Buddhism and the Khmer Rouge – Nuon Chea’s Curious Theology

I am not a Buddhist scholar, but I have some grasp on the religion and the precepts of it. It does not flow into you naturally just because you live in Cambodia, but I know this much from a college Buddhism course and the Zen books my semi-observant grandfather gave me. Buddhism involves: the destruction of the ego, the avoidance of materalism, the import of meditation and self-introspection.

1. Life is suffering;
2. Suffering is due to attachment;
3. Attachment can be overcome;
4. There is a path for accomplishing this.

On Dec 13, Khmer Rouge”Brother Number Two” Nuon Chea was questioned by the French judge Lavergne about his own definition of Buddhism – more specifically, Mr Chea’s own definition of the word “compassion.”

“When you use the word compassion,” Lavergne asked, “Should people understand that it has a religious connotation for you, that it refers in some way to Buddhist religion?”

“It is also related to Buddhist religion,” Chea said. With that admission, a theological discourse of sorts began on the beige and overly-air conditioned floor of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal Hall (and there were monks present in the audience, because there always are).

And in that discourse, Nuon Chea presented the Khmer Rouge as not just a socialist experiment, but a Buddhist experiment, with as much to owe to Southeast Asia’s dominant spirtuaity as to Lenin and Stalin ad Mao.

Victory breeds hatred
The defeated live in pain,
Happily the peaceful live,
Giving up victory and defeat

“I had the compassion for the people as an individual,” Chea said, “and not from the point of view of a revolutionist, because I did not yet join the Revolution at that time.”

Lavergne tried to catch him out, noting that “Cambodians are Buddhists, even if they join the Communist Party, they respect Buddhist principles. Can you tell me what those principles were? Rejecting violence? Respect for human life?”

Undeterred, Chea noted that materialism was the enemy of both Buddhism and the Khmer Rouge. “My personal view is that revolution is based on notions of materialism in Buddhism,” he said.

“In revolution, the notion of dialectical materialism is similar to that in Buddhist religion…people are educated to feel compassion for one another, to help one another.”

As for violence, and compassion for human life? “However, in revolution…if confronted with arms, we will respond appropriately.”

The question was staged by Judge Lavergne primarily in terms of violence – IE, Buddhists adherence to non-violence was flouted often and always by the Khmer Rouge. But to Nuon Chea, it seems, the warrior-Buddhist mentality was more key.

Buddhism does provide for fighting, in the context of a “righteous” king maintaining a standing army. In the ‘chakkavatti- sihanada sutta’ (The Lion’s Roar on the Turning of Wheel), the Buddha tells one such righteous king that it is part of his obligation as a leader to protect his people from enemies – and a righteous king, in Buddhist belief, would use such an army defensively, and with great thought.

The Buddha refers to “soldiers” and “armies” often in the metaphorical sense, comparing a good monk to a good soldier.

But key to our discussion of the Khmer Rouge and Buddhism is the notion that an army, if it exists, should protect the people – not devour them from the inside out, as Khmer Rouge forces did.

Chea noted that Khmer Rouge notions of morality were “pure” and similar to those of the Buddhist notion of a “righteous king,” pointing out that his revolution “restrained from using power of authority to be womanizers, or heavy drinkers, or relying much on money.”

(Forced marriages and rape are apparantly not to be included in this equation).

So could the warfare and violence of the Khmer Rouge co-exist with Buddhism, to Nuon Chea?

Absolutely, according to the Khmer Rouge #2 himself.

“The two approaches could co-exist, based on my personal view,” he told the court.

“It is not identical in every aspect [the Khmer Rouge revolution]” Chea admitted, as close an admission of certain flaws of his socialist revolution as we are likely to get.

“The revolution means to use physical labor to build the country, to make it progressive…the religion, on the other hand, relies on compassion and sympathy. If there is no use of labor in revolution to build the country and forces, it wouldn’t get results.”

As for armed struggle? “I do not deny there was an armed struggle, but armed struggle was not the basic struggle we adopted,” said Chea. “It was the political struggle we chose as our principle.”

Chea also pointed out that “meditation is a form of self re-building, so that our mind is clean and pure. In the revolution, we had to get rid of self-ego.”

