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How the Washington Post glossed over
US culpability in Pol Pot's rise to power

The Washington Post reacted to the good news of Pol Pot's death by offering (4/17/98) a viciously tortured view of the historical circumstances by which Cambodia's Pol Pot gained power, and afterwards, eluded punishment.

In the Post's version of events, Pol Pot is said to have risen to the leadership of the underground, communist movement in 1962. He fled to the countryside to avoid a crackdown by the government of Prince Norodom Sihanouk.

While concocting a "strange ideological brew of Marxism" from the jungle, Pol Pot conducted a guerilla war against the government. This movement was given a boost when Sihanouk, having been deposed by a US-backed military government, joined Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge forces.v The inept government steadily lost ground, US military support was cut off from it, and in 1975, the Khmer Rouge took over the government of Cambodia.

Thus readers are led to believe that the well-documented madness Pol Pot installed while ruling Cambodia from 1975 to late 1978 was entirely because the Cambodians let it happen, save for that military regime the US installed. Any opinions that offer an alternative explanation for Pol Pot's rise are marginalized.

In his letter to Mathew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive, Edward Herman refutes that version of history:

"The United States killed hundreds of thousands [of Cambodians] in bombing raids from 1969 to 1975, and left a shattered country with mass starvation imminent even before the Khmer Rouge takeover. Every serious scholar recognizes that the Khmer Rouge was radicalized and embittered by the US assault, and enraged at the urban elite that invited in, and was supported by, the foreign terrorists and murderers from the sky." (The Progressive, 10/97).

(Herman was responding to Rothschild's support of an Anthony Lewis column in the New York Times, which attacked Noam Chomsky by calling him a Khmer Rouge apologist. That stems from a 1975 article published in The Nation by Chomsky and Herman that argued that by bombing Cambodia to kingdom come, the US created the circumstances by which a monster like Pol Pot could come to power. This was a very interesting conflict, as both Herman and Chomsky reiterated their positions in letters to The Progressive, and finally Rothschild backed down.)

It seems inconceivable that the Washington Post would fail to mention the major circumstances under which Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge seized power-not even to say that it is a subject under scholarly debate. Yet, the facts are well known. According to the Encarta 98 Encyclopedia, the four-year bombing campaign, begun under Nixon's orders in 1969, caused great destruction and upheaval in Cambodia, a land of farmers who had not known war in centuries. Code-named Operation Menu, the bombing was more intense than that carried out over Vietnam. An estimated 100,000 peasants died in the bombing, while 2 million people were left homeless.

Even worse, the Washington Post glosses over what happened after Pol Pot was removed from power by the Vietnamese. They tell us that Pol Pot "dropped from public view as the full horror of it became clear." We are also told that Pol Pot retained the leadership of the Khmer Rouge while his guerillas battled the invading Vietnamese, then `retired' in 1985 to head an obscure institute. In other words, Pol Pot just kind of faded away-and so did US interest.

This is quite a different story than the one told by the more conscientious historians at Covert Action Quarterly, also published in DC. In the fall 1997 issue, John Pilger writes that the US funneled $86 million in support of Pol Pot and his followers from 1980 to 1986. In addition, the Reagan administration schemed and plotted to have Khmer Rouge representatives occupy Cambodia's UN seat, even though the Khmer Rouge government ceased to exist in 1979. This was a sad effort to grant Pol Pot's followers international legitimacy.

Pilger also informs us that the US applied pressure to the World Food Program to ensure that $12 million worth of food targeted elsewhere in an international rescue effort would be handed over to the Thai army to be passed on to the Khmer Rouge. In addition, Washington set up the Kampuchean Emergency Group (which later morphed into the Kam- puchean Working Group), whose unspoken mission was to direct food to Khmer Rouge bases.

This helped restore the Khmer Rouge as a fighting force based in Thailand, which destabilized Cambodia for more than a decade, much like the US-backed Contras did in Nicaragua during the same period.

Of course, it should go without saying that the Reagan and Bush administrations covertly channeled weapons to the Khmer Rouge by using Singapore as a middleman. As with "Iran-Contra," Bush's military aid to the Khmer Rouge violated a law passed by Congress in 1989 that expressly forbade it.

The US also used its clout in the UN to get the UN Human Rights Sub-commission to drop from its agenda a draft resolution on Cambodia that would subject former Khmer Rouge leaders to international war crimes tribunals. Henry Kissinger was an important influence in this ignoble effort.

Thus, another dictator/mass murderer has died or become useless to US interests, and the Washington Post rushes yet again to print a version of history that omits mentioning the scope of US complicity. A short list of dictators who have received the Post's special treatment over the years include the late Jean-Claude Duvalier, Ferdinand Marcos, Sese Seko Mobutu, Anastasio Somoza, and Rafael Trujillo. Of this group, Pol Pot is unquestionably the most villainous, having killed an estimated 1.7 million of his countrymen in three horrifying years.

A pattern emerges, evident to all who permit themselves to see it. While the US unfailingly lends support to mass murderers around the globe its mainstream press convinces the general public it is not happening. The propaganda is so intense that mature adults routinely doubt whether our altruism should continue indefinitely.

Moreover, the disgusting likes of Kissinger, Reagan and Bush get to sleep easy at night while their victims-like the mainstream media-tell no tales.

Scott Loughrey

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