US embassy explains return of Cambodian criminals

[Published in the Khmer Times on September 29, 2017. This is an updated version of an article first written in 2002 but not published anywhere except on this blog.]

Cambodian-US relations are currently being strained by a 15-year-old agreement under which the United States was allowed to send back to this country some 1,400 Cambodian immigrants who were convicted of crimes in the US – an agreement that the Cambodian government believes is inhumane and should be renegotiated. To find out more about the planned repatriation, I interviewed Mr. Bucky “John” Botulism, the First and a Half Secretary of the US embassy.

Mr. Botulism, why does the United States want to return these 1,400 immigrants to Cambodia?

It’s quite simple. These people are criminals, law breakers. The United States is a law-abiding society which has no room for such people.

But crimes are committed in every country. Is the US really more opposed to crime than other societies?

Indeed we are. For example, we have a greater percentage of our population in prison than any other country in the world; clearly, that indicates a commitment to stamping out crime. We are also very careful not to allow criminal foreigners to enter our country.

Yes, you carry out quite strict investigations of a person’s background before giving them an immigrant visa, don’t you?

Of course.

So you’re confident that none of those 1,400 immigrants had a criminal background here in Cambodia?

Well, we’re not perfect – although we’re working on it, ha ha – so it’s possible that one or two might have fooled our investigators. But it’s not likely. In fact, most of them were small children when they came.

So these people weren’t criminals when they lived in Cambodia. They became criminals in the US. And now that they’re criminals, you want to send them to Cambodia?

Of course. Why would we want to have Cambodian criminals living in the US?

Don’t you think that’s a bit unfair?

It certainly is. We, in complete good faith, give immigrant visas to these certified law-abiding people. We welcome them into our law-abiding, crime-hating society. And how do they repay our generosity? By becoming criminals! Not only that, but some of them are hardly more than kids when they land in jail!

But is it possible that something they experienced in the United States might have caused them to break the law?

Hey, I already told you: We hate crime so much that our police are allowed to shoot people dead just on suspicion. So why would we encourage anyone to become a criminal? Don’t be ridiculous!

What I don’t understand is why these people who weren’t criminals before they emigrated to the US became criminals in the US.

Well, look, there was obviously something wrong with them to start with, wasn’t there? I mean, if they were qualified to be good Americans, why were they born in Cambodia? Cambodians themselves will tell you: it must have been because they did something wrong in a previous life.

So is there any plan to have visa checks include applicants’ behaviour in previous existences?

Hey, you know, that’s not a bad idea … But probably the crypto-terrorists on the Supreme Court would prohibit it.

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Supporting democracy or stirring up trouble?

[Published by the Khmer Times on 1 September 2017.]

There are times when “hypocrisy” is far too gentle a term to describe US public interventions in other countries’ politics. That is certainly the case in the present teapot tempest over the Cambodia Daily, Radio Free Asia, Voice of America and National Democratic Institute.

For instance, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert referred to NDI as one of “civil society organizations” carrying out “important activities” to assist Cambodia’s 2018 national elections (as quoted in the Phnom Penh Post). That is not hypocrisy; that is a lie.

NDI has never been part of “civil society”. It was created by the US government, it is funded by the US government, and it serves the US government.

If US military forces have not yet shot up a country’s capital, and if the CIA has not yet been exposed handing over bags of money to its politicians, that does not at all indicate US respect for national sovereignty, but only that the US government has a choice of means of interference.

In fact, one reason that the NDI, its parent National Endowment for Democracy and its sibling International Republican Institute were set up was to make it easier to channel US government money to foreign politicians (and military officers) who were beginning to fear that disclosure of CIA funding would discredit them. But once the money was in the clients’ hands, the path by which it got there didn’t matter: it still served the same purpose. When the US funded a coup against the elected Venezuelan government in 2002, the money was funnelled through USAID, NED, IRI, NDI (although some reports said that NDI was not greatly involved specifically in the coup), and probably the CIA and other organisations we will never be told about. The precise channel was of no importance.

Part of the effort to create an illusion that government fronts like NDI are part of “civil society” involves having them provide seminars or training or travel to a range of politicians of different parties. (Of course, the CIA has often offered support to both sides in political disputes over the years; that is one way the US seeks to ensure it has influence with the winner, whatever happens.)

