Frontline/World: 'Pol Pot's Shadow'
With Amanda Pike
Friday, Nov. 1, 2002; 11 a.m. ET
More than 20 years after Cambodia's communist Khmer Rouge regime was driven from power, its notorious leader, the late Pol Pot, continues to cast a long shadow over the nation. Nearly two million people died under the Khmer Rouge's rule from 1975-1979, yet no one has ever been brought to trial for the genocide, which ranks as one of the worst of the 20th century. Instead, many of the Khmer Rouge's surviving leaders can now be found living and working alongside the very people they once tortured and imprisoned.
FRONTLINE/World's "Pol Pot's Shadow," airing Thursday, Oct. 31, at 9 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings), journeys deep into the heart of Cambodia, where journalist Amanda Pike tracks down and confronts some of the surviving perpetrators of the Khmer Rouges genocide of two million Cambodians. Pike was online Friday, Nov. 1.
The transcript follows.
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Alexandria, Va.: I enjoyed the show last night, if one can say they enjoyed a show about mass murderers.
I was very surprised that so many were willing to talk to you but almost all completely denied any involvement and many blamed the Vietnamese.
Is there some cultural aspect to this kind of approach? I'd think they would just avoid you at any cost.
Amanda Pike: Thank you. I was also surprised by the number of people who were willing to talk to us. Before we arrived in Cambodia I had no sense of how hard it would be to find people willing to speak on camera. Most of the interviews obviously could never be scheduled in advance. In fact, I thought it would be difficult just to get people to admit that they were part of the Khmer Rouge. But just about everyone we met seemed to have no shame or embarrassment about being part of the organization, though as you saw most denied any personal involvement.
I think part of the denials we found has to do not only with evasion but also a genuine confusion about what happened during the Khmer Rouge and why. The Pol Pot regime was so paranoid and secretive- Pol Pot didn't even announce that he was the leader or that the Khmer Rouge were communist until they had already been in power for a couple years. Cambodians were for the most part confined to isolated work camps and most have never been able to study their own history. Most everyone we spoke with had sincere questions about what happened and who was responsible and said these answers were what they wanted most from a war crimes trial.
Mt. Lebanon, Pa.: How does anyone in the west know conclusively that Pol Pot is actually dead and buried in an ash and bone heap in the Cambodian sticks? Seems awfully convenient that the UN doesn't have a malefactor to bring to justice for the Killing Fields outrage to humankind -- and from your program doesn't have a healthy desire to bring baby brother #2 to justice, as well. Thanks much.
Amanda Pike: There are a lot of conspiracies floating around about the method of Pol Pot's death (poison, suicide, illness) and who might have been involved. Although an autopsy was never performed, several foreign journalists were able to see the body before it was cremated. Judging from their testimonies and photographs, it looks like the ashes lying there up in the Dangrek Mountains are indeed those of Pol Pot.
New York, N.Y.: I was an American in Cambodia last year, and was surprised to find out that almost everyone in the Teoul Sung Genocide Museum was a Westerner. I got the impression that many Cambodians are befuddled by the West's consistent focus in the Khmer Rouge Genocide. What are your thoughts?
Amanda Pike: I think you're right that many Cambodians are a little stunned that all most of us know about their country involves the atrocities that happened during the seventies. Cambodians certainly have many other pressing concerns. Several people we interviewed said they didn't have the luxury of thinking about justice- they were just trying to survive. And members of the political opposition party emphasized that they were much more concerned about threats from the current government than any lingering fears about the Khmer Rouge.
Chelmsford, Mass.: What kind of video equipment did you use in Cambodia?
Amanda Pike: We used a small digital camera kit with a Sony PD150 mini-dv camcorder. We didn't have the space to carry a lot of equipment and I don't know where we would have plugged it in even if we had.
Harrisburg, Pa.: Maybe this is the question with no answer. How does a leader kill or let a third of his nation die? What leader can turn to his people and think for the good of our nation, many of you will die? What kind of legacy does such a leader expect? When someone's ideology allows massive deaths, why doesn't a leader begin to question that ideology?
Amanda Pike: You raise a fascinating question, though as you say there are no easy answers. One of the things that surprised me most in talking to the remnants of the Khmer Rouge was their continued commitment to what they see as the original ideals of their revolution. The educated men who made up the upper ranks of the movement say that they were patriots who truly believed that their new independent government would better the country. I do believe that most of the people we met had the nation's best interests at heart- many fought for years at great personal risk to try and make a difference. What is so confusing and heartbreaking is how their struggle went so quickly and so horribly wrong- and why these men stayed with the movement for decades after the atrocities became known.
Chicago, Ill.: I have always been interested in the Khymer Rouge and your report was fascinating. I would like to know if anything is being done to preserve the documents from the atrocities, other than keeping them stored in boxes which are subject to decay. Thank you again.
Amanda Pike: The curator of Tuol Sleng, Chey Sopheara, is doing what he can to preserve the original documents though as you saw he is severely hampered by a lack of funds. In fact, we could barely film there in the dim records room because the museum couldn't pay the electricity bill. However, organizations like Youk Chhang's Documentation Center of Cambodia are working to copy and archive all the available material so nothing is lost- or forgotten.
Rolling Meadows, Ill.: If your were going to recommend an organization to contact in Cambodia through which we might find a way to help the Cambodian people, who would that be?
Amanda Pike: There are a number of wonderful organizations that are working to help Cambodia. There is Youk Chhang's Documentation Center, which I already mentioned. There are also a number of groups working in the areas of de-mining, education and health, many of which are accessible through the internet.
Westlake, Ohio: Hi Amanda,
Could you please tell me where can I get the video about last night's show?
Amanda Pike: You can find videos for educational use on the show's Web site. The piece is also streaming there over the internet.
Amanda Pike: Thank you very much for your interest. It's wonderful to get the opportunity to discuss this story.
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