The Khmer Rouge were intent on keeping people silent and “pure” – a perverse interpretation of Buddhist precepts.

“If there is self-ego, there is individualism,” Chea mused to the court. “If there is individualism, there is privatism. If there is privatism, there are conflicts.”

Buddhists must get rid of self-interest – and the Khmer Rouge were pretty intent on it, too. Unless you were a well-connected and well-fed party cadre with a good class background and no party enemies. (Considering most of the dead at Tuol Sleng prison were culled from the ranks of party cadres, the favor of the Khmer Rouge was a short lived and amorphous thing).

To work, Nuon Chea seemed to indicate, was a form of meditation, of “practice.”  To work until you dropped, as was often the case in the Khmer Rouge era, was then too a form of meditation.

Buddhist ascetics deprive themselves in the name of faith, and here, the only difference was that the people were forced at the point of a gun into an ascetism they had not wanted, or requested – but an asceticism that they would be given anyway.

“For daily living in Buddhism,” Nuon Chea said, “we relied on our intelligence, our meditation. In the revolution, we tried to work hard, we tried to focus on our work. That is also a form of meditation.”

Lavergne referenced the swift and brutal evacuation of Phnom Penh in his questioning of Nuon Chea. According to Chea, this famously sweeping action was taken for what roughly comes down to three reasons: humanitarian, strategic, and philosophical.

“There were incidents, riots, as many people were unemployed, there were many beggers – soldiers not recieve their salary. And Lon Nol could not control the situation,” said Chea of 1975 Phnom Penh. In his view, Phnom Penh had to be evacuated to “cleanse” and control it.

Then, there was the strategic matter of Lon Nol’s soldiers. “Lon Nol soldiers…womanizers, gamblers, heavy drinkers – what should be done with them? It would be difficult,” Chea said, in reference to allowing these soldiers to stay in the city.

The vast majority of Lon Nol’s former soldiers were ferreted out and killed during the Khmer Rouge days – but in the eyes of the Khmer Rouge, there was no point in attempting to “reform” them.

Finally, there was the philosophical concept that the “base” people, or rural village-dwellers, were inherently superior to “unclean” city people.  “If you compare our livelihood there {in the country} with people living in PP, and there were about 3 million of them, we were better,” Chea told the court.

“We lived in cooperatives, we had one another.” Phnom Penh was evacuated to “prevent a temporary loss of alliance of the people.”

But the haste of the evacuation – where the population of a major capital city was herded into the country at gunpoint, young, old, and sick alike – is now just-about universally considered a shockingly cruel act on the part of the Khmer Rouge.

As Francois Ponchaud notes in “Cambodia: Year Zero” : “Here, one can look in vain for the slightest trace of that oriental wisdom with its great respect for time….The good of the people was not the goal for the evacuation of Phnom Penh: its aim was to prove a theory that had been worked out in the abstract without the slightest regard for human factors.”

As for those Cambodians who died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979?

“Communism only eliminates those people who destroy the country, who could not be educated,” Chea claimed, adding that such “bad people” would be repeatedly reminded of their infractions before some sort of final solution was reached.

But Chea danced around out-right saying that executions took place, implying that people “could be sent to authorities or court to decide” – without admitting, what, exactly, would be decided.

Was the Khmer Rouge, then, some perverse extension of some basic Buddhist precepts?

This is perhaps too extreme a conclusion to make from the evasive testimony of an old man—but then again, Nuon Chea, as “Brother Number Two,” had considerable power over the ideology and intention of the Khmer Rouge.

The future proceedings of the Khmer Rouge War Tribunal, flawed as it is, may provide more insight into the theological feelings of the Khmer Rouge top brass—and to some extent, the underpinnings of one of the cruelest periods in human history.

Nuon Chea and Implausible Deniability: Back to the War Tribunal

Witness Long Norin was too sick to testify today, which meant that former Khmer Rouge second-in-command Nuon Chea was brought into the dock to answer judge’s questions. I am not sure why he has shed his former uniform of a mugger’s ski cap and shades. Perhaps he feels a need to look more credible.

The usually verbose Chea was in fine form today – and as usual, denied all culpability for his actions, blaming the Vietnamese for the majority of the mistakes made by the Khmer Rouge.

