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Thatcher, Reagan Wanted in Genocide Court in Cambodia

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A Cambodia lawyer representing the former Khmer Rouge military leader, Ta Mok, says if his client is charged with genocide, he will demand that a series of former world leaders give evidence about their support for the guerrilla movement. [includes rush transcript]

The lawyer Benson Samay said he would subpoena Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Henry Kissinger and several others to testify on their role in allowing the Khmer Rouge to come to power in 1975, and in supporting it throughout its bloody rule, during which between one and two million Cambodians were killed or starved to death.

The Cambodian government is still discussing with the United Nations how a genocide trial could be conducted, but correspondents say it’s still far from certain whether it will actually ever come to court.


  • Benson Samay, Cambodian attorney.
  • Caroline Gluck, BBC Reporter in Phnom Penh.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: A Cambodian lawyer representing the former Khmer Rouge military leader, Ta Mok, says if his client is charged with genocide, he’ll demand that a series of former world leaders give evidence about their support for the guerrilla movement.

The lawyer is Benson Samay. He says he’ll subpoena Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, three former secretaries-general of the United Nations, as well as a number of others, including President Bill Clinton, to testify on their role in allowing the Khmer Rouge to come to power in 1975 and in supporting it throughout its bloody rule, during which between one and two million Cambodians were killed or starved to death. He said the history continues right into the 1990s. The lawyer says that Ta Mok’s own testimony would not spare any of his former comrades, many of whom are now in government or living in quiet retirement in Cambodia.

Yesterday, I reached Phnom Penh and was able to speak with both Benson Samay, the Cambodian lawyer, as well as Caroline Gluck, who has been following the events around the charges being brought against Ta Mok and others around genocide. And this is going to be a case that’s heard later this week — or rather, the Cambodian legislature is going to decide how the trials should be conducted. I asked Caroline Gluck to give us some background.

CAROLINE GLUCK: Well, the position at the moment is that we are all waiting for a trial of sorts to take place of senior Khmer Rouge leaders, for their part in the Cambodian genocide between 1975 and 1979, but the Cambodian government has insisted that any trial should take place within Cambodia, but is asking for the international community, through the United Nations, for help. They are hoping that the UN will agree to their proposal, which the UN hasn’t formally responded to. Later this week, the Cambodian cabinet will formally discuss these proposals and [inaudible], so that some kind of legislation will be on the statute books so that a genocide trial of some kind can take part in Cambodia.

AMY GOODMAN: And how many people are we talking about going on trial?

CAROLINE GLUCK: It’s still very [inaudible]. The government is saying maybe four or five senior Khmer Rouge leaders, two of whom are currently under government’s custody. One being Ta Mok, the former Khmer Rouge military chief. The other Duch, the man known as Khang Khek Leu, who used to run the notorious execution and torture center known as Tuol Sleng. He was also the security chief of the Khmer Rouge.

Only two Khmer Rouge leaders are in detention. There are other senior Khmer Rouge leaders living freely in Cambodia, mainly in the northwestern town of Pailin.

AMY GOODMAN: As I said, we’re also joined by Cambodian attorney, Benson Samay, who says he will subpoena Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Henry Kissinger and three former UN secretaries-general to testify about their role in allowing the Khmer Rouge to come to power in 1975.

BENSON SAMAY: Yeah, and we want Javier Perez de Cuellar, we want Boutros Boutros-Ghali, because they are former secretaries-general to the UN; and the former ambassadors to the UN like Daniel Moynihan, William Scranton, Andrew Young, Donald McHenry, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Thomas Pickering, Madeleine Albright; and the former Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George Bush; and also former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Edmund Muskie, Alexander Haig, James Baker. Until 1993, you saw that they’re responsible during the Khmer Rouge genocide and after the Khmer Rouge regime of genocide from 1980 to 1993.

And you know that in 1980, we found out that there were a killing field in Cambodia for two million dead. And all the general secretaries still allocate a seat in UN. And they are responsible of this evidence and some evidence to prove that during and after Khmer Rouge genocide they still support the Khmer Rouge until 1993. Therefore, the former ambassador of UN also, like in 1975 Moynihan and Scranton, Andrew Young, Donald McHenry and Jeane Kirkpatrick and Vernon Walters, Thomas Pickering, Edward Perkins and also Madeleine Albright. These leaders should explain or clarify before the court why they support the Khmer Rouge until 1993. Why don’t take Khmer Rouge to the court building this time? And now they want to have a trial quickly. And, also, why at that time they don’t want to [inaudible] the Khmer Rouge?

Then, they have a power in the field during the killing and after the killing. And also the former President Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Reagan, Bush, until 1993. I don’t understand. I would like for those leaders explain to the world why they support the Khmer Rouge and why now they want to [inaudible] the Khmer Rouge and my client. And only, only my client — not all world leaders. I don’t see — a world leader must explain to the world and understand. OK.

AMY GOODMAN: So you are saying that they should be put on trial, as well?

BENSON SAMAY: I do know that we don’t have any — you know, that they all the political leader, they’re the world leader. We cannot take them to the trial. We just ask them to clarify, to explain to the world why they do that. Why they support the Khmer Rouge regime, and also the Khmer Rouge regime — and they answer after the prosecutor. If the prosecutor can take them to the court, we can go to the court. I’m just request my request and just refer to my client be fair — but I want it to be fair trial. You know that? I want the trial might be fair.

