Defense Questions KR History Scholar Heder

The cross-examination of scholar Stephen Heder at the Khmer Rouge tribunal continued Tuesday with the defense for war crimes suspect Nuon Chea seeking to determine what Mr. Heder’s research told him about policy, executions and the relationship between their client and the National Assembly’s current president, Heng Samrin.

Defense lawyer Victor Koppe initially focused on Mr. Heder’s decision in May to decline to appear before the court as an expert witness, although he is appearing now as a factual witness.

Mr. Heder (who was a consultant to the war crimes tribunal in the Office of the Co-Investigating Judges (OCIJ) until 2011 when he resigned citing a “toxic atmosphere of mutual mistrust”) explained that there were a number of “inter-related” reasons for his decision to decline the role of expert witness.

“It’s true that the Trial Chamber considered me an expert and I guess defense did so as well,” he said. “However, when I was assigned to the OCIJ, I was definitely not considered to be an expert. [Then-International Co-Investigating] Judge Marcel Lemonde once remarked to me: ‘I’m the expert, not you.’”

Mr. Heder added that as a scholar, “the normal mode of academic expression is through published materials,” not question-and-answer sessions. And finally, he said, “around the end of 2011, I decided I didn’t want to have all my energies focused on the Khmer Rouge. I found myself being de-skilled in terms of other interests and qualifications. I thought, no more Khmer Rouge for now and decided no more Khmer Rouge tribunal forever. That was because I wanted to concentrate on other things.”

When Mr. Heder was asked whether or not Judge Lemonde had instructed him to collect only inculpatory (or incriminating), and not exculpatory evidence, a swift objection by the prosecution was sustained. Also sustained were a number of objections raised when Mr. Koppe tried to question Mr. Heder using works authored by fellow historians Ben Kiernan and David Chandler.

Senior Assistant Prosecutor Keith Raynor argued that such questions lacked relevance and would require answers rooted in opinion, not fact.

As the verbal rallies continued, interrupted occasionally by Trial Chamber Judge Sylvia Cartwright who warned Mr. Koppe that he was running out of chances to question the witness, Mr. Raynor asked whether or not they were in “a court of law or a playground?”

Mr. Heder was able to answer some of Mr. Koppe’s questions related to the Khmer Rouge Eastern Zone, which he described as “same same, but better,” when compared to other zones around the country.

“Policy was implemented in a manner that was more in line with what was on the face of center policy,” he said of the zone, adding: “Yes, there were widespread executions—not as widespread as in some other places—and executions from the same kinds of reasons and to the same kinds of processes that took place elsewhere in the country.”

Asked if Mr. Samrin was a Cambodian version of British double-agent Kim Philby and if he had been a messenger for Nuon Chea, Trial Chamber Judge Nil Nonn intervened.

The defense for Khieu Samphan will question Mr. Heder today.

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