Ex-Khmer Rouge Leader Admits No Guilt on Third Day of Landmark War Trial
Khieu Samphan Extraordinary Chambers of the Court of Cambodia
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.
Samphan, animated and reading from a written statement, complained “Why should I be prosecuted 30 years later, relying on newspapers, anonymous witnesses, and books written by journalists?”, referring to the prosecutions reliance on unnamed witnesses and books in their earlier statements.
The former head of state said allegations of his retreat to the forest after the coming-to-power of the Lon Nol regime were a “fairy tale” and that the “majority of Cambodian people gave their support to us for our opposition against the Lon Nol regime.”
The defendant called for popular former King Sihanouk to join him in court, pointing out that Sihanouk was head of the Khmer Rouge state presidium for a year before Samphan took the job – a point later used by defense lawyers as proof that Samphan had little real power in the ensuing regime.
Samphan also appealed to patriotism, claiming that he “loved the Cambodian people more than anything else.” He refused to use the word “invasion” when referring to the April 17, 1975, Khmer Rouge taking and subsequent (and deadly) evacuation of Phnom Penh, instead referring to it as a “liberation” 36 years after the fact.
He also had this to say to allegations of forced marriages: “I imagine with a country to run, its leaders had other things to do than check if people were having sex.”
Ultimately, Samphan hoped the trial would prove that, although he was a former Khmer Rouge leader, it was possible to prove that he had “no part in the decision making process” – allegations that will be fiercely countered in the long, long trial to come.
“In 36 years, a man grows and changes” he told the court, apparently disregarding the odd 2.2 million Cambodians denied the opportunity to do so.
Samphan’s defense team, meanwhile, launched into an argument focusing on the anarchy and violence of the war as the real reason behind the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, pointing the blame at the US carpet bombing for creating the desperate conditions that gave rise to a brutal government regime.
The defense called for concrete numbers of the deaths caused by the Khmer Rouge – numbers unavailable due to the chaotic nature of the era – and argued the number of deaths was greatly inflated by poor records-keeping and people’s escape to Vietnam or Thailand. “Genocide does not only involve killing,” said national-co defense lawyer Kong Sam Onn, in a somewhat eery statement. “Not every killing is a crime. Not every killing is a murder. Not every murder is a genocide.”
Samphan was also defended by French lawyer Jacques Verges who compared the prosecution’s accounts to an “Alexandre Dumas” novel, and reminded the court of the casualties caused by US bombings and Agent Orange along the Ho Chi Minh trail.
Verges finally evoked up the ghost of Talleyrand, Napoleon’s secretary, in reference to the co-prosecution: “Everything that is excessive is vain. Everything you said was excessive, and it is therefore vain for this tribunal to take it into account.”
A noted defense lawyer, Verges has previously defended Venezuelan terrorist Carlos the Jackal, Nazi officer Klaus Barbie.
It seems these three aging Khmer Rouge leaders, who lived freely for 30-odd years after (essentially undoubtedly)committing some of the most heinous crimes of the modern era are still blaming outside parties for their own mistakes.
Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary, and Nuon Chea are behaving as they did during the Democratic Kampuchea era, when the CIA, the USA, the KGB, the Vietnamese and other outsiders were ultimately responsible for every death, mistake, and misstep that occurred—but never the Khmer Rouge leaders themselves.
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