|Skulls placed behind glass at a memorial stupa made with the bones of more than 8,000 victims of the Khmer Rouge regime at Choeung Ek, a 'Killing Fields' site located on the outskirts of Phnom Penh (Reuters)|
(Yesterday, Reuters reported the tribunal reached its verdicts. "There were widespread and systematic attacks against the civilian population of Cambodia, attacks through many forms - forced transfer, murder, extermination, disappearances, attacks against human dignity and political persecution," Judge Nil Nonn said, taking an hour and 20 minutes to deliver the ruling:
(Nuon Chea, 87, the Khmer Rouge's chief ideologue and "Brother Number 2" in the KR's revolutionary line-up, was sentenced to life in prison. As he was sentenced, Chea sat motionless, but "his fingers were laced tightly as he could be seen gripping his hands together".
|Nuon Chea At Sentencing (Photo: Mark Peters / ECCC)|
(Khieu Samphan, 82, the President of Kampuchea, was also sentenced to life, "listening intently" as the tribunal's verdicts were read.
|Khieu Samphan During Verdict (Photo: Mark Peters / ECCC)|
(Her husband, Ieng Sary, the former Kampuchean foreign minister [and Pol Pot's brother-in-law], had been the sixth defendant but died in custody in 2012.
(Kaing Guek Eav [known as 'Duch'], had been commandant of Phnom Penh's infamous Tuol Sleng prison where at least 14,000 people were murdered. Put on trial in 2009, he was found
('Duch' did testify, but the current tribunal had charged him with the other defendants, and sentenced him to spend the remainder of his life in prison.
(Chea and Samphan, Ruters noted, face further hearings on separate charges of genocide in a second phase of the complex trial. However, further justice for the horrors perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge will probably be -- deferred.
(As so often happens in history, there are many former Killing Fields murderers and Tuol Seng torturers in the Cambodian government and its civil service. They, and those who enabled them during the Kampuchean tragedy, have a vested interest that "justice" will end with this trial of the remaining figureheads of the regime is complete.)
Cambodia's government includes remnants of the [Khmer Rouge] regime and has been accused of being uncooperative... [current] Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge soldier, has voiced his disdain for the court and discouraged further cases... there have been no new indictments.
Little Bernie And The Angkor Killers
Looking through the New York Times online this afternoon, I came across two separate articles: One was a footnote to a larger story about the sentencing of fraudster Bernard Madoff by Judge Denny Chin, who recently commented on his reasoning in sentencing Madoff to 150 years in prison. The other was a report of the opening of a historic trial in Asia of four aging degenerates who, in the mid-to-late 1970's, created and participated in what was the first systematic genocide since the Holocaust.
Similarities between the perps in both articles struck me in a particular way -- the nature of people who commit crimes; how some criminals rationalize their behavior, while others are incapable of comprehending the results of their actions. That Little Bernie Madoff and the killers of Kampuchea have more in common than at first glance.
In Federal Court for the District of Manhattan in 2009, Bernard Madoff, 71, stood and listened as Judge Denny Chin spoke about the effect of Madoff's twenty-year, ponzi-scheme fraud -- reciting stories of his former clients' life savings, wiped out; of their inability to afford care for older and sick parents or special needs children; of small charities now bankrupt, their programs to benefit addicts, youth offenders and the handicapped, all ended.
Chin called Madoff's actions "extraordinarily evil", and then pronounced sentence: Little Bernie would go to Federal prison for 150 years, the maximum allowable term under law.
The New York Times noted today that in a series of interviews since he began serving that sentence, Madoff has taken issue with Judge Chin's description of him at the hearing. He complains that he will die in prison, "away from [his] family" -- that this is a punishment that does not, in his perspective, fit the crime.