Judge Cartwright began the questioning by hashing out if the Khmer Rouge “strategic and tactical lines,” or general policy, were in fact established at the first Party Assembly, held in September of 1960.

To this Chea responded that he and his political brethren believed “the true nature of Cambodian society is half colonel and half feudalism…Therefore, the task of the revolution of Democratic Kampuchea at that time was to eliminate the remnant of the half-colonalism, half-fuedalism.”

Some serious debate exists over whether agrarian pre-KR Cambodian even had many people equivalent to the land-owning and evil “feudalists” Chinese communists railed against.

According to Nuon Chea, the “political and armed struggle” of the Khmer Rouge only began in 1968, and was preceded by a “democratic” revolution, focused primarily on eradicating the rich and powerful.

He also claimed the early Khmer Rouge army, called the Secret Defense Unit, was used only to protect cadres and not to other aims – and that the only weapons they possessed were sticks. (He appeared to forget himself and admitted they also had knives and axes later).

“The Secret Defense Unit did not have a duty to kill or smash…. In case of neccesity – when a cadre is attacked or detained – this defense unit must protect the cadre at their best ability,” Nuon Chea told the court.

Nuon Chea did not appear to outright contest Cartwright’s statement that Khmer Rouge guerilla forces first struck the enemy at a small village near Battambang on Jan 17th, 1968 – but added the “Lon Nol Army attacked the village, and beheaded people….the Lon Nol barbarous clique…were so barbarous they acted at their own pleasure in killing people.”

Nuon Chea also denied that he gave the orders to stage the attack, claiming he was living in Samlot, and that he would have done a better job of it if he HAD ordered it. According to Chea, soon after this first attack, “volunteer villagers” took to the woods with weapons seized from the enemy.

“Wherever they resided,they would plant pumpkin seeds and they would pick the pumpkins to feed themselves…That was all they needed to be self reliant,” Chea said, in a somewhat bizarre riff on the old Johnny Appleseed trope.

According to Chea, the fully-fledged Revolutionary Army of Kampucha began “functioning” on the 12th of March, 1968 – although the 17th and 18th of January were celebrated during the KR era as the anniversary of the founding of the “Revolutionary Army.” Chea claimed he could not “remember” the dates.

Chea also worked around any allegations of Vietnamese funding or support, claiming the “revolutionary base” supported him when it came to food and clothing, often giving him salt to subsist on. As for ordinary soldiers, they contributed a single riel to the army each month – and survived on plants and animals found in the forest, as well as contributions from their families.

If you believe the entire Khmer Rouge army subsisted for years on forest-forage and the largesse of others, I have this awesome bridge in London to sell you.

As for Vietnamese arms, Chea insisted that although China did donate arms to the Khmer Rouge, Vietnam – who was responsible for transporting them -would take 1/3 of the weapons. “They made excuses – they had a confusion, or there were irregularities. That was the trick of Vietnam.”

According to Chea, Vietnam wanted to keep arms away from Cambodia because “they didn’t want us to be independent, they wanted to dominate us.”

Court attendees walk down the stairs during a break.

Chea than argued that Vietnam should be grateful to Cambodia for its assistance during the war years, instead of the other way around. “Vietnam should pay gratitude to Cambodia because they (Vietnamese soldiers) sought refuge here,” he said, referring to “50,00 soldiers stationed along the border.”

Again, he appealed to Cambodia’s youth: “I want to make this clear: who our enemies are,and who our friends are. And this is going to be useful for the younger generation. And who is indebted to whom.”

In perhaps Chea’s most ridiculous statement of the day, he claimed: “Vietnamese would bring children with them, and they would creep and crawl behind them. Once we could seize the weapons, the Vietnamese toddlers would pull the leg of the Cambodian armies,so they could not seize the weapons.”

Gotta watch out for those nefarious Vietnamese four year olds.

Cartwright moved on to discuss the forced evacuation of Phnom Penh, where thousands died in a mass exodus, after being lied to and told the Americans intended on bombing the city. According to Nuon Chea, the decision to evacuate the city-dwellers first was under debate in 1973 – and a lot of it had to do (again) with Vietnam.

