The long-awaited trial of Khmer Rouge leaders in Cambodia now seems likely. A court comprising Cambodian and United Nations-appointed judges is all but agreed. It is a historic step; no one has yet stood trial for the death of almost two million people from execution, forced labour and starvation during the Pol Pot period from 1975-1979.
In contrast with the show trial of Milosevic in The Hague, the Cambodian court may well yield independent judgements, thanks to the scholarly documentation of evidence by dedicated Khmer specialists like the Australian Ben Kiernan. But even if infamous figures like Kaing Khek Iev, "Comrade Deuch", who oversaw the torture and murder of up to 20,000 prisoners, finally face a form of justice, something will be missing.
This is the unspoken in the current enthusiasm in the west for the arrest of certain third world and Balkan figures accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. In many cases, it is as if the hitmen, not the mafia chieftains, are the sole quarry. Richard Falk of Cornell University went some of the way to explaining this when he wrote that western state policy was formulated almost exclusively "through a self-righteous, one-way moral/legal screen [with] positive images of western values and innocence portrayed as threatened, validating a campaign of unrestricted political violence".
Thus, Milosevic is in the dock, while the west's gang leaders, Suharto and Sharon, are safe. The zealous prosecutors of western (American) policy, such as Carla Del Ponte at The Hague, have rejected any admission of evidence against those who conspired in 1999 to kill most of the civilians in the war in Kosovo and Serbia, who bombed hospitals, schools and other civilian targets, created an environmental disaster in the region and left a legacy of unexploded cluster bombs and depleted uranium. Seen through the "one-way moral/legal screen", the spectacle of Clinton and Blair, Albright and Cook facing justice is unimaginable, regardless of the overwhelming prima facie evidence of their crimes under existing conventions.
The "trial" of Milosevic is important for the pursuit of the War against Demons, one of the propaganda models replacing the cold war. Demons need not necessarily be individuals; they can be whole religions like Islam, entire nations like Iraq. A genuine demon was the late Pol Pot. The terror that Pol Pot and his medievalists brought to Cambodia was one of the darkest human episodes. However, Pol Pot and his gang wrote only a chapter in Cambodia's horror story, which began in 1969, when President Nixon and his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, launched their secret and illegal bombing of neutral Cambodia. Between 1969 and 1973, American bombers killed 750,000 Cambodian peasants with explosives the equivalent of five Hiroshimas. Official US documents leave little doubt that it was this that provided the catalyst for the rise of the Khmer Rouge which, until then, had no popular base. "They are using [the bombing] as the main theme of their propaganda," reported the CIA director of operations on 2 May 1973. "This approach has resulted in the successful recruitment of young men."
What Nixon and Kissinger began, Pol Pot completed. And when the Khmer Rouge were finally driven into Thailand by the Vietnamese in 1979, they were received and welcomed into border camps by US covert operations officials, including the same Defence Intelligence Agency colonel who had planned the secret bombing that had helped bring them to power. The Americans, and later the British, set about restoring the Khmer Rouge as the "resistance" to the Vietnamese-backed regime in Phnom Penh.
In 1980, President-elect Reagan sent Dr Ray Cline, a former deputy director of the CIA, to a secret meeting with the Khmer Rouge in Thailand. American money and satellite intelligence followed. By 1983, Pol Pot's new American allies were joined by a contingent from Britain's SAS, sent by Prime Minister Thatcher, who had spoken about "the more reasonable" Khmer Rouge. The SAS taught the Khmer Rouge-led "resistance" the technology of landmines. Cambodia has one of the highest limbless populations in the world, as a result of landmines. In 1991, after years of lying, the British government admitted the secret training in a written statement to parliament.
In other words, Pol Pot and his mass murderers probably would not have come to power had it not been for the mass murders ordered by Nixon and Kissinger. Certainly, they would have withered away in Thailand had it not been for American and British support from 1979.
Last week, a Guardian feature referred to the "abandonment" of Cambodia's Angkor Wat temples in the 1980s. They were not abandoned. Under an American and British inspired and policed UN embargo, made "legal" by the Security Council, appeals from the stricken country for the most basic repair of infrastructure, such as hospitals, homes, schools, roads, bridges, the water supply, and Unesco protection for Angkor Wat, were refused. These sanctions, similar to those now strangling Iraq, ensured that the suffering continued - all because Cambodia's liberators had come from the wrong side of the cold war.
Nixon is dead; Reagan is almost dead. Kissinger and Thatcher are still at large. Only when the same justice is extended to the demons and their Faustian partners will these trials begin to make legal, historical and moral sense.