"To characterize me as this monster and this evil person; I just think that was totally unrealistic and unfair... In my mind, Chin was anything but fair, with zero understanding of the [finance and investment] industry... [Judge Chin] made me the human piñata of Wall Street [while financial firms and government officials involved in the 2008 Crash and current financial crisis] walk away free.”Uh; yeah. This is the same Little Bernie Madoff who was described in A New York Magazine online article as no longer really hiding his lack of empathy for his victims, not recognizing the scope or effect of his actions, even in prison:
But that evening an inmate badgered Madoff about the victims of his $65 billion scheme, and kept at it. According to K. C. White, a bank robber and prison artist ... Madoff stopped smiling and got angry. “F--- my victims,” he said, loud enough for other inmates to hear. “I carried them for twenty years, and now I’m doing 150...”I've mentioned before that Little Bernie, a textbook sociopath, doesn't show a shred of remorse for what he's done or any real grasp of the twenty years in which he did it. He doesn't actually conceive that he's done anything wrong. It's all about his feelings, his nightmare... "as if," the New York magazine article noted, "he were the real victim."
Madoff talks about the unfairness of his sentence -- essentially how free of responsibility he truly considers himself to be. The extent of his reasoning for his actions boils down to, I'm the sacrificial goat for all these other crooks! Everybody was doin' it!
I'm sure that perspective was a comfort to his son, who had been involved in Madoff's business, and who committed suicide in 2010.
Then, Madoff remembers to put the mask back on, the one that covered his true reptilian features for so long; after the interviews mentioned by the New York Times, Little Bernie sent follow-up notes which said, in part,
“My comments should not be taken as an excuse for the pain and suffering I have caused,” he wrote. In another message, he said he felt “completely responsible and have remorse and shame for what I have done.”Yeah, pal -- (F___ my victims!") -- sure you do.
And (as the NYT also reported) in a courtroom half a world away in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the trial of the last four surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge on charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity -- all committed over thirty-five years ago -- began. The trial is "the centerpiece of a United Nations-backed tribunal that has lasted five years, cost more than $100 million and is intended finally to lay the past to rest."
"I Am Particularly Sorry For The Many Children That We Smashed
Against Trees." -- Kaing Guek Eav, 'Duch' (Actual Trial Quote)
Initially, the trial was to be of five defendants -- the fifth, Kaing Guek Eav (known as 'Duch'), commandant of Phnom Penh's infamous Tuol Sleng prison, where at least 14,000 people were killed, was instead put on public trial in 2009. Confronted by a host of witnesses, and by his own meticulous records of torture and killing, Eav was convicted nearly a year ago. He was sentenced to 35 years, but was since reduced to 19 years.
The Khmer Rouge, Cambodia's communist party, ran Cambodia (which it renamed Kampuchea) from 1975 to 1979. Per Wikipedia,
The Khmer Rouge attempted to turn Cambodia into a classless society by depopulating cities and forcing the urban population ("New People") into agricultural communes. The entire population was forced to become farmers in labor camps. Money was abolished, books were burned, teachers, merchants, and almost the entire intellectual elite of the country were murdered, to make the agricultural communism, as Pol Pot envisioned it, a reality...The regime was too fanatical and murderous for nearby Vietnam (which had been united under communist rule from Hanoi since 1975), which invaded Cambodia in 1979 in order to liberate its population. The NVA drove the Khmer Rouge into the jungles, from which it waged a guerrilla war with a democratically-elected Cambodian government until 1989.
The exact number of people who died as a result of the Khmer Rouge's policies is debated, as is the cause of death among those who died... Modern research has located thousands of mass graves from the Khmer Rouge era all over Cambodia, containing an estimated 1.39 million bodies. Various studies have estimated the death toll ... most commonly between 1.4 million and 2.2 million, with perhaps half of those deaths being due to executions, and the rest from starvation and disease.
The defendants are old: Nuon Chea, 84, the Khmer Rouge's chief ideologue (second in power only to the KR's leader, Pol Pot, who died a free man in 1998); Khieu Samphan, 79, the President of Kampuchea, and his wife, Ieng Thirith, 79, the Khmer Rouge's Minster of Social Affairs; and Ieng Sary, 85, the former foreign minister and Pol Pot's brother-in-law.
