CIA torture modeled from The Vietnam War

The CIA’s Torture report has quickly left the nightly news and Sunday talk shows.

tortureContinuing my read of the full report I was somewhat intrigued the CIA enhanced interrogation techniques were sourced from the North Vietnamese in a war fought over 40 years ago.

Have our intelligence teams not evaluated more recent torture programs from the former Soviet Union, East Germany or Chile?

With the revelations of the NSA high tech spying from Edward Snowden its somewhat surprising that more efficient forms of intelligence gathering were not deployed against Al Qaeda in order to capture high level leaders.

Abu Zubaydah’s capture and subsequent torture by the CIA is a key focus on the early CIA Torture report. It appears that most of the intelligence gained from Abu Zubaydah was a result of standard interrogation techniques, not the enhanced torture that serves has a source for the Senate’s report:

In May 2003, a senior CIA interrogator would tell personnel from the CIA’s Office of Inspector General that SWIGERT and DUNBAR’s SERE school model was based on resisting North Vietnamese “physical torture” and was designed to extract “confessions for propaganda purposes” from U.S. airmen “who possessed little actionable intelligence.” The CIA, he believed “need[ed] a different working model for interrogating terrorists where confessions are not the ultimate goal” 139

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
Committee Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program
Exec Summary Background and History Part I and II – Page 33

While this page serves as merely a sidenote to history, seemingly forever linking our military actions to Vietnam, there are more concerns regarding the actions taken by the CIA, The White House and the FBI in regards to withholding informaiton on the torture program from our elected leaders.

CIA torture report: The role of enhanced interrogation methods

Enhanced interrogation is simply today’s political spin to a torture technique used for over 500 years. Waterboarding as a method of torture dates back to Spain in the 1500s. The Senate’s declassified report regarding the role of the CIA’s use of torture in the war on terror after 9/11 has been a most revealing so far. I wonder if the full report will ever be declassified. Maybe to further strengthen our democracy it should take less than the 40 year wait for the Pentagon Papers.


In today’s instant twitter-world of “news” the world has learned of CIA techniques as abhorrent as rectal rehydration and a technique — so innocent at first glance — prolonged standing until you realize how this form of torture, as written by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago is hideous to a human under interrogation.

Torture is simply inhumane. I am respectful of US Senator John McCain’s address on the floor of the Senate indicating his view that the CIA’s torture was wrong. The US can be better by not torturing prisoners. Proven, established interrogation methods (not torture) firmly established provide information needed in the war on terror. Senator McCain himself was tortured as an American POW during the Vietnam War. He speaks from a point of view that most Americans cannot fully understand. I applaud his service to our country during the War in Vietnam and more importantly his personal survival as a tortured prisoner of war. As outlined in the Pentagon Papers the US military used waterboarding in Vietnam.

In just reading the Senate’s executive overview the most chilling issue is that the CIA specifically withheld their acknowledgement of torture to the President. The second most important, but seemingly forgotten is the destruction of videotapes by the CIA of prisoners under torture. Clearly the CIA learned from Nixon’s Watergate.

I am beginning to feel again, after reading the Pentagon Papers that our democracy and leader of nations in today’s complex world has taken a temporary step backward.

Battle of Ong Thanh anniversary

Today marks the 47th anniversary of the Battle of Ong Thanh. This battle was a tremendous loss for American troops, ambushed forty miles northwest of Saigon during Operation Shenandoah II.

october 17
Ong Thanh Battle date 1967

On this weekend in 1967 the battle in Vietnam and a student protest turned riot in Madison resulted in a turning point for the State of Wisconsin. While affluent students were protesting Dow Chemical at Bascom Hill, blue collar boys from the south side of Milwaukee were dying in battle.

The soldiers including Danny Sikorski, Jack Schroder and football All American Don Holleder served under the command of Terry Allen Jr. on this fateful day.

In Madison Paul Soglin, (the city’s current Mayor) led student protests that turned violent. After this battle 64 Americans were dead. Even today this is a shocking number of American losses in a small battle. The Tet Offensive began less than 90 days later.

It was in David Maraniss’ award winning book They Marched Into Sunlight the Sikorski family in Milwaukee would receive ~$740 from the Army to bury their son Danny. He was one of the first Black Lyons killed in Bravo Company. Yet at the same time The Pentagon Papers reveal the Michelin Corporation secured a reimbursement agreement from the U.S. Government for ~$700 per tree destroyed in combat on their rubber plantations in Vietnam.

The Army’s report on the battle of Ong Thanh remained classified for almost four years until released in 1971.

Moyar on Neil Sheehan and David Halberstam

triumph forsakenMark Moyar really opens up on journalists Neil Sheehan and David Halberstam in Chapter 7: Attack July-December 1962.

Moyar is attempting to mislead with broad, inaccurate generalizations as if Sheehan and Halberstam fell off the turnip truck and landed on a Smith corona typewriter south of Saigon.

