Reply to a Wall Street Journal professor

[Sent to the Cambodia Daily in August 2008, in response to its reprinting of an attack on the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (the Khmer Rouge tribunal) in the Wall Street Journal.]

Most readers of the Wall Street Journal would know next to nothing about Cambodia, so one can understand that paper’s confidence in misinforming them with John Hall’s articles. It is a mystery, however, why the Cambodia Daily expects its readers to be equally unaware, and has on at least four occasions devoted an entire page to this self-appointed expert’s ignorant and prejudiced rants about the Khmer Rouge trials.

To deal with just the latest such article (August 15):

“Cambodian staff have not been paid, money is drying up fast …” It is true that the UN side of the court will need additional funds within around 2 ½ months. But the delayed payment of Cambodian staff’s July salaries has nothing to do with that; it is due to UNDP withholding bridging funds from Australia and France that were announced in March. Hall seems totally unaware of the two contributions to the Cambodian side announced in late June: $3 million from Japan and $1 million from the Cambodian government.

“Donor nations, already skittish from earlier scandals, are worried.” There were no “earlier scandals”. There have only been repeated allegations of a single scandal – i.e. kickbacks – which so far have contained no specifics.

According to Hall, the allegations apparently filed by one or more Cambodian ECCC staff are “unprecedented within the notoriously corrupt Cambodian judicial system”. As a US lawyer, he presumably knows the meaning of “precedent”, so Hall here tells us that there has never been a corruption charge filed in a Cambodian court. Heng Pao, among many others, would be interested to learn this.

David Tolbert is identified only as “the UN’s Special Expert”. If he were given his proper title, “Special Expert to the Secretary-General on UN Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Tribunal”, it would be obvious that he has no authority to propose anything regarding the Cambodian side of the ECCC or the ECCC generally.

Tolbert, according to Hall, “has presented the outline” of his proposals “to the Cambodian staff at the tribunal”, among others. There is no report of Tolbert ever having met with the Cambodian staff for such a purpose.

When I referred above to Hall as a “self-appointed expert” on the ECCC, readers may have thought I was being unjust. After all, his qualifications sound impressive: “John Hall is an associate professor at Chapman University School of Law in Orange, California and a research fellow at the Center for Global Trade & Development.”

People unfamiliar with the US educational system may not be aware that the term “professor” is used much more widely there than in other systems. A US “assistant professor” would be a “lecturer” in most Commonwealth countries, an “associate professor” a “senior lecturer”. At Chapman University School of Law, according to its web site, of 56 academic staff, 53 are some type of professor (or higher, such as “dean”). Ten of those are assistant professors, so 43 out of the 56 academic staff hold the same or higher rank (mostly higher) as Dr Hall.

Chapman University is one of eight universities (and nine colleges) in Orange County. Until 1934, it was named the California Christian College, and its web site today says that it “maintains its historical connection to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) through its resolve to educate ethical, spiritual and intellectual individuals.” Its law school, one of nearly 300 in the US, was established in 1995 and became fully accredited in 2002. In March of this year, US News and World Report’s annual law school rankings promoted Chapman from fourth tier to third tier (out of four).

The Center for Global Trade & Development, which casual readers of the Daily might have thought to be an independent academic organization, is part of the Chapman Law School.

Unlike most of the faculty CVs on the Chapman Law School site, Hall’s contains no list of scholarly publications. However, a blog at the Case Western Reserve University (Ohio) Law School contain a paragraph about Hall stating: “… his scholarship on Cambodia has appeared in Columbia Journal of Asian Law, Journal of International Business & Law, and Stanford Journal of International Law.”

In searches of the internet, I was able to find one 2006 article by Hall on the Nuon Paet, Chhouk Rin and Sam Bith trials in the Columbia Journal and a 2000 article in the Stanford Journal on “Human Rights and the Garment Industry”. The Journal of International Business & Law, described by wikipedia as “a joint scholarly publication of the Frank G. Zarb School of Business and the students of the Hofstra University [New York] School of Law”, appears not to have its own web site, so I have not been able to track down Dr Hall’s contribution(s) there; it seems likely, however, that it/they have more to do with business than with the KR trials.

All in all, it seems remarkably little scholarly qualification for dictating the future course of the ECCC. Worse still, Hall has either made injudicious assumptions about the nature of the allegations presented to the UN in New York, or he has joined a long line of NGOs, journalists and publicity-seekers to whom rumors, unspecific allegations and selective quotes from audit reports have regularly been leaked. His article presumes numerous things about the allegations that have not been reported publicly, and the Cambodian side has declared that it has received no information about the content of these allegations – not even whether they concern Cambodian staff, international staff or both.

The main argument of Hall’s repeated articles has centered on whether or not control of the ECCC is being removed from the joint administration carefully negotiated between Cambodia and the UN and transferred – not to the UN as such, but to a specific version of the UN.

 The Wall Street Journal is a standard bearer of US Republican fundamentalism, which views as illegitimate any actions of the UN that are not controlled by the US. Hall’s initial article, fitting this agenda, mainly attacked the UN side of the court, mentioning the Cambodian side only as something the UN should be doing more to control. His view of the ECCC brightened considerably in his July 16 article, when UN plans to bring in a US overseer, David Tolbert, led Hall to argue that, for the paltry price of a few million dollars, the US could gain political control of the ECCC. His latest, less optimistic, piece seems designed to bludgeon the recalcitrant natives into going along with the WSJ and Hall’s view of the modern white man’s burden.

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