All of them have lived quietly in comfort, even wealth, for roughly twenty years -- much like their Capo, Pol Pot. Even though he was acknowledged to be the driving force behind the Khmer Rouge and its policies, and responsible for mass murder, he was never arrested or charged, living quietly in a Cambodian village near the Thai border and dying peacefully of natural causes in 1998.
As the trial proceedings began yesterday, Nuon Chea (as the Khmer Rouge's former Number 2, he is being seen as the lead defendant on trial) put up his hand, said, “I am not happy with this hearing,” then rose from his seat and walked unsteadily from the courtroom with the help of three security guards.
Almost unbelievably for many westerners, Cambodia is literally a society where the murderers walk free: Thousands of former Khmer Rouge officers, officials, guards, torturers, and executioners walk the streets and pathways of the country without being charged with any crime.
Try to imagine what it would have been like if, in the aftermath of the Second World War, nazis who had helped to murder millions, and imprison and torture millions more, walked freely through the world, seen on the streets of Europe, recognized by their former victims (not that this didn't actually happen), and never charged with a crime.
However, the current Cambodian government decided not to attempt mass prosecutions of those who were the regime's mid-level officials, police and soldiers. Instead, the government made it a national priority to engage the entire country in a discussion -- part catharsis and part historical closure -- about its past, similar to the South African 'Truth and Reconciliation' commissions after the end of Apartheid.
Children -- all born after the years of the Khmer Rouge -- are taught the truth of the past from a nationally-approved curriculum. Victims whose lives were torn apart, who were tortured, imprisoned and lost members of their family under the Khmer Rouge, speak out at public forums to testify about their experiences.
Sometimes, much more rarely, some of the perpetrators have come forward to admit to their actions and talk about what it was like to be enforcers for the dictatorship.
The only public Justice most Cambodians will ever see is in the trial of these four, ex-Khmer Rouge defendants. Most of the principal leaders of the KR are dead -- those who went on trial this week are symbolic stand-ins for all the other murderers and Mitwissers who continue to walk free.
While Little Bernie Madoff in his upstate New York, medium-security prison, isn't a criminal on a par with managers of genocide and oppression, the attitudes both evidence towards the 'unfairness' of their arrest and trial is curiously similar.
... Mr. Nuon Chea’s objection, as explained by his lawyers, pointed toward a separate version of history in which the Khmer Rouge were national liberators, guarding against Vietnamese incursions and motivated by heavy American bombing in a secret campaign during the Vietnam War..."His own version of history"; In the minds of Chea, Samphan and Thirith, and Ieng Sary, they were revolutionaries, and harsh methods have to be employed; but they all deny any knowledge of the crimes committed in Cambodia under their rule, which resulted from policies they created or orders they gave.
...Khieu Samphan... the former head of state, has written a book in which he states that he was unaware of the killings, and he has said he will give the court his own version of history.
For the nazis, their version of history was a belief in race, and (for them) the criminality of those whose only crime was to be a Jew, and other forms of untermenschen. The nazis lived in a self-justifying, alternate reality, and they clung to the absolute certainty of their beliefs, the justification for everything done in the name of Volk and Führer; how could they be wrong?
Ratko Mladic, recently arrested in Serbia and delivered to the Hague, has a similar perspective: Everything he did, he said, was to "protect" the Serbian people -- presumably, from others whose only crime was to be a Muslim.
Madoff's version of history is simple: Everybody was doin' it, and They gave me 150 years, and they gave Goldman-Sachs $150 Billion. I'm the victim here. And oh yeah right; On advice of my counsel, I express remorse and shame for what I have done.
In the minds of people who cause harm to others -- whether twenty years of massive fraud for personal gain, or to the extent of mass murder -- there are always extenuating circumstances. There is an 'alternate reality', where their explanations make sense; and where they -- not the defrauded, or the maimed and the dead -- are the real victims.