But even these “impartial” or “non-partisan” projects frequently reveal themselves as having a clear partisan bias. For example, after the 2013 Cambodian election, when the CNRP was claiming that it had “really” won the election despite its inability to provide any evidence for the claim, NDI put together a group of 20 local NGOs under the title of Electoral Reform Alliance (ERA), to find arguments or evidence with which to discredit the election result.

The eventual result was a large, glossy, multicoloured report, full of graphs and tables but almost totally lacking in logic, understanding of elementary ideas and even consistency. (For a detailed criticism, see https://letters2pppapers.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/era-reply-pamphlet_final1.pdf.) The ERA publication was funded by USAID.

Weeks before the ERA report appeared, Laura Thornton, then the local director of NDI, was bubbling over to the Cambodia Daily about what NDI hoped to accomplish. She said the report “will tap into some of the unhappiness over the election results and actually create a grassroots demand for reform … From our viewpoint, we are talking about a complete overhaul: rewriting election laws, revamping the NEC [National Election Committee].”

What a program: Stir up a movement of the unhappy losers to convince them that they really were cheated, so they will demand that the election laws be rewritten by NDI! And of course that would all be done in an impartial and non-partisan manner.

The fact that its officials are sometimes phantasists should not make us imagine that NDI is any the less dangerous. Its board of directors and senior advisers are loaded with influential former politicians and representatives of big wealth. This is epitomised by its chairman (sic) of many years, former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, whose humanitarian credentials include having publicly defended participating in the murder of half a million Iraqi children.

(Despite – or maybe because of – the reality, NDI never lacks for defenders in the media. A particularly grotesque example is the online Guardian newspaper’s reporting of the current dispute, which describes NDI as a “charity”!)

Regardless of whether NDI has or has not registered properly, Cambodia will be better off without it.

And the same people who swear that NDI is part of “civil society” assert, usually in the same breath, that the Cambodian government’s attempts to make RFA, VOA and the Cambodia Daily follow the same regulations and pay the same taxes as other organisations are an “attack on independent media”.

RFA was set up in the 1950s by a CIA front. RFA claims that CIA control ended in 1971, but how are we to know? – it didn’t acknowledge its CIA connections before 1971. In any case, RFA is still funded and therefore controlled by the same people – the US government – who fund and run the CIA; as with the NDI, exactly which channels the funds flow through doesn’t matter very much.

VOA, under a few different names, has been a mouthpiece for the US government since World War Two, and has never been anything else. All of its hundreds of journalists and correspondents are either US government employees or paid contractors.

Not surprisingly, the two stations display a similar editorial outlook, regarding Cambodia as well as other places. Regarding Cambodia, their attitude could be described as, “If something good happens, it isn’t news”. (For a more detailed analysis of RFA and Cambodia, see https://letters2pppapers.wordpress.com/archives/2016-2/how-radio-free-asia-tries-to-dupe-cambodians/.)

As far as I know, the Cambodia Daily is the only one of the “threatened” organisations that is in reality independent; that is, it is dependent, not on the US government, but on its founder, Bernard Krisher, and his daughter Deborah Krisher-Steele.

However, independence is not a licence to evade taxes. Other newspapers in Cambodia pay taxes, and no one has yet put forward a persuasive reason for exempting the Daily.

When it was founded in 1993, the Daily was set up as a non-government organisation, supposedly to train Cambodians as journalists. Even at the time, many on the scene suspected such training was mainly a pretext for asking for free reprint rights from major international papers and news networks. In any case, the Daily abandoned its claimed NGO status many years ago, so that is irrelevant to its current $6.3 million tax debt.

Krisher responded publicly to the tax bill by saying he didn’t owe any tax, because he had given large amounts of money – $39 million – for the construction of hundreds of schools in Cambodia.

There is no way that outsiders can verify that figure – which is one reason that governments generally do not simply accept individuals’ or businesses’ declarations as to their charitable deductions, especially long after the fact.

But even if the figure were proven, that hardly settles the matter. Businesses give money to worthy causes not only because their owners are overflowing with humanitarian feeling. Such donations also create good will for the business; in effect, they are a form of advertising.

And it is up to governments, not individual taxpayers, to decide on the spending of its income or potential income. Even if a charitable donation is in an area prioritised by the government (education, for example), the government might prefer to devote available funds to a different field within that area (for example, teachers’ salaries rather than school buildings).

