In his last day of testimony for the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Friday, former New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg said he had witnessed the brutality of war before 1975 but was still shocked by the Khmer Rouge’s capture and evacuation of Phnom Penh.
Schanberg had previously covered the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 and the Vietnam War, and reiterated that as a seasoned journalist he had no doubt the Khmer Rouge, rather than the general ravages of war, were primarily to blame for Cambodia’s suffering.
Just before the Khmer Rouge entered the city, Schanberg said, he was “at a hospital where victims were being brought in – amputees, children . . . I spoke to them. They told us they were victims of the Khmer Rouge, and the fighting. Bodies were piled up, the floors were slick with blood.”
“The doctors at that point didn’t have any more gloves to do surgery and cleaned their hands in a bowl with alcohol after every surgery. We would see cardboard boxes with limbs thrown in them.”
Victor Koppe, co-counsel to Nuon Chea, told Schanberg he had “never been in a war, as you have been” but said at least one foreign couple had seen the city’s fall to the Khmer Rouge in a positive light.
A book by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman, which has been widely criticised for denying Khmer Rouge culpability, states that Chou Meng and Shane Tarr joined the other remaining foreigners at the French embassy after being turned back from accompanying the Cambodian population into the countryside.
According to Chomsky and Herman, the couple wrote: “When it became clear that we had no sensational stories to tell of mass executions, rape, pillage and suicides many of these journalists became quite disappointed.”
“I had a couple of conversations with them,” Schanberg said, “and they said that everything that we had seen wasn’t true . . . They said because we continued to disagree with them, they were going to report us to the Khmer Rouge leadership.”