While the end result of the Khmer Rouge regime’s ultra-Marxist ideology was the death of an estimated 1.7 million people, its leaders did not set out to exterminate their own countrymen, expert witness and author Philip Short testified at the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Wednesday.
“The goal was to move the people, and however unpleasant it was for them…that was not taken into account, and there was a consistent disregard of human suffering,” said Mr. Short, who wrote the biography, “Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare,” of the evacuation of Phnom Penh in 1975.
Rather than a planned and systematic genocide, the deaths of large amounts of the population were considered by the regime to be a “regrettable, but unavoidable” sacrifice necessary to attain a higher goal, he said.
“Starvation was not what the regime wished and had intended. Pol Pot actually wanted people to be healthy so they could work hard.” However, Mr Short said, the availibility of food played an essential role in trying to indoctrinate city dwellers in a communist ideology.
“Food was used as one of the best means to motivate people to work harder, or to punish them,” he testified, adding that Pol Pot and Nuon Chea, whom he described as equally responsible, ordered zone leaders throughout the country to feed the people properly.
“But the leadership was certainly responsible to the extent that they allowed a situation to arise and did nothing against it,” he said.
Questioned by Nuon Chea’s Co-Defense Lawyer Victor Koppe on whether the killing of Lon Nol soldiers and officials as early as 1974 in Oudong was actually ordered by the Communist Party of Kampuchea, Mr. Short referred to the conclusion he drew from interviewing various eyewitnesses who gave consistent accounts.
“Lon Nol soldiers were executed and high-ranking officials likewise,” he said. “It’s difficult to not make a connection between a central policy and what is being done on the ground.”
Mr. Koppe, pointing out that Mr. Short did not speak Khmer and had not interviewed all of the regime’s leaders while researching his more than 500-page book, at times appeared to call into question the author’s credibility as an expert witness.
“You said you tried to grasp the mindset of the D.K. [Democratic Kampuchea] leaders, but you have not been able to speak to Pol Pot or Nuon Chea and many members of the Standing Committee other than Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary,” he said.
Questioning of Mr. Short continues today.