“If Vietnam gained their victory before us (in Saigon) they would then come to control Cambodia,” Chea said. “If Vietnam liberated before us, they would deploy their soldiers under the guise of assisting us in Phnom Penh, and than control us.” The whole thing took on the aura of a perverse race-to-the-finish.

Other reasons for this mass exodus? According to Chea, conditions in Phnom Penh were so bad – and apparently, so good in the already liberated countryside – that everybody would really be much better off that way. “There were incidents, riots, many people were unemployed, there were many beggars – soldiers did not receive their salary. And Lon Nol could not control the situation.”

After referring rather disturbingly to Lon Nol soldiers as “womanizers, players, heavy drinkers” – and we know what happened to Lon Nol soldiers found out by the Khmer Rouge – he once again referred to the sanctity of the countryside.

“We were in the countryside and we did not have an abundance of food or materials,” Chea said. “However, if you compare our livelihood there with people living in Phnom Penh, and there were about 3 million of them, we were better…we lived in cooperatives. We had one another.”

The ECCC courtroom.

As for allegations of poor treatment of “new” people, Chea outright discounted them. “People in Phnom Penh did not engage in hard labor,” he said. “When they went to cooperatives, they shared food, they transformed, those not able to do hard work to become laborers…these newly evacuated peole could not of course do as much work as local people, as they did not do it in the past…so they were only tasked to do moderate work.” He emphasized “new” people were allowed to have three meals a day “and dessert once a week.”

He blamed “bad elements” in cooperatives for the starvation and deprivation that would follow the evacuation, claiming some cooperatives” destroyed utensils, they destroyed spoons..so there was a shortage of cutlery.” (I can think of more perverse things to do, really).

Chea also claimed that whenever he or other high-level cadres went to see a work site, they were only shown healthy people and fed well. “So there were like tricks and trickery employed in certain cooperatives, mixed elements, bad elements,” he said.

“It was not easy for us at this time,” Chea admitted. “And then we were accused of killing millions of people. But in fact, who actually killed millions of people? The Democratic Party of Kampuchea sacrificed everything for the party and the people, so people would have sufficient food to eat.”

“Of course…I don’t blame everything on the Vietnamese,” he added. Just most things.

More tomorrow on the curious “Buddhism” of the Khmer Rouge, from the mouth of Nuon Chea.

Nothing Happened At the War Tribunal Today, If You Were Wondering

I did not attend the War Tribunal today due to both a pounding headache and a vague feeling that nothing interesting was going to happen – my usual tuk-tuk carpoolers agreed.

As it turns out, history vindicates me: according to the War Tribunal Monitor, “reluctant witness” Long Norin begged off for the day for health issues.

To the ire of the press, spectators, and lawyers in attendance, Nuon Chea did not take his place – although he was present in the courtroom.

Norin’s use of the Khmer “ah” or “the contemptible” has spawned a bit of a debate. Tell me, Khmer speakers: can “ah” be used in a friendly way? I agree with Nate Thayer’s take that context is key here – using “ah” in a party biography is much different than using it on a football pitch – but is “ah” something buddies would use with one another? That was Norin’s argument, anyway.

Monday is a Khmer holiday – Cambodia has MANY HOLIDAYS – so I’ll be back at the court Tuesday.



KR Witness Denies Everything, in Shocking Development

Long Norin, today’s witness at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, suffered a lamentable amount of memory loss when it came to recalling his formerly close association with former Democratic Kampuchea Minister of Foreign Affairs Ieng Sary. Thankfully, journalist Nate Thayer has been kind enough to jog his memory.

The 73-year-old Norin, whose testimony began Wednesday afternoon, began this morning with the rather reluctant identification of a party biography Ieng Sary forced him to write, during his tenure at the Democratic Kampuchea foreign ministry.

Ieng Sary at the ECCC.

This long party bio, prepared because Sary had accused Norin of being “CIA” (along with, it seems, the entire DK Ministry of Foreign Affairs staff) – a favorite accusation of the Khmer Rouge.

These forced “biographies” often ran into the hundreds of pages. Writing such a biography was a careful exercise in admission and deception, telling just enough about one’s life and percieved mistakes to satiate the paranoia of the Khmer Rouge, while leaving out facts that might actually implicate the writer as an “enemy.”

