in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa and Southeast Asia.
In the section titled “A Global Phoenix Program” in his 2004 article, Kilcullen describes the Vietnam Phoenix program as “unfairly maligned” and “highly effective.” Dismissing CIA sponsorship and torture allegations as “popular mythology,” Kilcullen calls Phoenix a misunderstood “civilian aid and development program” that was supported by “pacification” operations to disrupt the Vietcong, whose infrastructure ruled vast swaths of rural South Vietnam. A “global Phoenix program,” he wrote, would provide a starting point for dismantling the worldwide jihadist infrastructure today.
Phoenix was far from an “aid and development” program. To achieve deniability, the CIA trained and transferred operational authority to the South Vietnamese national police, who tortured suspects indiscriminately. CIA officer William Colby, founder of the program, told a Congressional committee in 1971 that the Phoenix operation had killed 20,587 Vietcong suspects in two years. An official Pentagon evaluation in 1968 found that “the truncheon and electric shock method of interrogation were in widespread use, with almost all [US] advisors admitting to have witnessed instances of the use of these methods…[and] ‘turned their backs on them.’ ” A Naval Institute historian later found that “the large majority of South Vietnamese interrogators tortured some or all of the communist prisoners in their care” as well as Vietnamese suspected of collaboration with the Vietcong.
According to recently disclosed documents, Colby went to laughable lengths in trying to cover up the real nature of Phoenix. Lloyd Shearer, editor of Parade, wrote Colby in 1972 “wondering if you would care to say flatly that the CIA has never used political assassination in Indo-China or elsewhere and has never induced, employed or suggested to others that such tactics or devices be employed,” adding that he would “tango with Dick Helms in Garfinkel’s largest show window” if proven wrong. The documents I received from the CIA last year include no less than nine drafts of Colby’s reply to Shearer, including handwritten revisions. One top CIA official wrote, “I suggest we let the whole thing drop” on an official routing slip. Another, Angus Thuermer, recommended against saying that Vietcong were killed while resisting police arrest, as follows: “‘resisting police arrest'” will get you, with the press, nothing but snide snicking cracks…. and as we’re really not going to win too much in a short letter anyway, why not skip the ‘occasional abuses’ bit.”