Not all ‘observers’ alike

[Printed in the Phnom Penh Post on May 20, 2009. Written in response to the campaign by the Open Society Justice Initiative to discredit the Khmer Rouge court by repeating accusations that were never specific enough to be confirmed or refuted.]

Robbie Corey-Boulet’s “Doubts cast over veracity of ECCC personnel audits, observers say” (May 18, 2009) quotes two “observers”, John Hall and Heather Ryan, who should be identified in more detail if readers are to be able to judge the quality of their observations.

Corey-Boulet notes that Dr Hall is an associate professor at Chapman University School of Law. Coupling his academic title with the statement that Hall “has written extensively about the tribunal” may give readers the impression that this refers to scholarly papers. That would be false.

Unlike most of his colleagues at Chapman, Hall does not list his scholarly papers in his CV on the school’s website.

Hall’s “extensive” writing on the ECCC has appeared primarily in the Wall Street Journal, the US newspaper of right-wing Republicanism and market fundamentalism, and/or the Cambodia Daily. Between September 2007 and August of last year, he wrote three ill-informed pieces that chopped and changed to meet the WSJ’s editorial line of the moment.

Corey-Boulet quotes Heather Ryan of the Open Society Justice Initiative on what Ryan claims “All reports indicate”. What “reports” is she talking about? There is a certain sameness in media coverage, but it would be a grotesque exaggeration to say that all media reports have taken the view that she describes.

It is known that the United Nations conducted some kind of “review” of documents that purported to be kickback allegations, but this has never been made public, and one must presume that the UN does not leak its documents to OSJI. Even if it did, that would be only one report, not plural “reports”.

The mystery is perhaps solved by some information that your journalist neglected to include – it was OSJI that first made a public call for “investigation” of kickback allegations, and which has raised that call and those allegations, without providing any specifics, on every possible occasion for more than two years.

That an OSJI official would seek to cast doubt on the relevance of the audits is therefore hardly surprising.

I am confident that, if I didn’t do it, the Post would point out that I am married to the ECCC’s chief of public affairs. That is perfectly legitimate. But why doesn’t the Post also inform readers of facts that might color Heather Ryan’s views?

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