For these and similar reasons, governments normally designate charitable organisations to which donations are tax deductible, and they specify limits and/or conditions on deductions. Certainly the United States, of which Krisher is a citizen and which is currently rallying to defend him against Cambodian taxes, does not allow individuals to decide unilaterally after the fact that some or all of their expenditures should count as tax payments. Krisher should just pay his taxes “the American way” and stop whining about it.

The facts make it clear that what the US is defending is not democracy, but its own “right” to meddle in Cambodian affairs.

Posted in Cambodia Daily, Cambodian National Rescue Party, CIA, civil society, Electoral Reform Alliance, Heather Nauert, International Republican Institute, Laura Thornton, National Democratic Institute, National Endowment for Democracy, Radio Free Asia, USAID, Voice of America | Leave a comment

Cambodian history vs. zombie facts

[Published by the Khmer Times on 4 July 2017.]

Over the years, I have almost grown accustomed to the distortions and misrepresentations of recent Cambodian history that appear in some of the English-language press.

Some of these falsities, I think of as “zombie facts”. No matter how many times they are shot down, they are soon revived by another writer, who assumes that their earlier appearance in print means they must be true (especially if they appeared in the paper she or he is working for). Many of these zombie facts revolve around Cambodia’s elections, but the Khmer Rouge tribunal, the UNTAC period and various episodes of the civil war also contribute a fair share.

A week before the 20th anniversary of the 1997 fighting between CPP and Funcinpec, the Cambodia Daily decided to get in early with its anniversary article, in its June 30 issue. If the Daily had stopped at merely re-inspiring the zombies, I would not have opened my computer. But the article adds new “information” that requires at least one attempt to bury it before it’s too late.

But first, two brief examples of long-lived zombies. The first is the idea that the 1991 Paris Agreement and UNTAC “put an end to the war” between the Cambodian government and the Khmer Rouge and its allies. Zombie facts can stagger on even when contradicted in the same article in which they appear. “[P]ut an end to the war” occurs on the first page of the Daily’s five-page article, while the third page acknowledges that the KR “had broken the treaty, regained their camps along the Thai border and resumed war”.

The second example from the same article tells us that Funcinpec was “overwhelmingly elected” in the 1993 UNTAC-run election. Funcinpec came first, with 45.5% of the total vote and 58 out of 120 seats, but that gives new meaning to “overwhelmingly” (especially when numerous CPP complaints, including that hundreds of ballot boxes had arrived for counting with their seals broken, were never addressed).

The article then says that “the CPP refused to step down”, and so Prince Sihanouk arranged a coalition between Funcinpec and the CPP. Anyone who questions that bit of accepted journalism will be accused of refusing to believe in the walking dead. But Ranariddh and Hun Sen had already agreed before the election that they would form a coalition if neither of their parties won a majority.* Furthermore, the rules for adopting the new constitution virtually guaranteed a coalition, since a two-thirds majority was required to approve the constitution.

The new element in the Daily article is the claim by Peter Bartu, an academic at the University of California, Berkeley, that one of “three key issues that really upset Hun Sen” immediately prior to the CPP -Funcinpec fighting was that Ranariddh had “unilaterally”, without consulting him, written to the UN secretary-general “ask[ing] for a Khmer Rouge tribunal”.

If true, this would be news to most people who have any familiarity with the history of the tribunal. Yet Bartu is quoted as saying there is “general agreement” about it.

The Swedish diplomat Thomas Hammarberg was directly involved in the Cambodian request for UN assistance in a court, which was signed jointly by Ranariddh and Hun Sen. Hammarberg later wrote in the magazine of the Documentation Center of Cambodia (http://www.d.dccam.org/Tribunal/Analysis/How_Khmer_Rouge_Tribunal.htm) that, following an April 1997 resolution of the UN Commission on Human Rights that indicated possible UN support for a KR tribunal, he first approached Ranariddh, who “appeared to be hesitant about the effects of the tribunal discussion on his possibilities to attract defectors” from the KR, but who agreed to sign a letter that Hammarberg then drafted. Hammarberg next “reported these developments to Hun Sen during our subsequent meeting. He said that he of course would sign, that to defeat the Khmer Rouge had for him been a lifelong battle.”

