The Belated Khmer Rouge Trials

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Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen, himself a former Khmer Rouge soldier, has pressured the court to refrain from instigating additional trials. The unannounced decision not to pursue more cases sparked several resignations among the special tribunal’s legal staff and cast a cloud over the process. A proposed “Case 3” would have targeted Sou Met and Meas Mut, who now serve as generals in Hun Sen’s army. The squashing of these indictments, along with an earlier sentence reduction for the lone Khmer Rouge official convicted of crimes relating to the late-’70s regime, provokes speculation of whether impartial justice is possible for the Communist killers in a country essentially run by their former comrades.

In America, cable news networks that interrupt scheduled programming for live courtroom shots of a hard-partying mother accused of murdering her daughter overlook the sensational trial around the world in Cambodia. And even in Cambodia, the scene of the crimes, much of the populace simply wants to move on. How quickly the unforgettable is forgotten.

The most extraordinary thing about the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia is not that it has convicted exactly one person of crimes against humanity on a budget that approaches $150 million. It is that it operates three-and-a-half decades after Pol Pot’s Year Zero. This is something akin to the Nuremberg Trials being held in the late 1970s. It would have been the trial of the century if only it had been held in the right century. What cliché one favors—“justice delayed is justice denied” or “better late than never”—dictates whether one shouts “farce” or “finally” at the proceedings. Ultimately, there is no moral statute of limitations on murder.

From roaming bands of prepubescent cigar-chomping assassins to the mountains of human skulls, the arresting imagery of Pol Pot’s Cambodia makes our brain doubt our eyes. We are skeptical of not merely the events, but even the possibility of them. But what seems like a bad dream really happened. Killing-fields Cambodia has lent this surreal quality to the belated attempt to mete out justice for its horrors.

Daniel J. Flynn is the author of Blue Collar Intellectuals: When the Enlightened and the Everyman Elevated America, forthcoming this fall from ISI Books. He writes a Monday column for Human Events and blogs at

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  • Chezwick_mac

    Pol Pot is reported to have once said "the Khmer revolution has no precedent in history."

    By all accounts, he was right. While many more souls perished in the Soviet and Communist Chinese revolutions, the rate of deaths per capita was higher in Cambodia.

    Couple this with the uniqueness of the Khmer Rouge's depredations – e.g., the forced evacuation of cities, the wholesale killing of intellectuals – and it's clear that Pol Pot had ambitions for creating a new society that transcended those of even Stalin and Mao. He wanted a completely agrarian society purged of any and all intellectuals, all the while he and his inner circle were well-educated men. Why?

    The answer is clear: To build a NEW man (and woman) who was totally subservient and malleable. I'm sure one could write a dissertation on the ideological basis for Pol Pot's bizarre machinations, but I happen to feel that in the final analysis, it was raw power that motivated his policies.

    Turning his country into a giant, rural concentration camp did nothing to advance Cambodia economically or culturally, but it insured the totality and perpetuity of Pol Pot's power, and by killing off the intellectuals, he was precluding a) the contamination of meeker minds and b) the future rise of potential rivals. He was a monster who ranks among the most horrific in human history.

    • tarleton

      IT was the religious impulse in a secular form , looking for perfection and trying to build heaven upon earth…the perfect is the enemy of the good
      Or as Eric Hoeffer would say ''beware the true believer in religion or secular politics ''

      The Khemer Rouge has their origins in the radical leftist politics of the French Revolution

      • Chezwick_mac

        If so, it was Pol Pot's role as secular "G-d" that he found most compelling and motivational. This is the only way to truly explain the hyper-expanded boundaries of destruction that he wrought.

        • johnnywoods

          Hey Chez, you may be correct in your assessment of Pol Pot to a point but I suspect that in the end he actually was a murderous little punk like Che who finally saw an opportunity to act out his fantasies of power with no one to reign him in. So many died while a stupid little "beast" acted out his demonic, childish dreams of power and control.

      • Pathena

        I believe that it had its origins in particular from Jean Paul Sartre. Pol Pot and his gang were educated (?) in Paris

        • Martel64

          Yes, Paul Johnson's great book "Intellectuals" says that, in his chapter on Jean-Paul Sartre

    • tarleton

      Furthermore , the utopian Leftist regimes that spring from the French Revolutionry tradition are all an unconcious parady of the attempted religious perfection of earlier times with their holy book , holy symbols, prophets, orders of warrior monks and even a martin luther -like reformer…robespierre , lenin, gorbachev and pol pot

    • trickyblain

      Spot on, Chez. Pound for pound, maybe the most nightmarish regime the world has ever seen.

  • StephenD

    When Pol Pots attempt to make farmers out of city dwellers produced nothing but famine he shrugged his shoulders. To him, the (sought after) end of having a self-sufficient proletariat was worth all the lives lost getting to it. “The Ends Justify the Means” mentality is all it takes to propagate such atrocities as "The Killing Fields." How many steps from such actions are our homegrown “Progressives” that believe the Ends are justified by any means?

  • Spider

    This atrocity was directly facilitated by our very own 1960s era traitors who now comprise the modern American left. People like Jane Fonda Tom Hayden, John Kerry, George McGovern and the like turned our country against a completely winnable war to stop the com-munist expansion in the region. The resulting takeover of Vietnam led directly to the Pol-Pot regime and these unbelievable atrocities. These people all have the blood of millions of Cambodians on their hands and have never taken responsibility for their actions.