Both Sheehan and Halberstam won Pulitzer Prizes for their Vietnam war coverage. Moyar’s most outrageous statement is that Halberstam “did more harm to the interests of the United States than any other journalist in American history.

Really? Even more than Sheehan or Dan Ellsberg publishing the Pentagon Papers in the New York Times?

But Moyar’s attacking statements on all journalists regardless of political view really misses the mark:

Representing the United Press International was a twenty-five-year-old named Neil Sheehan, who arrived in Saigon in April. Having just entered the profession of journalism, he was the youngest and most inexperienced reporter in a country full of young and inexperienced reporters.

Upon graduation from Harvard where he was editor of the campus literary magazine Harvard Advocate Neal Sheehan joined the Army serving from 1959-1962 in Korea, and Japan editing a weekly Army newspaper called The Bayonet. During this timeframe in Japan Sheehan also moonlighted in Tokyo for UPI. Upon his discharge he landed in Vietnam as UPI’s Saigon bureau chief.  It fair to say Sheehan understood Asia and the US Military operating in Southeast Asia. But here Moyar over reaches:

David Halberstam, who like Sheehan hailed from the Northeast and was a recent Harvard graduate. Halberstam was twenty-eight when he came to Vietnam. Before he left, fifteen months later, he would do more harm to the interests of the United States than any other journalist in American history.

Moyar’s neocon gloves come right off with his last statement. His position that Halberstam was a recent graduate also misses the mark.  Halberstam was the managing editor for the Harvard Crimson. In 1955 he turned down offers from big newspapers to cover Civil Rights and race issues in Mississippi. He left after just ten months when his editor did not want him focusing on those topics in a small town paper. He continued to cover the civil rights movement at The Tennessean in Nashville beginning in 1956.

In 1960 Halberstam was hired by the New York Times. After covering the Kennedy inauguration for six months in Washington D.C. he was assigned to the Congo to cover the war against Belgian colonialism. Then he was assigned to Vietnam when Diem kicked out the standing New York Times reporter.  Halberstam well understood struggles with colonialism.

Triumph Forsaken

Academic debates regarding revisionist history continues to rage across university lecture halls. Yet traditional (orthodox in those academic circles) views on Vietnam were challenged by revisionists including Mark Moyar’s Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965.

triumph forsaken

America’s historical views of Vietnam are actually unique since the war’s bible The Pentagon Papers remained classified for just over forty years.

Moyar published Triumph Forsaken in 2006 and created academic controversy for over five years before the National Archives released the full 7,200 plus pages from the Department of Defense which also focus on Moyar’s timeframe.

Have just found my way last night into chapter three of Moyar’s book. Memories of actually reading the entire Pentagon Papers and the frustrations revealed has caused my eyebrows to be raised….just a bit. Moyar has been portrayed as attacking American journalists who were on the ground in Vietnam.

Moyar’s focus on Ho and Diem in this timeframe are core to his view on America’s early fatal flaws in the war. Time will tell as I continue to read, research and compare notes in the Pentagon Papers.  Moyar may be correct in his assumptions and points of view regarding these two leaders in Vietnam’s civil war.

Also on my bookshelf sits another revisionist view of Vietnam A Better War written by Lewis Sorley.  I will attempt to fully measure Moyar and Sorley against The Pentagon Papers and Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam which won the Pulitzer Prize in History in 2013.

50th anniversary: Diem assassination

This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of the US-backed assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem, President of South Vietnam. He was America’s handpicked leader to the stillborn democracy in Saigon.

Ngo Dinh Diem assassination

This anniversary marks the beginning of a long reflection over America’s involvement in the Vietnam war. The coup d’état and murder of Diem and his brother Nhu deepened America’s already long standing commitment to a war against the communist north.

Spearheading the upcoming anniversary will certainly be the Pentagon Papers from the US National Archives. Declassified and released for the first time in history these papers now allow permit further insight surrounding the US involvement in Southeast Asia following World War II.

Coupled with the slow release of books, classified documents and interviews with combatants from all sides we now understand our mistakes in Vietnam. Documents reveal a splinter within the Kennedy White House.

The direction for the coup was driven by Henry Cabot Lodge and McGeorge Bundy, not by President Kennedy. Lodge and Bundy made critical decisions without Kennedy’s knowledge or involvement.  A military aid acting only on the orders of Lodge was in contact with the military leaders who drove Diem from Saigon.  It is now known Lodge’s aid also gave $40,000 to the military as payment for the coup. Kennedy was assassinated just three weeks later.

Photo history: Vietnam the real war

Vietnam The Real WarAfter reading the Pentagon Papers and a number of critically acclaimed books about the war I am somewhat haunted at this new book.

For the first time, The Associated Press reviewed its 25,000+ photos of the war and reprinted a select 250 in “Vietnam: The Real War

This photograph takes me back to a college history class on the Vietnam war taught by Dr. Charles DeBenedetti. His style and passion for teaching is something that I have never forgotten.  To this day I can still see him at the front of class on the fifth floor of University Hall lecturing us on this tragic war.

