Evil Bastard

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Evil Bastard

Dubya is right: there is evil in the world. I may often disagree with his judgment of what is or is not evil, and may almost always disagree with the steps he takes in response to his moral judgments, but let it not be said (as it sometimes is) that people who oppose the war in Iraq or Bush's version of the war on terror simply refuse to recognize the need to respond to evil.

Ta Mok died last month. I can hardly describe the anger I felt when I heard the news, except to say that it was the same in character but slightly less intense than the anger I felt when Pol Pot died. Thanks to the desire of Hun Sen not to open up discussions of what happened in 1975-79 (or in the long-running war thereafter), the main perpetrators of the Khmer Rouge horror will never be tried. They have either died because of Hun Sen's successful obstruction of any judicial process or been granted immunity for their crimes by Hun Sen of King Sihanouk.

The Cambodia tribunal may still have some value. One result of the failure to try the Khmer Rouge leadership is that many people in Cambodia still do not have a very clear idea of what happened or who was responsible. People like Pol Pot and Ta Mok could spout the most outrageous lies, and both were venerated in some circles until their deaths. Perhaps the tribunal will morph into a truth commission of sorts. I'm not holding my breath, however: as long as Hun Sen is around, he won't want anyone looking too closely into the events of those years, since he was a high-level official for the first couple of years of the Khmer Rouge regime and fled to Vietnam only when it became apparent that he was going to be purged.

(I don't know if Tuol Sleng is still the same as when I was there in 1991. At that time, the guerilla war was still on, the only legal way to get to Cambodia was via Vietnam, and tourism wasn't exactly common; since then, maybe they've changed the display at the former torture facility. I went back in 1994, after the cease-fire and the pouring in of a bunch of UN money and personnel for the 1993 election, and Phnom Penh was a much different place (I didn't go back to Tuol Sleng that time). But in 1991, the foreign text was in French, and the bad guys were always referred to as "les Polpotistes" or "le clique de Pol Pot," and not as Khmers Rouges. Too many of the current regime, including Hun Sen, were ex-Khmer Rouge, and they didn't want to be identified with the ancien regime.)

To get back to Ta Mok, he was a right bastard, even by Khmer Rouge standards. I wrote a chapter of my senior thesis on the Khmer Rouge regime and the Vietnamese invasion of 1978-79. Part of that was rather maccabre research into the conflicting claims regarding exactly how many people the Khmer Rouge had killed. What became immediately apparent was that the abuse of the population varied quite a lot depending on which zone of the country they were in. Hun Sen was at one time the leader of the Eastern Zone, which wasn't too bad (comparatively). Ta Mok's South Western Zone was horrific. Ta Mok was also largely responsible for the expusion of the population of Phnom Penh after April 1975. On my first trip to Cambodia, I got a motorbike and rode out to the ruins of the old royal capital at Udong. I say "ruins" because Ta Mok had also chased the population of 30,000 out of that city and razed it.

When Pol Pot died, I was surprised at the violence of my reaction. I was so angry I could hardly speak. This time, I was ready for it. Still, I am almost shaking as I write this.

I wonder how I'll feel when Joseph Kony dies somewhere in the bush years from now.

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