    • trickyblain

      Not really.

      The unified Vietnamese army invaded Cambodia and stopped Pot's reign and genocide. This would probably been impossible if they were still contending with American bombings along the border. The US was in no position to expand into Cambodia, so results may well have been much worse had we not withdrawn.

      Was Vietnam a "winnable" war? Dunno. I have yet to see a viable strategy on how (outside of nuking the entire population). It's like Afghanistan on steroids and many times the population, also one hell of a lot more places to hide from air surveillance and ground patrols.

  • DogWithoutSlippers

    Read John DelVecchio's For The Sake of All Living Things. He describes the historial facts with a story line that will stun the reader. There are parts that you have read over, again, and again!

  • Ghostwriter

    Don't forget,there are a significant number of Cambodians who survived the Khmer Rouge and their children who now live in America. I wonder how they feel about this?

    • Whitehunter

      Excellent point. A very good friend of mine is one of those survivors. He saw two of his cousins marched off and shot by the Khmer Rouge, their bodies bulldozed into a trench already filled with many others. He crawled through the corpse-strewn killing fields at night and eventually made it here, to America, proudly fulfilling all of the requirements for becoming a U.S. citizen. He loves America, and hates communists and communism, far more than any current Democrat in Congress, and certainly much more than our current crop of brainwashed, Obammunist American college students. He's a better, more loyal citizen than most of us who were born here–exactly the kind of legal immigrant we could use more of but, unfortunately, seldom see these days.

      • StephenD

        I too know a man who had to crawl through the killing fields. He relates how he survived on eating rats among other things to finally make his way to America. He eventually made it, got educated, raised a family who also studied hard and ASSIMILATED into the American fabric. I for one welcome such folks and am grateful I didn't have to go through what they did. I point to him as an example of how America welcomes immigrants; we just want them to be legal.

        • WLIL

          How do we know who meet the criteria to be good immigrants or not. Or the fact that some are just pretending to be "good" immigrants while they unscrupulously enrich themselves or religiously send money back to their inhumane country of origin, even though their country of origin had treated them badly in the first place?

          • StephenD

            You put quotation marks around the word good. Where did I mention good immigrants? I did refer to LEGAL immigrants and those that ASSIMILATE. You see, the difference I was pointing to is, we are against ILLEGAL immigrants (open borders) and also against those (even legal) immigrants that refuse to assimilate (Islamists). I'm sorry for any confusion.

          • WLIL

            I understand what you are tryring to say, but I think you are naive in praising only legal immigrants that may cause more bad economic and bad political effect for america, even they don't profess to have such a horrible ideology as islamists immigrants, I am not surprise that these types of immigrants are not enriching america but only making America more vulnerable. Praising one group over another whose culture may not be any better than those islamics is just pointless. It is better to discourage all types of immigrants.

  • WLIL

    Cambodia is just another inhumane country from the East. As usual, there were almost never any sympathy from cambodians for any foreigners who tried to help cambodia. I think it is disgusting for cambodians to make use of their plight or socalled plight to exploit the generosity of foreigners.I think it is time resource rich country such as cambodia use their own resources to help themselves in a civilised way.

  • UCSPanther

    Pol Pot in my mind, is probably one of the most savage dictators ever to stalk the earth. I have heard of no other dictator who went to the horrific lengths as this madman did (Though some, such as Hitler and Mao came quite close) to create an unattainable utopia, and in his quest, created hell on earth for his unfortunate subjects.

  • mrbean

    Noam Chompsky in his endorsment of Pol Pott and the Khmer Rouge and Nguyễn Sinh Cung and also known as Nguyễn Ái Quốc aka Hồ Chí Minh for their war atrocities, The Americans were in South Vietnam from 1964 to 1973 and there were more civilians killed after 1975 in the killing fields of Cambodia (1.6 million) and in the purges and in the rededucation camps of South Vietnam by the NVA Communists (1.5 to 1.75 million) than in the 9+ years the Americans were there. Read up on the Hue massacre of the intellectuals ordered by Uncle Ho.

  • Ann

    To the shame of these humans, may justice be served up cold!

  • Hank Rearden

    Will Noam Chomsky be testifying for the defense?

  • WLIL

    It is weird why some prominent educated cambodian woman choose to blame America , after her beloved cambodians and their many privileged cambodians were given refuge and aid by America.

  • WilliamJamesWard

    Liberals, leftists, communists, muslims, the mafia are all quiet on these events
    of the Pol Pot attrocities but do not doubt that they applaud quietly the murderous
    fiend and are kindred spirits. The greatest criticism coming from the left is that
    so much slave labor was wasted. Who is to blame, the American Communist
    and leftist groups in the American Congress who defunded the South Vietnam
    government and loosed the murder and mayhem. American leftists were complicit
    and were as good as holding the smashing clubs splattering the Cambodian
    brains and holding the whips that beat. All the American left including the
    RHINO'S of the era are to blame and it will out on Judgement Day……the
    day Democrats pay for their depravity and treason…… …………………William

  • William Repke

    The place has nice bones. The window changed to french doors on the fire escape will look great. Good luck on the changes.