Norin was one of the few whose biography seemed to pass muster with the top brass.

Unfortunately, just about everyone the witness mentioned in his biography, as the co-prosecution pointed out, was tortured and killed at the S-21 or “Tuol Sleng” prison – a fact Norin at least pretended to be unaware of.

Norin in his biography fingered his former schoolmate and “soccer buddy” Tach Chea as being “CIA,” referring to him as “the contemptible Tach Chea” in the text—though Norin attempted to convince the court that the Khmer “a” (translated as ‘contemptible’) was merely a term of endearment for an old friend.

I know I call my buddies “the contemptible” all the time, so I think he’s probably telling the truth.

Norin told the court “I knew Tach Chea was a CIA agent, because had contacts with embassies that have tendancies towards CIA agents” – in other words, the West.

Long Norin via video-link in court today.

How did Norin know this? Mr Chea apparantly acquired a film from a Western embassy to show the other students at the pedagogical college the two men attended.

Damning evidence indeed. Wonder what the movie was about.

Tach Chea, as the co-prosecution noted, was taken hostage by students and shot in 1974, along with the at-the-time education minister.

Tach Chea’s wife and four children were imprisoned and killed in the S-21 torture prison during or shortly after the forced evacuation of Phnom Penh – a fact Mr Norin was also unaware of, or simply didn’t care all that much about.

Norin’s biography, as read to the court, mirrored most party biographies:

“During my study, my life contacts were deeply dark. I was in contact with people who betrayed the country, or traitors. In addition, my living was not very clean. I used money to better myself. My sexual morality was not very clean. Thanks to the Angkha, I have embarked on the right way. I have built up myself with the instructions of Angkha.”

When asked why the Khmer Rouge was so concerned with sexual morality, Norin, as became typical, vacillated wildly.

ECCC Courtroom.

The co-prosecutor than asked Norin about his time working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs during the Khmer Rouge era—and about what happened to those staffers implicated by Sary or other top brass being “CIA or KGB.”

“Nothing noticeable happened,” Norin claimed.

A mere half hour or so later, he quickly went back on this statement, admitting that people did have a way of disappearing from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for no immediately apparant reason.

“When the staff disappeared, initially, I knew they went to study,” Mr Norin said. “But then I realized no, they were not going to study, but they were arrested instead.”

Mr Norin alleged that he was told these unfortunates had gone off to study in socialist countries – but these vanished staffers were instead shipped off to torture prisons. It was an impunity that Norin, finally, admitted to fearing:

Initially, I thought to myself that those who went to study in socialist countries might be spared, but later, even those who went to socialist countries were arrested. Those who went to France were also arrested. (Relevant as Mr Norin received a college degree…in France)

As was just about ubiqutious in Khmer Rouge Cambodia, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs soon denigrated into paranoia and fear:

“After staff began to disappear, staff began to talk around those people, and they talked about them going to study. Everyone got fearful when we talked about “going to study” (after staff began to disappear.)”

The co-prosecutor than moved into a description of Norin’s relationship with Mr Sary after the 1979 fall of the Khmer Rouge. Although Norin heartily denied even speaking with Mr Sary after that date to the court, reality tells a different tale, as amply proven by Nate Thayer.

Thayer’s post shows Norin was in fact Sary’s chief spokesman after his 1997 split with the Khmer Rouge – amply documented by photographs, interviews, and English-language documents written on the stationary of the Democratic National United Movement, helmed by Mr Sary himself.

Norin, for his part, only admitted to being ‘secretary general” of the DNUM in 1994- although he denied that the party “ever had any meetings.”

Questioning regarding how, exactly, he became secretary general of a party helmed by a man he hadn’t spoken to since 1994 went un-answered.

According to Thayer, Norin also functioned as a primary voice of Sary’s DNUM radio station – a gift from current prime minister Hun Sen. This broadcast went out in 1996, read in Norin’s voice, on behalf of Sary:

“The war criminals are nobody else but Pol Pot and his handful of henchmen: Nuon Chea…who are the mass murderers of the people of Cambodia, committing until now enormous crimes against mankind. As such, they are sentenced to death.” (Everybody sentenced everybody else to death in the fallout of the Khmer Rouge leadership, it seems).

