In May of 1959 the Government of the Republic of Vietnam passed an
anti-terrorism law known as Law 10/59. With America still several
years away from heavy involvement in the Vietnam war, the RVN needed a
law to combat a
wave of sabotage and general destruction of property sweeping South
now in the grip of war with the Communist north. The 10/59 law was
very similar to the U.S. "patriot" act of 2001and the various related
Executive Orders and Pentagon policies enacted shortly after the 9/11
Vietnam Law 10/59 re-categorized a number of criminal acts such as
destruction of property, sedition and arson as terrorist acts
punishable by death or lengthy prison sentences. Association with such
persons was also considered a crime under the act. Law 10/59, it was
said, was to be used as
a weapon against North Vietnamese and Viet Cong terrorists and
Naturally, it wasn't long before Law 10/59 was being employed against any
enemy, real or imagined, of the corrupt and draconian Ngo Dinh Diem
regime. Flagrant abuse of the law on the flimsiest of pretexts ran rampant
throughout the Diem and subsequent eras.
The centerpiece of the legislation was the establishment of
"Exceptional Military Tribunals" used to try and convict suspects
under military law. The tribunals consisted of several military
officers along with a provincial chief from the area where the
tribunal was to be held, or one of his representatives. The accused
had no right of appeal to a civilian court though he was granted the
right of representation by a lawyer, a detail that
is lacking in the current American policy.
If any of this sounds familiar it may be due to the fact that the man
who was largely responsible for writing the patriot act is an
immigrant from South Vietnam. His name is Viet D. Dinh, Assistant
Attorney General in the U.S. Justice Department. Dinh was born in
South Vietnam in 1968 and emigrated to the United States in 1978. He
is a graduate of the Harvard Law School and has served as an assistant
to Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor
among many achievements. Dihn is a brilliant lawyer who specialized in
constitutional law as an academic. One has to wonder if Viet D. Dinh did
perhaps borrow at least a little from the infamous Vietnam Law 10/59 for
in America's anti terrorist legislation. Though virtually unknown to the
average westerner, Law 10/59 is still a very vivid and painful memory to
many Vietnamese. It is virtually impossible that a man of Dinh's education
and background could not be aware of it's former existence.
If Dinh did, in fact, use Vietnam Law 10/59, much maligned and for
good reason, as a sort of framework to construct the U.S. patriot act,
it does not bode well for the future of a free society in America.
Given the abuses of the past, the question must be asked; is history
repeating itself yet again? It has already been demonstrated by many
journalists and civil rights
activists that elements of the U.S. patriot act are already being used in
cases that have no connection to terrorism whatsoever such as tax evasion
and racketeering. In Vietnam, abuse of Law 10/59 by the various regimes to
target Vietnamese citizens with no connection to terrorism of any kind is
Shortly after the passing of the Patriot act in late 2001it was noted
my many civil rights activists and others that the act of blocking
traffic during a protest, could under the patriot act, be considered a
terrorist act. Curiously, Law 10/59 dealt with that very issue.
Article 2, section 2
stated: "Holding up traffic on road or water by means of terrorizing or
threatening with arms or any other means." was a crime punishable by life
imprisonment. Those civil rights activists may have actually been closer
the truth than any of us know.
A special thanks to the men and women of the Patriot Action discussion
for their help in researching this story. Assistant Attorney General Dinh
was contacted by e-mail and given an opportunity to comment. Mr. Dinh...
not respond/his comments are reproduced below.