Co-lawyers for Khieu Samphan wrapped up their closing arguments at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday by asserting, as they did on Friday, that the trial simply lacked the evidence to prove criminal intent on their client’s behalf.
Painting Samphan as a “pure intellectual” divorced from the military and security apparatus of the regime, the defence sought to pick apart holes in witness testimony relied upon by the prosecution connecting him to several senior decision-making positions.
In particular, Samphan’s role as head of state, national co-lawyer Kong Sam Onn told the court, was merely a nominal position given to a well-intentioned intellectual who was popular with the people.
The prosecution’s characterisation of the communists as having immediately transformed the nation into a pre-conceived “slave state” in April 1975 was “simplistic”, lawyer Arthur Vercken continued.
By forgetting the Cold War backdrop to the Cambodian civil war that preceded Democratic Kampuchea, the case file amounted to asking the chamber to “judge the accused for wanting to set up a communist regime”, he said.
In saying the situation at the end of the regime was comparable to that of April 1975, Vercken added, prosecutors had offered “an affront to … logic of the most elementary kind”.
Co-lawyer Anta Guisse then questioned Samphan’s alleged role in the decision to forcibly evacuate Phnom Penh, focusing in particular on a key witness who allegedly mixed up dates of decision-making meetings that Samphan is said to have attended.
“I don’t know whether I need to remind you, but it is a fundamental principle in criminal law that when there is doubt, it is [to] the benefit of the accused,” Guisse said.
She went on to challenge evidence presented by the prosecution that Samphan was head of the “nebulous” Office 870 – tasked with monitoring the implementation of CPK policy.
Why, Guisse questioned, despite evidence to the contrary, was it so important for the prosecution to prove Samphan was head of that office?
“In order to establish a link and hold him criminally responsible for what happened during Democratic Kampuchea,” she answered.
In her closing salvos, Guisse returned to an image of a young, idealistic communist who dreamt of progress.
“This is a man trying desperately to [understand] why what happened did not work. The aim was not to make Cambodia suffer. It was to take the country forward,” she said.
Although things went wrong, the evidence that Samphan had a “criminal objective” implicating him in a joint criminal enterprise with other leaders does not exist, Guisse continued.
“They were not organised; they may have been incompetent, but they did not have criminal intent. That, in a criminal trial, is what matters.”