Case ‘political mine field,’ anti-CPP ‘ammunition,’ papers say
Eight years after opening their misbegotten investigation of a 1997 political massacre here, US investigators finally closed the case, with the FBI’s Honolulu Division believing it should be kept secret to protect the Cambodian government, according to newly declassified records.
In colloquial candor, internal communications reveal the low regard in which US officials held the investigation and the political concerns that frustrated their work and caused them to fear that its results would be disclosed to the public.
No arrests were ever made for the grenade attack on an opposition political rally in March 1997, which left at least 16 people dead and wounded more than 100. But Prime Minister Hun Sen and Cambodian police and military officials have always vehemently denied accusations of advance knowledge or involvement.
The attack was investigated by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation at the invitation of pro-Funcinpec police and because an American man had suffered shrapnel wounds.
But the most recently disclosed FBI papers, among the last on the grenade attack to be declassified as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request lodged by The Cambodia Daily, collectively depict the closure of a case that was opened under public pressure but that withered in large part because the FBI never truly wanted to pursue it.
In March 2004, with the case having seen no investigative activity for five years, families of 12 of those killed in the attack wrote to FBI Director Robert Mueller, pleading that the FBI release the results of its investigation.
A month later, their request found its way to the desk of Charles Goodwin, the Honolulu Division’s special agent in charge who has since retired to work as a security consultant to the Professional Golfers Association of America. As the nearest field office, Honolulu had been placed in charge in 1997.
In the most highly classified case document yet to be disclosed, an e-mail apparently written either by Mr Goodwin or his second in command and marked “Secret,” “Orcon” and “Noforn,”—meaning it contained sensitive national security information not to be shown to foreigners and to be distributed only under the control of its author—FBI headquarters was advised that disclosing additional information about the case could damage relations with Cambodia.
“For your information, this case is very sensitive in that it sits in the middle of a vast political minefield,” said the e-mail, which bore only minor redactions by FBI officials.
While the FBI and US State Department had publicly refrained from discussing their suspicions, according to the message, US officials knew privately the case pointed unambiguously toward the CPP.
“Although there is no definitive proof that [redacted] ordered the grenade attack against the Khmer National Party (KNP) protest demonstration, there are several witness statements indicating possible involvement of [redacted] CPP operatives in the actual grenade attack and the complicity of CPP-controlled military units in the vicinity of the protest demonstration allowing the subjects to escape,” the e-mail said.
“Witness reporting also indicated that shortly after the grenade attack, CPP operatives were allegedly overheard using radio communications and making suspicious comments that could be associated with the grenade attack.
“Additionally, it was reported suspicious defensive positions taken by CPP military units around [redacted] the night before the grenade attack. Reporting also exists suggesting the CPP operatives used in the grenade attack were subsequently killed for their failure to kill the intended target.
“[I]t is my humble opinion that any release of FBI investigative material will be used as political ammunition against the current Cambodian regime which will have significant diplomatic ramifications, especially