The article includes many other assertions from Bartu about what Hun Sen and other CPP leaders were upset or thinking about in 1997, none of which include any citations of a source. Unfortunately, for most of these, there is no equivalent of Thomas Hammarberg to counter the “facts” of unnamed informants. I already hear the tramping feet of more zombies.

*Kevin Cooney, “Leading Cambodian Parties Talk of Coalition”, Reuters, 25 May 1993, cited by Professor Michael Haas of the University of Hawaii, in Back to Square One? The Cambodia Tangle, Selected Papers in Asian Studies, New Series No. 49, Western Conference of the Association for Asian Studies, 1994.

Posted in Cambodia, Cambodia Daily, Cambodian People's Party, civil war, elections, Funcinpec, Hun Sen, Khmer Rouge, Khmer Times, Norodom Ranariddh, Paris Peace Agreements, Thomas Hammarberg, UNTAC | Leave a comment

Cambodian politician on US racism

[Sent to the Phnom Penh Post on 26 June 2017. Not published.]

Well, yes.

Prince Sisowath Thomico, of the CNRP’s standing committee, referring to President Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall on the US-Mexico border asks rhetorically “Is the US being racist?” (Post, Monday)

No country as a whole is racist, non-racist, or anything else. But yes, the lunatic border wall plan is racist. And yes, its author, President Trump, is a racist.

Donald Trump has a record as a racist going back decades, and he has not changed since entering politics except possibly to become more blatant about it. This helps to explain why the latest Pew Research Center survey found that 72% of Hispanics and 88% of Blacks in the USA disapprove of his record as president.

So, if Prince Thomico or anyone else wants to prove that some proposal or action of theirs is not racist, they won’t do it by saying, “It’s just like what the US government is doing.”

Posted in border wall, Cambodian National Rescue Party, Donald Trump, racism, Sisowath Thomico | Leave a comment

Commune elections: A question for the CNRP

[Published in the Khmer Times on 15 June 2017.]

The just completed commune elections raise an interesting question for the opposition CNRP.

As is well known, for the last four years, the CNRP has claimed that it “really” won the 2013 general election but was cheated out of its just result.

Less well known is that the CNRP never got around to telling the public where it thought it had been robbed: in which provinces it had been cheated out of how many votes. Leaving aside the fact that this alone raises serious doubts about the claimed fraud, consider another aspect.

The NEC’s final tally of the 2013 nationwide result was 48.83% for the CPP and 44.46% for the CNRP. (The remainder went to FUNCINPEC and other small parties, none of which won a National Assembly seat.)

If, as it claimed, the CNRP had really won 63 seats to the CPP’s 60, and since Cambodia doesn’t have an electoral college to frustrate the will of voters, certainly the CNRP would have had to obtain more votes than the CPP.

Exactly how many more is impossible to say, but of the two parties’ total (93.29%), the larger portion would have had to go to the CNRP. The division might have been 47.15% for the CNRP to 46.14% for the CPP. Or it might have been 48% to 45.29%, or even a larger margin.

So, if the CNRP claim that it was defrauded were true, that party’s vote in 2013 would have been 47% or 48% or 49% and the CPP’s total only 46% or 45% or 44% (leaving aside the fractions). That is, in effect the CNRP is claiming that its real vote was somewhere around 47-49%, but it was cheated.

In the commune elections, by contrast, there were only a few minor disputes and demands for recounts, no claims of systematic misrepresentation. We have so far only the preliminary count, but there are no challenges large enough that, if true, they could seriously alter the national vote totals. And those totals, according to press reports, are 51% for the CPP and 46% for the CNRP.

On the basis of the official figures, this is an increase for both parties over 2013 (because of a smaller vote for minor parties). But on the CNRP’s version of electoral history, its own vote has decreased by 1-3%, while the CPP’s has improved by 5-7%.

Of course the CNRP prefers to compare its 2017 vote to the 2012 commune election, when it was not united but still two smaller parties, competing with each other. But I have yet to hear of any CNRP leader admitting that this time the party didn’t do as well as in 2013.

So, the question for the CNRP is, which is it: Did your support drop in this election? Or were your claims of election fraud in 2013 so much nonsense?

