After a long debate last week over how supporting documents should be entered into the court record, Khmer Rouge scholar Craig Etcheson was finally allowed to continue his testimony Thursday afternoon.
The expert witness spent a good deal of time describing the methods of communication used to disseminate party messages throughout the Democratic Kampuchea hierarchy. His testimony suggested more frequent and extensive communication among party echelons than I had previously realized existed under DK.
According to Etcheson, the Standing Committee -- the highest body in DK -- met quite often, sometimes twice a day. Although Khieu Samphan was not a full rights member of the Standing Committee, he was present during a great number of these meetings. Only party Deputy Secretary Nuon Chea attended more, he said.
Minutes from around 20 of the Standing Committee's meetings survive and they help shed light on methods of communication throughout DK.
At times, the Standing Committee circulated directives to all party echelons. Committee members also communicated with subordinates through the Party Training School, where cadre were indoctrinated with Khmer Rouge ideology. These sessions were often led by Nuon Chea or Khieu Samphan.
Film footage still exists from massive rallies attended by members of the Standing Committee, as do documents describing messages to be broadcast on state radio, Etcheson said.
Of particular interest, in my opinion, was Etcheson's description of the magazine Revolutionary Flag. For a regime that put such a high premium on an uneducated peasantry, it still seems somewhat surreal to me that Khmer Rouge leaders would publish their own magazines.
But they did and, as Etcheson explained, Revolutionary Flag was mandatory reading for all full rights party members. It was also pure Khmer Rouge propaganda.
In an issue from June 1977, the party center awarded "Honorary Red Flags" to three different districts that met production targets and exemplified revolutionary values. It also featured a long essay entitled "search for and eliminate burrowing enemies."
A special issue from Dec. 1997 to Jan. 1978 explained the justifications for a number of Khmer Rouge policies that had become unpopular -- evacuation of cities, forced collectivization and destruction of "enemy classes" among them.
After describing "top-down," dissemination of party messages, Etcheson explained how those lower in the Khmer Rouge hierarchy communicated with senior leaders. Numerous reports and telegraphs were sent from the zones to the Standing Committee. Although zone representatives covered a wide range of issues in these documents, they spent a disproportionately large amount of space detailing the hunt for internal enemies. Etcheson believes the zone leadership understood this was what the Standing Committee deemed most pressing.
Meanwhile, horizontal communication among subordinates was virtually nonexistent, Etcheson said. For example, if two leaders of adjacent sectors needed to discuss an issue, they would have to route their communication through their immediate superiors and ultimately to the party center. Thus, the party center was the "central communications node" for DK and only top leadership knew what was happening throughout the entire country, he said.
Sometimes, however, those lower in the chain of command were granted special authority by the party center. Etcheson began to describe a meeting attended by both Comrade Duch and Son Sen. The topic of discussion: planned purges of various zones.
Meeting minutes suggest that Duch "liased upward to the very apex of power" and then used the authority granted by Son Sen to plan purges directly with targeted units.
In my opinion, this would suggest that as head of S-21, Duch was granted special powers even though he was not a member of the top leadership.
However, Etcheson's testimony was cut short by time constraints. I expect the prosecution will continue to explore this issue in the near future.
Journalist Nayan Chanda is scheduled to testify Monday and Tuesday, so Etcheson's testimony will resume at some point after that.
* Pictured: Covers of "Revolutionary Flag" on display at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (above and at left).