Supporting Pol Pot
excerpted from the book
A Guide to the World's Only
by William Blum
Common Courage Press, 2000
The Killing Fields...the borders sealed,
the cities emptied at gunpoint, a forced march to the countryside...being
a professional, knowing a foreign language, wearing eyeglasses,
almost anything, might be cause enough for persecution, execution...or
the overwork will kill you, or a beating, or the hunger, or disease.
For whatever reason: shortage of food, creation of an agrarian
society impervious to the economic world order, internal party
power, security...well over a million dead at the hands of the
Cambodian Communist Party, the Khmer Rouge, under Pol Pot, after
ousting the US-supported regime of Lon Nol...the world is horrified,
comparisons to the Nazi genocide mushroom, "worse than Hitler"
is Pol Pot...
Four years later, January 1979, Vietnam-responding
to years of attacks by the Khmer Rouge against ethnic Vietnamese
in Cambodia and cross-border raids into Vietnam itself-invaded
what was now called Kampuchea, overthrew Pol Pot's government,
and installed a government friendly to Vietnam. The Khmer Rouge
forces retreated to the western end of Cambodia, by the border
with Thailand, and later some set up camp in Thailand itself.
Washington's reaction was not any kind
of elation that the Cambodian nightmare had come to an end, but
rather undisguised displeasure that the hated Vietnamese were
in control and credited with ousting the terrible Khmer Rouge.
For years afterwards, the United States condemned Vietnam's actions
as "illegal". A lingering bitterness by American cold
warriors against the small nation which monumental US power could
not defeat appears to be the only explanation for this attitude.
Humiliation runs deep, particularly when you're the world's only
Thus it was that an American policy took
root-to provide the Khmer Rouge with food, financial aid and military
aid beginning soon after their ouster. The aim, in conjunction
with China and long-time American client state, Thailand, was
to restore Pol Pot's troops to military capability as the only
force which could make the Vietnamese withdraw their army, leading
to the overthrow of the Cambodian government.
President Carter's National Security Adviser,
Zbigniew Brzezinski, has stated that in the spring of 1979: "I
encouraged the Chinese to support Pol Pot. I encouraged the Thai
to help the [Khmer Rouge]. The question was how to help the Cambodian
people.[sic] Pol Pot was an abomination. We could never support
him. But China could."
In November 1980, Ray Cline, former Deputy
Director of the CIA, visited a Khmer Rouge enclave inside Cambodia
in his capacity as senior foreign-policy adviser to President-elect
Ronald Reagan. A Khmer Rouge press release said that Cline "was
warmly greeted by thousands of villagers." The Reagan administration
was apparently preparing to continue the policy of opposition
to the Vietnamese-supported Phnom Penh government.
Some of the relief organizations operating
in Cambodia considered supporting the Khmer Rouge guerrillas inconsistent
with their humanitarian goals, in addition to the fact that distributing
aid to military personnel was impermissible for such organizations
as UNICEF and the International Committee of the Red Cross. But
as two American relief aid workers, Linda Mason and Roger Brown,
later wrote: "Thailand, the country that hosted the relief
operation, and the U.S. government, which funded the bulk of the
relief operation, insisted that the Khmer Rouge be fed."
In the 1979-81 period, the World Food
Program, which was strongly under US influence, gave almost $12
million in food to the Thai Army to distribute to predominantly
Khmer Rouge camps by the border.
In 1982, trying to remove the smell from
the Khmer Rouge, the United States put together a coalition composed
of the Khmer Rouge and two "non-communist" groups also
opposed to the Cambodian government, one headed by former Cambodian
ruler, Prince Sihanouk.
The coalition became the recipient of
much aid from the US and China, mainly funneled through Thailand.
The American aid, by the late 1980s, reached $5 million officially,
with the CIA providing between $20 and $24 million behind Congress's
back. The aid was usually referred to as "non-lethal"
or "humanitarian", but any aid freed up other money
to purchase military equipment in the world's arms markets. Officially,
Washington was not providing any of this aid to the Khmer Rouge,
but it knew full well that Pol Pot's forces were likely to be
the ultimate beneficiaries. As one US official put it: "Of
course, if the coalition wins, the Khmer Rouge will eat the others
alive". In any event, the CIA and the Chinese were supplying
arms directly as well to the Khmer Rouge.
From 1985 on, there was a Federal law
prohibiting the government from providing any money to Cambodia
which would have the effect of helping the Khmer Rouge's fighting
capacity, either directly or indirectly. After reports appeared
in 1990 that aid to the coalition was getting into the hands of
the Khmer Rouge, the Bush administration announced an official
halt to the program. Whether this was a serious effort to comply
with the law, or simply an effort at damage control is not known;
nor is it clear how long the halt lasted, if indeed it had been
halted at all. The following February, the administration acknowledged
to Congress that there may have been "tactical military cooperation"
between US-backed non-communist forces and the Khmer Rouge.
The Khmer Rouge were meanwhile using this
aid to regularly attack Cambodian villages, seed minefields, kill
peasants and make off with their rice and cattle. But they never
seriously threatened the Phnom Penh government.
The United States also successfully defended
the right of the Khmer Rouge to the United Nations' Cambodian
seat, although their government had ceased to exist in January
1979. They held the seat until 1993. Beginning in 1982, the seat
ostensibly represented the coalition, but the chief UN representative,
Thiounn Prasith, was a leading apologist for Pol Pot's horrendous
crimes and played a major role in their cover up. When asked by
Newsweek about reports that a million Cambodians had perished
under Pol Pot's rule, he said: "We estimate between 10,000
and 20,000 persons were killed, 80 per cent of them by Vietnamese
agents who infiltrated our government."
During the late 1980s and the early 1990s,
the United States pressed for the dismantling of the Cambodian
government and the inclusion of the Khmer Rouge in an interim
government and in elections, despite still-lingering revulsion
against Pol Pot and his followers amongst the Cambodian people
and the international community, and despite the fact that the
Vietnamese withdrew virtually all their forces from Cambodia in
"The death of Khmer Rouge leader
Pol Pot has again brought to international attention one of the
most tragic chapters of inhumanity in the twentieth century-senior
Khmer Rouge, who exercised leadership from 1975 to 1979, are still
at large and share responsibility for the monstrous human rights
abuses committed during this period. We must not permit the death
of the most notorious of the Khmer Rouge leaders to deter us from
the equally important task of bringing these others to justice."
President William Clinton, April 16, 199814