“The witness seems a bit reluctant to testify,” the co-prosecutor mused today, near the end of the morning session with Mr Norin.

Yes, he rather does, doesn’t he?

One wonders why Norin 1. bothered to testify at all, judging from the extremely close relationship he shared with Sary, as identicated by Mr Thayer’s post and 2. why he recanted many earlier statements he made to court co-investigators in 2007.

Did Sary’s still-powerful family come and rough him up? Did he decide he still had a soft squashy place in his heart for Sary after all?

An Old Farmer And the Khmer Rouge: A Civil Party at the Tribunal

Police cadets attending the ECCC Tuesday.

Another day, another live-tweeting session at the Khmer Rouge tribunals. The press room is violently air-conditioned and I am the only journalist willing to eat the “weird” Vietnamese sandwiches. Oh, yes, right, the court proceedings….

Nuon Chea has continued to beg off the dock, claiming health issues, which means that today featured one civil party and one witness. I took off after lunch – Clair Duffy was awesome enough to cover the afternoon Twitter shift.

The civil party who spoke in the morning session, a supposedly illiterate, old, and senile Ratanakiri farmer called Romam Yun delivered a startlingly eloquent account of the Khmer Rouge years, frequently using agriculture analogies to describe his experiences.

The  70-year-old Mr Yun, a member of a minority group, had moved from village to commune chief in the Khmer Rouge Northeastern zone, through some combination of coercion and initial belief in the ideology of Cambodia’s people’s revolution.

“I will not say my work with the Khmer Rouge was right or wrong, but the political line was not proper, not right,” Yun began, launching into a description of how everyone in his village was gathered to work, including the elderly and the very young.

“We were treated like pigs they could sell at any moment,” he said. “They [the Khmer Rouge] were like our parents – they were supposed to treat us well. Instead they treated us badly, they imprisoned us.”

Mr Yun recalled being summoned to a meeting and told that his “village was to be swept clean.”

Confused—his village had no grass—he asked what exactly was meant by “swept clean.”

“Sweeping cleans means getting rid of those who are not good, and leaving only the good,” he was told.

We all know what “sweeping clean” came to mean to the Khmer Rouge.

Romam Yun Wednesday describing the "Pol Pot" years

“If the village and commune were clean, there were no enemies. On the other hand, if they were not clean, there were enemies in there,” he said.

Employed as a messenger, Mr Yun said he occasionally would deliver messages to a mysterious figure in the jungle, known only as “One.” Presumably this was Saloth Sar, alias Pol Pot.

Mr Yun impressed upon the court how much was at stake when it came to “good” work under the supposed people’s revolution. “When we could not do our work properly, we were accused of being enemies,” he said.

“If we could do it, we would be spared. Otherwise, we would be killed, because we were accused of being against the revolution,” Yun said. “The village was very quiet. It was understood that if they said anything wrong, they would be accused of being against the revolution.”

What happened to the villagers who couldn’t do their jobs?

“Sometimes they were taken out into the forest. They might have been killed in the forest, because they [the Khmer Rouge leaders] were mad we could not meet the plan… They would execute people if they did anything wrong, or went against the Angkha, and then they would be subject to execution.”

Yun also described the breakdown of the village social structure: “We did not know who was who..it was confusing. People did not know their own parents and siblings. A son would beat his father.”

According to Yun, forced marriages did not seem to be common in his village, but formal marriages as we think of them became a thing of the past. “People didn’t get married,” he said. “When people loved one another, they just lived together as partners without marriage, during Pol Pot time.”

Interestingly, Yun’s Ratanakiri village, populated by minority groups with their own religious beliefs, did not seem to suffer the same violent repression Theravada Buddhism did: “No one asked us to do anything with religious affairs..communities managed our own affairs when it came to religions.”

(The fidgeting feet of saffron clad monks could be seen behind him as he said this. Monks are a fixture at the Tribunal).

Over and over in his account, this old farmer likened the Khmer Rouge years to a bad crop, a bad tree, a bad planting season.

