Editors note: The second part of Dori Smith’s and David Morse’s article looks at the similarities between the Vietnam and Iraq Wars. As Part Two transitions to Part Three we start to see the role Congressman Rob Simmons played back in Vietnam and learn more about his current roll in passing the Military Commissions Act of 2006.A few scholars and reporters have contrasted U.S. policy failures in Vietnam and Iraq. Their inevitable conclusion is that U.S. heavy handedness from the rice paddies and villages of Vietnam to the streets of Baghdad and Fallujah, Iraq, drove the civilian populations to resist U.S. occupation forces. In his 2004 article, “Iraq is not Vietnam – it is far worse,” Vietnam historian Gareth Porter warned early on that the Bush administration needed an exit strategy. He said the vast majority of Iraqis had come to oppose the U.S. occupation. “The real situation facing U.S. military operations in Iraq is so grim that only the most wishful thinkers and hardened ideologues could remain optimistic about imposing a U.S. solution on that country.”
Porter’s later articles called for an attempt at negotiations with Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd groups in Iraq, but the White House and Pentagon have demonstrated an intractable resistance to diplomatic logic. Their stubborn devotion to the use of force to gain security, to building bases, and hanging on, has been very similar to what took place through more than 10 years of war in Vietnam.There were other similarities between Iraq and Vietnam to be found within the circumstances on the ground. That same year, Douglas Valentine wrote in Counterpunch, “For those who may have doubts, it is a fact that Phoenix is in Iraq.” Hypothetically, if the CIA took control of the Iraqi police, hired members of the militias, and began handing out hit lists of individuals to be targeted for ambush, arrest, and interrogation, they would have recreated the CIA’s Phoenix Program. Such comparisons were obvious when U.S. soldiers were given playing cards with the names and faces of Baathists they were to target. The media has not covered the CIA’s role in Iraq in very often. But on November 18, 2005, ABC’s Brian Ross and Richard Esposito, reported that torture techniques authorized by top CIA officials led to questionable confessions and the death of a detainee. Their sources for the information were U.S. intelligence officers and supervisors. Comparisons with Phoenix were made once again when independent journalists like Dahr Jamail began reporting from Baghdad in 2003 that U.S. troops were dragging thousands of Iraqis off in the middle of the night. One man named Sadig Zoman featured in Jamail’s reports had been beaten so severely that he remained in a coma. He had cigarette burns all over his body and his head was bashed in. The journalist saw shades of Vietnam when he learned that the U.S. Army Lieutenant who prepared Zoman’s medical report covered up the obvious torture.“There are Army medics in Iraq to this day that are being complicit in torture,” Jamail said in a WHUS interview. The topic of that interview was Rob Simmons’ use of threats to withhold medical care from detainees in Vietnam. Jamail, comparing then to now, said the U.S. Military and medical staff in Iraq were either, “not reporting it like the instance I just cited,” or “literally going in and monitoring it – they do that by going in while someone is being interrogated, i.e., tortured, and say, ‘Well, this person can hold out a little bit longer. You can keep going.’” Dahr Jamail concluded, “That sounds frightfully similar to a particular individual there in this race and as a technique that they used in Vietnam.” Many ordinary civilians were tortured in Vietnam, according Valentine and Porter. And after the Abu Ghraib prison scandal broke in the corporate press it was learned that the Red Cross found between 70 percent and 90 percent of those detained at Abu Ghraib were civilians who were innocent of violent crimes against American troops. During an October interview for WHUS Radio, Porter pointed out, “What we do know is that the South Vietnamese Military or Security Services did commonly carry out torture against, not just high value detainees, not just high ranking officials or military people but against these low ranking civilians including women who were very commonly tortured.” A friend of Porter’s had lived near the Quong Ngai interrogation center in Vietnam. She, “Had occasion to interview a number of women who were tortured by the South Vietnamese Military—and it’s clear that they were tortured with the knowledge, the full knowledge of the CIA officials who ran those interrogation centers—So there’s no question that the CIA was complicit in the use of torture by the South Vietnamese Military across the board in South Vietnam.” The report was consistent with other testimony provided to Congress.On page 85 of The Phoenix Program, Valentine lists some of the tactics used in the centers according to his sources that had been on the scene. They included, “Rape, gang rape, rape using eels, snakes or hard objects, and rape followed by murder;” [tens of thousands died according to the findings of the Church Committee investigating CIA and FBI wrongdoing during the 1970s.]—There was also, “electrical shock,” otherwise known as, “the bell telephone hour, rendered by attaching wires to the genitals or other sensitive parts of the body, like the tongue,” and the “water treatment,” similar to the tactics Vice President Cheney has just condoned in the company of a conservative talk show host.—There was the “airplane,” where Valentine learned, “a prisoner’s arms were tied behind the back and the rope looped over a hook on the ceiling, suspending the prisoner in midair after which he or she was beaten; beatings with rubber hoses and whips; and the use of police dogs to maul prisoners.” Even if Congressman Rob Simmons was not one of those who committed such grotesque acts of torture, he has downplayed them and ignored the responsibilities he and other leaders of the CIA’s interrogation program had to make certain history did not repeat itself in Iraq and other places. The Congressman’s vote for the Military Commissions Act is a step in the wrong direction according to legal expert and political scholar Christopher H. Pyle who served on the Church Committee. Pyle pointed out for WHUS listeners in September that, “Simmons is a member of the Armed Services Committee—voted on behalf of the President’s bill that would essentially repeal or abrogate the Geneva Conventions, [it would]—immunize the CIA, and the President, and the President’s staff, who authorized this abuse and torture in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo.” It had been Pyle’s job to sort through the evidence contained in CIA and FBI computers. He then created encyclopedic volumes to be used in preventing crimes from reoccurring. As to what Simmons was defending Pyle argued: “There was no question that this stuff violates the Geneva Conventions, it violates the War Crimes Act of 1996, it violates the Convention against Torture, it violates domestic criminal law, and the CIA has been deeply involved in that, and there is no way that any rational person who looked at the evidence would say otherwise. He, [Simmons] would give them a license to torture people, and that I think is outrageous,” he said. Click here to go back and read the first part of the series.