Posted in Cambodia, Cambodian National Rescue Party, Cambodian People's Party, elections | Leave a comment

‘Analysts’ and the KR trials

[Sent to the Phnom Penh Post on 9 May 2017. Not published.]

Your Tuesday article “KRT judges have ‘deep concerns’” states that “analysts” doubt that the judges told the full truth in expressing their concerns, and that these “analysts” further said that all three outstanding cases in the Khmer Rouge tribunal have been “‘tainted’ by government influence”.

Unfortunately, the article nowhere indicates who these “analysts” are or what their analytical qualifications consist of. There are only two individuals directly quoted in the article: a victim who is a civil party in case 003 and Long Panhavuth, who is described as an “observer”, not as an “analyst” (and there is only one of him).

This leaves the reader with no objective information by which to judge the reliability or otherwise of the views attributed to the “analysts”. It can give some readers (me, for instance) the impression that your writers wanted to express an opinion about the court but preferred to assign their opinion to an anonymous someone else. (If I were to rephrase that sentence in Post style, it would read: “Analysts believe that the Post writers wanted to express an opinion …” etc.)

The extended quotation from Long Panhavuth only makes matters worse. Neither this article nor the previous day’s article, which also quoted him extensively, says anything about his qualifications or experience as an analyst/observer, which implies that he is an accepted source of reasonably neutral opinion, like a dictionary or other reference book.

In reality, Long Panhavuth is a long-time employee of the Open Society Justice Initiative, one of billionaire currency speculator George Soros’ numerous ongoing projects for wiping out any trace of any government that was ever allied with or even reasonably friendly with the former Soviet Union.

Among the many NGOs that have meddled in the KR tribunal to ill effect, OSJI stands out by far. For example, it conducted a years-long campaign about never-specified “corruption” at the court, even while OSJI itself was illegitimately obtaining what should have been confidential information from court staff. In 2011, it learned in this way that Judge Siegfried Blunk and his Cambodian co-investigating judge had decided to dismiss Case 003, and it therefore participated in a public campaign against Judge Blunk that led to his resignation before the legal formalities to close the case had been completed.

If the Post is going to persist in quoting Long Panhavuth, aren’t readers entitled, at the least, to know the employment history of this observer/analyst?

Posted in Khmer Rouge trials, Long Panhavuth, Open Society Justice Initiative, Phnom Penh Post, Siegfried Blunk | Leave a comment

Bombs and debts

[Published in the Khmer Times on March 27, 2017.]

Your account (March 23) of the unexploded US bomb removed from a pond in Kandal is not unrelated to the $500 million “debt” that the US claims is owed to it by Cambodia, as your article indicated.

The unexploded MK-82 bomb is clearly US property but was presumably given up as lost by Washington. Hence its return would be a clear benefit to the United States and should be regarded as the equivalent of a cash payment by Cambodia. The cost of one MK-82 was around $500 in 1970, equal to more than $3,000 today.

$3,000 might not seem much against $500 million, but, as your article noted, more than 20 unexploded MK-82s have been recovered in less than three months of this year. If that figure is typical, it suggests that perhaps 3,000-4,000 MK-82s have been recovered since the end of the bombing. Returning them to US possession ought to earn Cambodia at least $7 or $8 million.

Transporting this property back to the United States would clearly cost the US government a considerable amount, so Cambodia should also be credited for the significant savings it has made for Washington by holding its property for it for four decades. A similar charge should continue until such time as the US retrieves that property (when the bombs are delivered to the US embassy).

There is an even larger consideration, although it is difficult to quantify, because most of the bombs dropped on Cambodians exploded at the time. Those bombs cannot kill any more people and therefore no longer have value to the US government, even if it were possible to return them.

Still, we should note that between 1969 and 1973, the US subjected Cambodia to the equivalent of 2 million MK-82 bombs. The cost of the explosives alone, aside from the much greater costs of the planes and military systems needed to deliver them, would have been around $1 billion in 1970 dollars, or around $6.25 billion today. Would it really be outrageous to expect the US to pay as reparations to Cambodia this portion of what it spent in destroying the country?

Perhaps the US government could “forgive” the Cambodian debt, and the Cambodian government could “forgive” an equal amount of the US bombing of Cambodians, which would leave the US owing Cambodia about $5.75 billion.

Posted in bombing, Cambodia, debt, MK-82, United States | Leave a comment