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 www.flynnfiles.com.
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