Global Policy Forum

Khmer Rouge Leader Picks Lawyer


By Ker Munthit

Associated Press
April 6, 1999
Detained Khmer Rouge leader Ta Mok has chosen a Cambodian-American lawyer to defend him in his military trial on charges linked to the movement's genocidal rule, a judge said Tuesday. Ta Mok asked Saturday in a handwritten note for Washington-based lawyer Benson Samay to represent him instead of an attorney appointed by the court last week, Judge Ney Thol said. Because of the political sensitivity around the case, it has been difficult to find lawyers in Cambodia who would defend the one-legged guerrilla general known as ``The Butcher.''

Benson Samay, who has lived outside Cambodia for many years and practiced law in Washington for a decade, said he accepted the case, although he had made no request to take it. Contacted by phone, he said they had never met and he had no idea why Ta Mok had selected him. ``It is my task as a lawyer to defend an accused,'' Benson Samay said. ``I just want to know where the truth is. It is not important for me if Ta Mok wins or loses.'' In his letter, Ta Mok gave no reasons for the change, other than saying he thought Benson Samay was ``old enough to defend my case.''

Benson Samay is 56, 24 years older than the court-appointed counsel, Chiv Song Hok. Arrested March 6 by Cambodian army forces, Ta Mok has been charged with terrorism and anti-government activities under 1994 legislation outlawing the Khmer Rouge, who had boycotted elections the preceding year aimed at ending decades of civil war. He is the only senior figure of the genocidal group in custody after other leaders defected one by one since 1996 and won de facto pardons from the government.

Ta Mok, believed to be in his early 70s, showed himself to be one of the most ruthless leaders in the Khmer Rouge after the Maoist-inspired group seized power in 1975 and turned Cambodia into a forced labor camp. Researchers say there is enough evidence to link Ta Mok, secretary of southwestern Cambodia, to mass killings and brutal social experiments. Overall, as many as 2 million Cambodians perished from overwork, starvation, disease and executions before the Khmer Rouge were overthrown in 1979 by a Vietnamese invasion.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called for Khmer Rouge leaders to face trial in an international court, agreeing with U.N. experts that Cambodia's judicial system is too underdeveloped and politicized. But Prime Minister Hun Sen has insisted that national courts will prosecute Ta Mok and other Khmer Rouge leaders they choose to indict.

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