The headline you attached to my article, ("Devils' Advocate"
Post, Nov 10), which stated baldly, "There should be no trial", appears to have
confused some readers, among them Henri Locard, whose rejoinder you printed in
your last issue. Those words were from your pen, not mine, and while that
inference can certainly be drawn from what I wrote, it is not the only one
possible. The case I made was rather that a tribunal, if established, will have
more to do with revenge than justice - and that those who advocate such a course
must assume the logic of what they are advocating (or try to prove that my
argument is wrong).
My purpose in writing was not to prescribe ready-made
answers, but to try to trigger a debate on two fundamental issues: Is a trial of
the former Khmer Rouge leaders the best way forward for Cambodia? And, if a
trial is held, can it be conducted in such a way that the outcome will be seen
as a triumph for justice?
I argued that there are strong grounds for
doubting both these propositions. But, in the final analysis, it is not for
outsiders to lay down the law (hence my quarrel with your headline). It is for
Khmers to decide. It is their country; their tragedy; and theirs to determine
the way ahead. As a foreigner one may state one's view. But it is not for us to
tell Cambodians what to do. Not the least irony in the present situation is that
those countries which are most vocal in laying down the path Cambodians "must"
follow are those most strongly opposed to any interference in their own internal
Henri Locard delivered himself of a fine diatribe, and the
strength of feeling with which he writes does him credit. Moreover, he has a
good point when he notes the similarity of the treatment of the "new people" in
many different parts of the country. But the mere presumption of guilt is not
enough. In a fair trial, it will be necessary to prove the direct responsibility
of the accused for what happened. That is a very different matter.
only other substantive point Monsieur Locard made was to dispute my
"preposterous" assertion that many governments have, or have had, institutions
of violent political repression, analogous to S-21 and the tentacular prison
system that underpinned it. Let him go through the list of UN member states, and
count those which, over the last 50 years, have qualified. It makes depressing
reading. (The vast majority, incidentally - from Haiti to Guatemala to Indonesia
- were non-communist).
I am merely sorry that he devoted so much space to
knocking down claims I did not make and in which I do not believe. Rhetoric is
no substitute for reason. Polemics may be good politics, but they do little to
advance the cause of justice - or truth. A dispassionate debate is not easy on
such an emotive topic, but it is surely what Cambodia needs.
On a lighter
note, do, please, explain why you displaced the apostrophe in the title,
"Devils' Advocate". Typographical error? Or pun fatigue on deadline day? I would
have thought the one thing on which all your readers could agree is that, in
this country, there has been more than one "devil" at work.
- Philip Short, Phnom Penh