Retired American journalist Richard Dudman yesterday recounted details of the attack on his travelling party during a 1978 trip to Cambodia, telling the Khmer Rouge tribunal he narrowly dodged being shot before finding British academic Malcolm Caldwell gunned down in his room.
Dudman, 96, a former St Louis Post-Dispatch Washington bureau chief, was among the first Western writers to visit Cambodia during Pol Pot’s reign, arriving in December 1978 with Marxist scholar Caldwell and fellow American journalist Elizabeth Becker, then of the Washington Post, who testified as a tribunal expert in February.
The trio, invited by Democratic Kampuchea leaders, was given a tightly controlled tour of the country before being afforded rare interviews with Pol Pot on their last night in Phnom Penh, just weeks before Vietnam toppled the regime.
Considered a friend of the regime, Caldwell, 47, was murdered hours after his own private meeting with “brother number one” in circumstances still shrouded in mystery.
Testifying yesterday as a witness via video link from the United States, Dudman – who spent 40 days as a captive of the Viet Cong in 1971 and reported from the region a dozen times during the Vietnam War – recalled being woken by gunshots and running to Caldwell’s room.
“I discussed with him what we thought was going on and we decided that we didn’t know and we’d stay in our rooms and hope that it all blew over,” he recalled.
“I started back, but then a young man came, heavily armed.… At some point he pointed his pistol at me and fired a shot and missed me, but I ducked inside my room, slammed the door and stood to one side, and then there were some shots that came through the door.”
Hearing more shots, Dudman waited two hours behind his bed before Cambodian diplomat Tiounn Prasith arrived and revealed Caldwell’s fate.
“[Cadwell] was lying, obviously dead, with a gaping wound in his chest; he was inside the room, but on the threshold … appeared to be the same young man who threatened me, and he was dead, too, in a pool of blood.”
Noting the “many theories”, Dudman – whose journalism career spanned more than three decades and included the Cuban revolution, the Watergate scandal and the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy – said he didn’t know why, or by whom, the group was targeted.
Dudman recalled, during their meeting, Pol Pot repeatedly stated Vietnam would invade but the United States would help Cambodia win.
Confronted with Becker’s criticism of his dispatches, which were less critical of the Khmer Rouge than hers, Dudman said he had remained sceptical and reported what he had seen.
However, he said he had changed his opinion from that expressed in a 1990 New York Times op-ed questioning whether Pol Pot was a mass murderer. He said he now believes the evidence supported mass murder.
Dudman’s testimony continues today.