“When I first joined the revolution, we cultivated crops, and the plants were grown very well, and yields grew some. But it was fruitless. By analogy, the policy of that [the Khmer Rouge] was very good but it did not yield any good thing for people…by analogy, the tree trunk is very good, but it bears no fruit.”

“In the present day, we have good seeds. The seeds are growing well for the next generation. But at that time, educated people were killed. So we did not have anything.”

Another Tuesday at the War Tribunal, Nate Thayer on Landmines Being Kind of OK

Monks at the War Tribunal. Despite murdering thousands of them, Khmer Rouge defendents cite how much they like monks as much as humanly possible in the courtroom.

Live-tweeting the Khmer Rouge War Tribunal for the past few days and will probably continue until Thursday. Saying it’s been “fun” veers into the realm of the vastly inappropriate, but it has been informative.

I can easily summarize Nuon Chea’s opinion on his involvement in the genocide years thusly: It Was All Those Vietnamese Douchebags Fault.

This is all extra ironic because the Vietnamese party secretary is in Phnom Penh for something or another, and Vietnamese flags have been carefully erected in seemingly every possible spot in the city. And here Nuon Chea sits in the dock at the ECCC, spitting out anti-Vietnamese sentiment in an effort to appeal to popular opinion.

Everyone knows Cambodia is profoundly mistrustful of both Vietnam and Thailand of course, but Nuon Chea’s timing was….unfortunate. Than again, I doubt that he reads the news.

Nuon Chea, however, is willing to give the Vietnamese a pass when it comes to occupying Cambodian territory in one instance. See, Ieng Sary and Pol Pot hid in Vietnam after the government began seeking out known leftists.

But according to Nuon Chea, they weren’t hiding in Vietnam at all – they were hiding on Cambodian soil that had been occupied by the Vietnamese due to “American carpet bombing.” Handy excuse.

I suppose it’s all the American’s fault, after all.

Khieu Samphan, I imagine, heartily agrees.

As does Jacques Verges, who defended Carlos the Jackal and Klaus Barbie, among other luminaries. (I suspect Verges agrees with whoever is giving him a paycheck – and is probably a bit bummed that Samphan doesn’t seem to have a hot revolutionary girlfriend for him to steal).

Why Landmines Should Not Be Banned – Nate Thayer

Nate Thayer writes out a rather interesting argument for keeping landmines in the international war chest. Not sure if I agree, but points vis a vis “regulating legal stuff is easier” and “landmines are excellent deterrents” do make sense.

Noam Chomsky: The Khmer Rouge Were Actually Pretty OK, Guys

Chomsky: Khmer Rouge? Shmer rouge!

Khmer Rouge Apologist Noam Chomsky: Unrepentant

Journalist Nate Thayer conducts a rousing take-down of linguist Noam Chomsky’s astoundingly long-standing denial of Khmer Rouge atrocities. Chomsky, as of 2011, still refuses to join the leftist Khmer Rouge apologists of the 1970’s in taking back his earlier works.

No, he still believe the Khmer Rouge atrocities were a mass fabrication, and he still believes that a vast media – and refugee? – conspiracy came together to unfairly demonize the Khmer Rouge. Also, it’s all America’s fault. Someone get this guy on Nuon Chea’s defense team.

I have not bothered to read any of Chomsky’s work previously, and judging from Thayer’s description of his opinions, I doubt I will do so in the future. (Maybe for sheer comedy value, or if I am in the mood to feel extremely angry, and sometimes, I am.

What I find most repellant about Chomsky’s stance is his belief that the accounts of refugees – which most journalists writing on the Khmer Rouge have heavily replied upon – are intrinisically untrustworthy.

This is because refugees, presumably addled, desperate, and “unusually” opposed to the ruling regime will tell Western reporters whatever they want to hear to demonize their “enemies” and perhaps secure some measure of fame or safety for themselves.

For someone who purports to be an enemy of imperalism and an advocate for the third world, this is the absolute worst kind of patronizing twaddle. I imagine there are thousands of Khmer Rouge survivors out there who would beg to argue differently. (But perhaps they are just biased and addled too).

And as Thayer points out: if thousands upon thousands of Cambodian refugees have somehow managed to orchestrate a collective lie about the extent of Khmer Rouge atrocities—well, that massive lie would surely register as humanity’s most impressive conspiracy to date.