AMY GOODMAN: So you’re not contending that Ta Mok did not commit the genocide, but that others should be held responsible, as well?

BENSON SAMAY: Yes. They are all responsible, because they support the Khmer Rouge by who had was a strong support, and they planned all the mine around the border, and you know that the Cambodian now die every day for 200 — I think 200 — and to every thousand, a thousand, because the mines. Because why? Because all the leader support them, support the Khmer Rouge until 1993, when they brought them for election. Suppose the Khmer Rouge win the election. What did they do? They formed our government called a genocide government. And at that time, the UN, when they take Khmer Rouge, this government, to the [inaudible].


BENSON SAMAY: We don’t understand. And now they want to only trial of my client, but I want to ask them, OK, so just Henry Kissinger, Cyrus Vance, Muskie, Alexander Haig and George Shultz, and all of these people, leaders, and James Baker, Lawrence Eagleburger, the world leader, the world leader.

AMY GOODMAN: Caroline Gluck, can you talk about the attitude in Cambodia now towards the United States, given the U.S. secret bombing of Cambodia in the 1970s?

CAROLINE GLUCK: Well, to be honest, I don’t think this is the major issue here, and the government is very insistent that any trial must be strictly limited to the years that the Khmer Rouge held power, between 1975 and 1979, not what happened before, when we’re talking about the secret U.S. bombing of Cambodia in the 1970s, or afterwards, when the world community continued to support Khmer Rouge leaders as the legitimate leaders of the country at the United Nations, the world body.

I mean, if we are talking about culpability here, we could also bring into the picture the situation of Chinese leaders, you know, who were physically arming and giving political support to the Khmer Rouge. Why doesn’t Mr. Samay subpoena those leaders, as well?

I think most Cambodians simply do not have the overall knowledge about the U.S. attitude during the 1970s. I think if you talk to any ordinary Cambodian, they will simply say, “My mother, my father, my brother, my sister died during Pol Pot’s time. I want to know who killed them, and I want to know more than that. I want to know why. Why did this craziness, why did this madness, why did this genocide happen in my country? And how can we make sure that this doesn’t happen again, as we enter the new millennium?”

Those are the very basic questions that people want to answer so they can get on with their lives, because however much you look at Cambodia now, however much a degree of normalcy is returning to this country, there are still very traumatized people, very traumatized families, still looking for very simple answers to questions that they have about their own family members.

AMY GOODMAN: Benson Samay, do you have answers for those questions of how did this happen, considering you’re representing one the Khmer Rouge leaders, Ta Mok?

BENSON SAMAY: What is your question? You want to know why I represent Ta Mok. Is that right?

AMY GOODMAN: I actually didn’t ask that, but —

BENSON SAMAY: I don’t hear clearly. Please —


BENSON SAMAY: — ask the question again, please.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, actually, I’m going to ask that question. I didn’t ask that before. Why are you representing Ta Mok?

BENSON SAMAY: Why I’m representing Ta Mok, I’m a lawyer. I’m like a doctor. When the sickly people come before me, I have a duty to take treatment, give or sell treatment. I don’t believe that my client is guilty. My client is innocent until proven guilty, so that I represent him. I want to know what is exactly a [inaudible], but I have a duty to answer all the men — all the client. It’s not to say that I’m involved in Khmer Rouge. During the Khmer Rouge, I was not in Cambodia, even though my wife and my daughter — ten-year-old daughter — were killed during the Khmer Rouge. It’s not. I had to put my tragedy, my personal question in the back, and I go straight to my duty as a lawyer, professional lawyer.

AMY GOODMAN: And what is this —

BENSON SAMAY: Do you hear what I’m —

AMY GOODMAN: Yes. What do you think the chance of getting world leaders to testify is, getting people like Henry Kissinger?

BENSON SAMAY: I think if the world leaders understand that in the new society, progressive society, they know that they are responsible, then if the prosecutor asks them to explain, to clarify, I don’t say — I don’t think that they still in silent. I don’t think so. They would want to answer all or to clarify about their responsibility.

AMY GOODMAN: The charges haven’t —

BENSON SAMAY: And also, [inaudible], I don’t say that, so far, my client presumed that innocent. And they are also — we cannot excuse anyone without have evidence and also the fact that they are responsible directly or indirectly, morally or materially. This is why they have a responsible or that they have to answer before the court.

CAROLINE GLUCK: No, I just think at the very basic level, although we’re hearing a lot from international human rights groups like Asia Watch and Amnesty, I think at the very basic level, if you talk to ordinary Cambodians, they are so traumatized by what has happened to their country and to them personally. We’re talking about almost a quarter of the population wiped out in less than four years. They are just looking for simple questions to an answer. What happened to my relatives and why did it happen? And I think even if they get those basic — that basic information, they can then move on to a new level. Cambodia can then begin, at least, to progress to a degree of reconciliation. The country can then move onto a new era of peace, as we enter the new millennium.

AMY GOODMAN: Caroline Gluck and Benson Samay, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Caroline Gluck is a reporter in Phnom Penh, and Benson Samay is the Cambodian attorney who is representing Ta Mok. He’s been in prison now for about a year, has yet to be brought to trial. The Cambodian legislature, this week, will begin to decide how to deal with a trial around war crimes, crimes against humanity committed by the Khmer Rouge.

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