Latest read: A Vietnam War Reader

While spending almost two years reading the Pentagon Papers I found a number of credible resources that pointed to this college textbook as an excellent overview of our long war, A Vietnam War Reader: A Documentary History from American and Vietnamese Perspectives.

A Vietnam War Reader

This book is written by Michael H. Hunt, emeritus professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Hunt has also written “Lyndon Johnson’s War: America’s Cold War Crusade in Vietnam, 1945-1968” and “Arc of Empire: America’s Wars in Asia from the Philippines to Vietnam.”

Hunt’s book presented in chronological order our long conflict throughout Indo-China. The perspectives from are from leaders in the US, South Vietnam and communist North Vietnam. Wars have been traditionally told from the perspective of the winner, its a somewhat awkward view to read the perspectives of noted NVA military and communist party leaders.  Lessons certainly sting.  And they should indeed sting our national conscious.

Hunt provides a full perspective to the war. The most noted was the last chapter “Outcomes and Verdicts” that include the famous confrontation between Robert McNamara and Vo Nguyen Giap and Nguyen Co Thach in 1995.

The focus of French colonialism opens the book stretching back to 1861 and the coming rise of independence and revolution against French colonial rule throughout Indo-China. Hunt appears to have leveraged the resources also presented in the Pentagon Papers to tell an accurate story of our 30 year war in Vietnam.

The Pentagon Papers: US-Vietnam Relations 1945-1967

In the summer of 2011 the National Archives released the Pentagon Papers. The 47-volume report officially titled “United States-Vietnam Relations 1945-1967” was an amazing research effort led by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.
Pentagon PapersSomewhat fittingly today (Memorial Day 2013) I have finished the final volume.

This has been a rather involved “process” to say the least. At times the reports left me frustrated, curious, shocked, empathetic and even enraged. All 47 volumes remain freely available to download in Adobe Acrobat format and total 7,919 pages. This top secret report forever changed America’s view of this long and tragic war.

Robert McNamara appointed a TaskForce of select military, RAND staff members and academic researchers to write the report. Those who contributed included Daniel Ellsberg who would later leak the Papers to Neil Sheehan at the New York Times.

The US conflict in Vietnam, America’s longest war spanned over 30 years. A full generation of soldiers dedicated to our country, democracy and freedom served, fought and died throughout French Indo-China. I am deeply moved by those brave men who gave their lives in battle.
Continue reading “The Pentagon Papers: US-Vietnam Relations 1945-1967”

Roosevelt and Stalin discussed a French-free IndoChina

Many of the secret documents in the Pentagon Papers reveal America’s role Asian politics before entering World War II. Its interesting to see Roosevelt and Stalin discussed a French-free IndoChina at the Tehran Conference.

Pentagon Papers
The Pentagon Papers Volume 33 Part V-B1 reveals a series secret documents regarding a steady stream of communications between World War II allies leading up to the Tehran Conference in early December 1943 where Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt met to plan a second European front against Hitler’s Germany.

I think its important to view the timeline regarding French aims regarding a postwar IndoChina. The memorandum below was between Stalin and Roosevelt at Tehran as the Allies were planning D-Day.

Can the irony be any stronger for French demand’s that American support reclaiming their lost colonies while the war in Europe was still raging on just the eastern front?

Continue reading “Roosevelt and Stalin discussed a French-free IndoChina”

US supported French territories after WWII

The Pentagon Papers Part V-B1 reveals a series of secret documents written during World War II regarding French demands the US supported French territories after the war.

President Roosevelt did not want France to reclaim IndoChina but had to capitulate to de Gaulle’s demands in Europe against Soviet Russia. Today its amusing de Gaulle threatened France would fall under communist influence after the war.

Pentagon PapersAfter both Roosevelt and Truman administrations, President Eisenhower found himself lending support to another French request regarding their colonial empire in IndoChina when France asked the United States to drop 3 atomic bombs at Dien Bien Phu on the tenth day of the month long siege.

Its surprising to see Eisenhower actually kept this request on the table, indicating his serious support for dropping multiple atomic bombs on a single battlefield.  Only until the British ambassador objected to the outcome of such an action did Eisenhower refuse. Was the US destined to be drawn to Vietnam only to support the France’s desire to restart it’s aging empire?

United States Position With Respect to French Territory After the War

During the past three years there have been a number of public pronouncements, as well as unpublished statements, by the President, the Secretary of State, and other high ranking officials of this Government regarding the future of French territory after the war, The most important of these pronouncements and statements are set forth below,

1. In a statement issued on August 2, 1941, concerning the agreement entered into between the French and Japanese Governments regarding French Indochina, the Secretary of State said:

“This Government, mindful of its traditional friendship for France, has deeply sympathized with the desire of the French people to maintain their territories and to preserve them intact. In Its relations with the French Government at Vichy and with the local French authorities in French territories, the United States will be governed by the manifest effectiveness with which those authorities endeavor to protect these territories from domination and control by those powers which are seeking to extend their rule by force and conquest, or by the threat thereof.”
(Department of State Press Release No. 374)

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