But, no, Chomsky holds strong in the face of overwhelming evidence:

“I am very pleased that there has been such a hysterical reaction to these writings. They’ve been analyzed with a fine tooth comb to try to find some error, and to my knowledge, the end result is that not even a misplaced comma has been found.

True, a lot of errors have been found in fabricated material attributed to me, but that’s a sign of the desperation of the apologists for state violence. If you know of an exception, I’d appreciate it if you’d inform me. I haven’t yet seen one.”

Yes, Noam. You are smarter, a better source, and a more reliable arbiter of justice than the entire Cambodian people. I am truly sorry I ever doubted you.


Ex-Khmer Rouge Leader Admits No Guilt on Third Day of Landmark Trial – Faster Times

Khieu Samphan (Photo from ECCC website)

The third day of the opening salvo of the Khmer Rouge War Tribunal in Cambodia saw Khieu Samphan, former Khmer Rouge head of state and leader of the state presidium, tell the court with great vehemence that he was not guilty for the war-crimes—that allegedly caused the deaths of 2.2 million—that the co-prosecution had heaped him with Monday and Tuesday. A full account of yesterday’s proceedings may be read here.

Samphan’s denial of culpability appears to be following in the dubious foot-steps of his co-defendants, former “Brother Number Two” Nuon Chea and former foreign foreign minister Ieng Sary, who have both passionately denied any culpability in the events of 35 years ago. Although Ieng Sary’s ill health and unwillingness to testify before the court prevented him from reading more than a paragraph of his own statement of innocence, Nuon Chea’s Tuesday rant against his supposed enemies bore considerable resemblance to Samphan’s Wednesday performance.

Read more at The Faster Times…

Angelina on “Danger Trip” to Cambodia: Maybe Cambodia Needs a New PR Campaign

In the Daily Mail’s continuing quest to say stupid things to an equally stupid readership, mega-celebrity Angelina Jolie’s jaunt to Cambodia with son Maddox is called a “danger trip,” that will take the duo  “through a remote area littered with landmines and known for its civil unrest in the days of the notorious Khmer Rouge.”

Right. Known for its unrest thirty-six years ago.

Thankfully, Jolie hired a couple of armed guards to protect them from the deadly cattle, low-income villagers, water buffalo and underpaid traffic police they will doubtless encounter on their perilous journey.

The Daily Mail apparently doesn’t know that the real dangers of the Cambodian countryside – lousy driving and food poisoning – aren’t preventable by heavily armed men with automatic weapons. (Shame, really).

We also hope that poor little Maddox is not scarred for life by 1. seeing a guy carrying a gun and 2. going back to the humble village of his birth.

It’s stupid articles like this that force me to explain to people back home that the Khmer Rouge are no longer whisking people away in the night.

I am met with looks of baffled incredulity when I say that Phnom Penh is exponentially safer than New Orleans, and that I’d take a darkened Cambodian alley over its NOLA or Oakland equivalent any day.

In the eyes of a healthy majority of the Western population, Cambodia has apparently been stuck in time since the Khmer Rouge era, and a vacation there is just-about asking for enslavement in a work camp, a bullet to the head, or at least a solid roughing up by very angry men in black jammies.

Of course, this beats the Americans who ask me with great interest what it’s like living in Africa.

Also, let’s recall that Cambodia’s biggest news story of the year – the worst flooding in ten years, but than again, you probably haven’t heard about that – has been just about  ignored by the mainstream media. But Angelina Jolie’s every movement in Cambodia? Stop the presses!

I don’t really have anything against Angelina, other than that the media outside Cambodia pays attention to her – and only her – whenever she conducts a charity trip here. Cambodia only serves as a conveniently dramatic background to whatever Ms Megacelebrity is doing at the time.

Perhaps Angie should contemplate carrying out a nice PR campaign for Cambodia alongside her other charitable work, so people in the West will stop running stupid stories like the Mail’s.

Taking out ads for Cambodia emphasizing how safe and nice it is and how you can buy all kinds of attractive and reasonably priced souvenirs would be a start.

Perhaps something like this: