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ProSense Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed May-16-07 09:56 PM
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History Repeating Itself: Kerry-Brokered Cambodia Tribunal Set To Begin
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Edited on Wed May-16-07 10:02 PM by ProSense

History Repeating Itself: Kerry-Brokered Cambodia Tribunal Set To Begin

In early May Time Magazine published its " Most Influential People in the World, The Time 100."

Among those featured was Youk Chhang, who is director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia and a survivor of that countrys darkest period: the genocide during the reign of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Nearly two million people were killed and buried in areas that became known as the Killing Fields. The Khmer Rouges reign of terror is in the news again as the Cambodian tribunal is set to begin.

Time included the following essay about Youk Chhang written by Senator John Kerry, who brokered the U.N.'s Cambodian-genocide tribunal.

"Cambodia is like broken glass," says Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia. "Without justice, we cannot put the pieces together." Putting the pieces together is the mission of the man who made himself the keeper of Cambodia's darkest memories.

Standing up to powerful forces that feared reopening the past, Chhang has documented the three years, eight months and 20 days of cruelty that claimed the lives of 1.7 million Cambodians under Pol Pot's genocidal Khmer Rouge. Six hundred thousand pages of documents, maps of 20,000 mass graves and 4,000 transcribed interviews with former Khmer Rouge soldiers are testimony to Chhang's conviction that there is no future without making peace with the past. They will provide the evidence at a long-delayed tribunal on the genocide, which it is hoped will finally start this year.

Confronting painful history is never easy. But for Chhang, 46, it is personal. Under Pol Pot, his sister was accused of stealing rice. A soldier slashed open her stomach to prove her guilt. Her stomach was empty. She died a slow and horrible death. This is one of the unspeakable acts that have gone not only unpunished but unexplained.

The tribunal will allow the world to hear the architects of these crimes speak about why they inflicted such suffering. In pain revisited, there will be a chance for a nation's healing?and in Youk Chhang, a hero confronting the past's villains.


Senator Kerry entered the negotiations at a time when there were concerns about the countrys corrupt legal system, the talks were on the verge of collapse and a judicial power struggle over who would lead the trial was ongoing. Senator Kerry stepped in to offer a compromise, establishing a framework for the tribunal, known as The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC):

In 1997, at the suggestion of the U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary General to Cambodia, Thomas Hammarberg, the co-Prime Ministers of Cambodia requested assistance from the U.N. in establishing a tribunal. David Scheffer went to Cambodia to design a proposal acceptable to the Cambodian government. The U.N. appointed a Commission of Experts which in 1999 recommended establishment of an international tribunal outside Cambodia.

Years of negotiations followed. The U.N. Office of Legal Affairs tried to impose a U.N.- run tribunal. Cambodia insisted that the tribunal be majority Cambodian, under Cambodian law. At the suggestion of U.S. Senator John Kerry, who went to Cambodia, agreement was reached in 2001 on a mixed tribunal with a Cambodian majority, but requiring super-majority agreement by international judges for all decisions. Administration would be shared by Cambodian and U.N. officials, prosecutors, and investigating judges. The maximum penalty would be life in prison. The Cambodian National Assembly passed a law to establish the tribunal on those terms.


The agreement Kerry brokered was a significant breakthrough:

57 The proposal was delivered by Senator John Kerry at a meeting between Kofi Annan and Hun Sen during a summit of developing nations in Cuba in April 2000, and came to be known as the "Kerry proposal." Cambodian Television, Apr. 17, 2000; Cambodia Lauds Fresh US Proposal to Break Khmer Rouge Trial Deadlock, Associated Foreign Press, Phnom Penh, Apr. 17, 2000; Hun Sen Accepts UN Proposal on Trial: US Senator, Kyodo, Phnom Penh, Apr. 29, 2000.


Here are highlights of Senator Kerrys efforts:


April Meeting between Senator John Kerry and Samdech Prime Minister, in which were laid down the principles of a national court with participation by foreign judges.


April A further meeting was held and letters exchanged between Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Secretary-General in Havana, Cuba, but the outstanding issue was not resolved, so the Prime Minister met again with Senator John Kerry, who then returned for another visit to Phnom Penh. This all led to another compromise concerning what to do in case of differences between the co-prosecutors and co-investigating judges.

May The Prime Minister and the Secretary-General Kofi Annan exchanged letters confirming the latest compromise reached through John Kerry.

November Senator John Kerry made a final visit to seek confirmation of the government's position regarding the Draft Law, urging the government to move ahead soon with the debate in the National Assembly.

(More information is available from the Cambodian Genocide Program at Yale University.)

Disputes about fees kept the trials from moving forward for years. That sticking point was finally resolved in April 2007, almost nine months after the judges were sworn in, when the Cambodian Bar Association reduced the registration fee for foreign lawyer to $500 (from a high of $4,900) satisfying the ECCC international judges. Almost 30 years after the Khmer Rouges reign of terror, those involved in the will finally be brought to justice. One of the former Cambodian leaders is already dropping names, including Henry Kissingers, which leads to the other disturbing aspect of the Cambodian Genocide: the U.S. governments role in facilitating it.

Whats even more disturbing than the Nixon-era catastrophe in Cambodia is that under George Bush, the U.S. finds itself in a similar predicament. Rhetoric similar to that used by Nixon to escalate bombing Cambodia is being advanced by the Bush administration to justify escalating the Iraq war.

In an April 2006 speech, John Kerry stated:

I understand fully that Iraq is not Vietnam, and the war on terrorism is not the Cold War. But in one very crucial respect, we are in the same place now as we were thirty five years ago. When I testified in 1971, I spoke out not just against the war itself, but the blindness and cynicism of political leaders who were sending brave young Americans to be killed or maimed for a mission the leaders themselves no longer believed in.

The War in Vietnam and the War in Iraq are now converging in too many tragic respects.

As in Vietnam, we engaged militarily in Iraq based on official deception.

As in Vietnam, we went into Iraq ostensibly to fight a larger global war under the misperception that the particular theater was just a sideshow, but we soon learned that the particular aspects of the place where we fought mattered more than anything else.

And as in Vietnam, we have stayed and fought and died even though it is time for us to go.


In 1970, Nixon, similar to Bush, saw the law as irrelevant. He was the Commander Guy of his day, proclaiming that he was protecting American troops by defying the U.S. Congress.

Vietnam, similar to Iraq, was an exercise in U.S. aggression, imperialism, deception and callousness.

... the President had assumed the power to wage war, not only without Congressional approval, but in the face of express disapproval of the majority. Since it was clear to the Democrats that the votes to override another veto did not exist, such a compromise was made. When the President publicly agreed to respect a deadline of August 15, and not to increase the intensity of the bombing in the interim, the Congress gave him another month and a half to bomb Cambodia and to produce the cease-fire that he and Kissinger claimed was within grasp. The paradox was clear. Senator J. William Fulbright remarked, "I don't think it is legal or constitutional. But whether it is right or not, he has done it. He has the power to do it because under our system there is not an easy way to stop him." That was an accurate political assessment but it did not satisfy all of his colleagues. Senator Thomas Eagleton of Missouri complained that bombing was "not an issue that yields to compromise. Congress cannot sanction an unconstitutional and illegal endeavor for 'just a little while.' There is no way of just being a little bit unconstitutional or just a little bit illegal." Senator Edward Kennedy called it an "infamous" agreement, totally careless of Cambodian lives... Neither the United States nor its friends nor those who are caught helplessly in its embrace are well served when its leaders act, as Nixon and Kissinger acted, without care. Cambodia was not a mistake; it was a crime.


With growing opposition to his Indochina policy, Nixons bunker mentality set in. On December 9, 1970, he called Henry Kissinger, his national-security adviser, and demanded that US Air Force "go in there and crack the hell out of them."

Within minutes, Kissinger relayed the order General Alexander Haig: "He wants a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. He doesnt want to hear anything. Its an order, its to be done. Anything that flies, on anything that moves. You got that?"

Cambodia was descending into civil war, and Nixon believed he could bomb his way to success in the region, propping up the countrys pro-Western government. The primary characters in Cambodias civil war were Lon Nol, who served as the countrys prime minister two times, and Norodom Sihanouk, who after being abdicated as king in 1963 engaged in a long power struggle with Nol.

An Ahmed Chalabi type, Sihanouk manipulated all the major players, China and the United States, while advocating neutrality. In 1965, he made a secret deal with China and North Vietnam allowing the permanent bases to be established in eastern Cambodia and military supplies from China into Vietnam via Cambodian ports. He followed that in 1968 with another secret deal, this time allowing Americans to Bomb eastern Cambodia.

Sihanouks dealings alienated Cambodians. In 1970, Nol succeeded in an effort to depose Sihanouk and assume control of the government.

Sihanouk went into exile in Beijing, where he continued efforts to overthrow the Nols government, primarily through support for the Khmer Rouge in their struggle to in Phnom Penh.

When superpowers get bogged down in another countrys civil war, it is a sure formula for disaster. Cambodia "quickly turned into a war zone, economic (destabilization) and refugees meant that no amount of money could make the situation better."

By the time the last phase of Nixons bombing campaign was completed, more bombs had been dropped on Cambodia (2,756,941 tons) than during all of World War II (just over 2 million tons). Nixons bombing of Cambodia led to a wider conflict, an increasingly angry civilian population, a deadly insurgency and the rise of the Khmer Rouge.

Bushs plan to escalate the war in Iraq is already showing signs of similar consequences. The civil war is raging out of control, and violence is spreading into the Kurdish areas. An estimated 1.2 million Iraqis have fled the country and their homes. More than 34,000 civilians were killed in 2006, and the civilian casualty is as low as 70,000 and could be as high as 655,000 since Bush launched the war four years ago. The Iraqis are rejecting the &en=98baa13adf3f4e58&ei=5087%0A">U.S. occupation and U.S. sanctioned segregation. Its probably no accident that when Time Magazine released its list of the 100 most influential people, George Bush was notably missing.

Bush, similar to Nixon, is waging a campaign of death and destruction, depriving young Iraqis of hope and creating perfect conditions for an insurgency to thrive. Bush, like Nixon, doesnt get this concept: insurgencies not only adapt quickly to conditions on the ground, but also grow stronger as civilian casualties begin to mount. There are a lot of differences between Iraq and Cambodia, but the similarities are a quagmire and deceitful, misguided and stubborn and leaders:

If the Cambodian experience teaches us anything, it is that miscalculation of the consequences of civilian casualties stems partly from a failure to understand how insurgencies thrive. The motives that lead locals to help such movements dont fit into strategic rationales like the ones set forth by Kissinger and Nixon. Those whose lives have been ruined dont care about the geopolitics behind bomb attacks; they tend to blame the attackers. The failure of the American campaign in Cambodia lay not only in the civilian death toll during the unprecedented bombing, but also in its aftermath, when the Khmer Rouge regime rose up from the bomb craters, with tragic results. The dynamics in Iraq, or even Afghanistan, could be similar. The impact of this bombing, the subject of much debate for the past three decades, is now clearer than ever. Civilian casualties in Cambodia drove an enraged populace into the arms of an insurgency that had enjoyed relatively little support until t he bombing began, setting in motion the expansion of the Vietnam War deeper into Cambodia, a coup dtat in 1970, the rapid rise of the Khmer Rouge, and ultimately the Cambodian genocide. The data demonstrates that the way a country chooses to exit a conflict can have disastrous consequences.


Thats the lesson for Iraq as war supporters plead for more time in six month increments, and throw out claims that if the U.S. withdraws, Iraq will become a "terrorist Disneyland". Yet every six months, the situation in Iraq worsens. Daily attacks in Iraq went from 71 in January 2006 to 176 in October 26, after 15,000 additional troops were sent into Baghdad in August, and climbed to 180 in January 2007. For the first four months of 2007, per-day attacks averaged 162. Iraq and Cambodia are different, but the dynamics that led to the killing fields are again at work, this time turning a river into a graveyard.

The war in Afghanistan, which should have been the focus, has turned into a sideshow for Iraq. Bushs negligence is having serious consequences in Afghanistan, but he may have found someone to scapegoat for both wars.

Pol Pots reign was brutal. Its not comforting to know that two Republican presidential candidates America's Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Tom Tancredo support waterboarding, a torture technique used by the Khmer Rouge.

In August 1973, Congress cut funding for the Vietnam war; something the Senate failed to do today to end the war in Iraq. Sen. Eagleton, who was responsible for the 1973 bill, passed away on March. Senator Kerry gave a touching tribute to him on the Senate floor.

As history is being repeated, lets hope it arrives sooner at Congressional action to end the war in Iraq, rather than later at an even more brutal point, which will not be defined by the level of brutality, but by the number of lives destroyed.

(Edited to fix links.)

Cross posted at Daily Kos
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