Historical Dictionary



The Vietnamese intelligence and public security forces used torture during the Indochina War. In the north, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam’s (DRV) use of torture got out of hand during the H122 affair in 1948, when the party suspected the French of having planted a mole in the army’s General Staff. In southern Vietnam, torture became a real problem in 1949 when it was learned or feared that French-backed “reactionary” nationalist party spies had penetrated the Public Security Services. Again, officials turned to torture and heavy-handed interrogations to ferret out these suspected moles.

From the evidence currently available, it appears unlikely that the Vietnamese intelligence services used physical torture systematically, fearful of its negative impact on their popular base. However, there is no denying that it existed; communist sources confirm it. The problem, at least at the beginning, is that it often spun out of control when paranoia and hysteria quickly got the best of the security officials. Indeed, the excessive use of torture seems to have done serious damage on several occasions, resulting in the deaths of dozens if not hundreds of innocent people in the north and south. The situation got so bad that in 1951 the Public Security Service issued a regulation banning the use of physical violence in interrogations for fear of its possible manipulation by the enemy, alienation of local Vietnamese support, and danger to the legitimacy of the party’s cause. The DRV’s physical torture was mainly directed against Vietnamese, not French prisoners. Recently the Vietnamese Communist Party has acknowledged that torture was used against Vietnamese based on class. This occurred during the land reform begun in upper Vietnam from 1953. See also CIVIL WAR; EXECUTION; HÉRAULT MASSACRE; INDOCTRINATION; LANGUAGE OF WAR; PROSELYTIZING THE ENEMY; RECTIFICATION; VIETNAMESE NATIONALIST PARTY.