The Phoenix Program (Vietnamese: Chiến dịch Phụng Hoàng, a word related to fenghuang, the Chinese phoenix) was a program designed, coordinated, and executed by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), United States special operations forces, special forces operatives from the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV), and the Republic of Vietnam’s (South Vietnam) security apparatus during the Vietnam War.
The Program was designed to identify and “neutralize” (via infiltration, capture, terrorism, torture, and assassination) the infrastructure of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (NLF or Viet Cong) including its civilian infrastructure. Historian Douglas Valentine states that “Central to Phoenix is the fact that it targeted civilians, not soldiers” The major two components of the program were Provincial Reconnaissance Units (PRUs) and regional interrogation centers. PRUs would kill and capture suspected VC. They would also capture civilians who were thought to have information on VC activities. Many of these civilians were then taken to the interrogation centers where some were tortured in an attempt to gain intelligence on VC activities in the area. Few of the prisoners survived—most of them were tortured to death, and those that survived the torture sessions were generally killed afterwards. The information extracted at the centers was then given to military commanders, who would use it to task the PRU with further capture and assassination missions.