Manuel E. Yepe
AN essay published in Counterpunch bearing
this title describes as surprising the official
acknowledgement that the United States has had a
program of selective assassinations for more than 50
years, drawing more attention now with the
unprecedented use of drones, unpiloted remote-controlled
warplanes, to attack different targets around the
The fact that a list of people to kill exists,
and is approved at the highest level of U.S.
government, has drawn extensive media coverage,
reflecting concern even among powerful sectors.
A Washington Post editorial noted that "No
government has ever relied so extensively on the
secret killing of individuals to advance the
nation’s security goals."
The New York Times described Obama’s role as
"without precedent in presidential history, of
personally overseeing the shadow war…"
Former President James Carter insisted, in a
recent guest column in The New York Times, "We
don’t know how many hundreds of innocent civilians
have been killed in these attacks, each one approved
by the highest authorities in Washington. This would
have been unthinkable in previous times."
The fact is that these long-distance homicides
and selective assassinations with Presidential
approval, have been taking place secretly for at
least 50 years. The only novelty in recent
revelations about hit lists, and the use of drones,
is the openness with which they are discussed.
"Those who are mortified by the latest
revelations of Obama’s hit lists have much to learn
from a more comprehensive, historical perspective on
U.S. killing around the globe," says Doug Noble, a
long-time anti-war activist from Rochester, New
The author summarizes 50 years of massacres,
selective assassinations committed by the U. S. in a
piece including three sections. The first describes
the lethal Phoenix program developed in Vietnam,
which he describes as the original source of
terrorist strategies and tactics used later. The
second part is about the well-known kill lists of
people in Latin America and those less publicized,
targeting individuals on other continents. The third
section addresses the resurrection of the Phoenix
program in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in a
growing number of countries with which the U.S. is
technically not at war.
The Phoenix program was top secret when it was
developed in 1967 by the CIA for use in Vietnam,
intended to "neutralize" the Vietcong’s internal
structure by assassinating South Vietnamese
civilians suspected of supporting Vietcong fighters
in the North.
Although then CIA director William Colby told
Congress in 1971, "Phoenix is not a program of
assassinations," he later admitted that its agents
killed 20,000 people between 1967 and 1972. The My
Lai massacre was just one of the program’s
Noble describes the impact the program had on
Latin America with a wealth of facts, showing how
the U.S. intelligence community adapted Phoenix as
the super-secret Project X. Phoenix methods were
used in Operation Condor to assassinated hundreds of
thousands of Latin American patriots. Organized
crime, in practically all the countries involved,
facilitated the gathering and exchange of
information and collaborated in the repression of
struggles and ideas opposing U.S. hegemony in the
region. During the Carter administration, the
implementation of Project X was halted because of
alleged human rights violations, but quickly revived
Noble writes, "The U.S. drone killing program has
come out of the closet. Those of us protesting U.S.
drones for years have correctly focused on the use
of drones as illegal, immoral and strategically
counterproductive. We have abhorred the
schizophrenic ease of remote killing, the uniquely
frightening horror of a drone strike, and the
unavoidable (even intentional) killing of countless
civilian "terrorist suspects" in "signature strikes."
We have also warned of the proliferation of drones
in countries around the globe and of their
procurement by U.S. police forces and border patrols,
for surveillance and ‘non-lethal’ targeting."
The Phoenix program has gone global, contributing
to the designation of the United States as an