Why The Vietnam War Helped the Khmer Rouge – and How Vietnam Incurred the World’s Wrath By Toppling Pol Pot.

Why The Vietnam War Helped the Khmer Rouge – and How Vietnam Incurred the World’s Wrath By Toppling Pol Pot.

Above Photo: Pol Pot photographed in 1978 (Richard Dudman/Corbis)

In writing BACK I sought to bring the horrors of the evil Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia into the present day, when a bunch of US and British backpackers are captured in the jungles of Cambodia whilst trekking. Doing research for it was particularly unpleasant, especially reading pathetic confessions tortured out of people, including foreigners, in Tuol Sleng prison, Phnom Penh.

Anyone who feels strongly about what happened in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge cannot be happy with the stuttering, pathetic lack of “justice” for the architects of the Khmer Rouge genocide.

Some of the wooden cells on the upper floors of Tuol Sleng prison.

Some of the wooden cells on the upper floors of Tuol Sleng prison.

Allowing the remaining unconvicted mass murderers die off in old age (a dignity they never allowed their victims) is another disgraceful footnote in the history of Cambodia’s – and much of the world’s – complicity in their dealings with the Khmer Rouge. The reluctance to bring these murderers to account before they  die of old age shames international justice, as does the free pass on genocide the Khmer Rouge has received from the world.

The only notable, and welcome, conviction from an expensive, politically-meddled-with, corruption-riddled and slow-moving international show trial (which should never have been held inside Cambodia), was the conviction of Comrade Duch a couple of years ago. He was responsible for running Tuol Sleng, the Khmer Rouge torture centre in Phnom Penh, but he wasn’t one of the senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge, although he oversaw the torture and deaths of many thousands of prisoners.

Enemies of the State: Young victims of Tuol Sleng and the Khmer Rouge.

Enemies of the State: Young victims of Tuol Sleng and the Khmer Rouge.

I often wonder why nobody came to Cambodia’s aid when the Khmer Rouge were exterminating their own citizens by the millions. Even when citizens of the USA, France, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and other countries were being tortured and murdered in Tuol Sleng prison, why was nothing done about it then? Why no complaints, why no international pressure brought to bear? And if the Khmer Rouge were deemed to be so out of control then, why weren’t countries run by people who should have known better not plotting a more muscular intervention?

Of course the answer to that question lies in the tatters of the US’s failed intervention in Vietnam, and fear of becoming embroiled in another intractable war, but that doesn’t excuse it.

More Dangerous Traitors in Tuol Sleng Prison.

More Dangerous Traitors in Tuol Sleng Prison.

I sometimes think of the last moments of terrified Cambodian and foreign captives in Tuol Sleng and elsewhere in brutal Khmer Rouge-run prisons across the country, and about what suffering inmates went through at the hands of their torturers, who, with one exception (Comrade Duch), have completely escaped justice.

I was struck by this article in the New York Times which I recently came across, about one such torturer from Tuol Sleng prison who now lives a quiet life as a farmer in Cambodia, and wonder why these people aren’t hunted down and charged.

Clearly, in Cambodia at least, “I was only obeying orders” is now a legitimate defence to mass murder.


 Ridiculous confessions tortured out of people

I would hate to think of what kind of torture was inflicted on John Dewhirst, a British victim of Tuol Sleng and the Khmer Rouge, and a backpacking hippie adventurer, for him to to come up with the confession that he was a CIA agent on a secret mission to sabotage the Khmer Rouge regime.

He claimed his father had also been a CIA agent, using the cover of ‘headmaster of Benton Road Secondary School’, and that he had been trained in modern spying techniques at Loughborough University.

toul sleng S21 torture centre in phnom pehn cambodia

This former school was the main Khmer Rouge interrogation centre in Phnom Penh, called S-21 or Tuol Sleng. It was where most Westerners were tortured before being taken to the Killing Fields, a short distance from the city.

The confession was signed and dated 5 July 1978, and he put his thumbprint alongside it before he was murdered at the Killing Fields, the only known British citizen killed there, after the Khmer Rouge got what they wanted, regardless of the truth.

(L-R), Pol Pot, Noun Chea, Leng Sary, Son Sen and other supporters (Corbis)

(L-R), Pol Pot, Noun Chea, Leng Sary, Son Sen and other supporters (Corbis)

The Khmer Rouge were paranoid, and of course, the vast majority of their victims were Cambodians themselves, who were tortured to reveal strings of traitors, who were then purged and who in turn revealed more and more enemies, spies, collaborators and saboteurs, as the regime fed on itself in a downward spiral of destruction and violence.

Ieng Sary played a major role in setting Khmer Rouge policy. He was another senior leader who was allowed to die unconvicted. Evidence at his trial showed he had seen and commented on documents detailing the mass murders going on inside Cambodia, and he was the fourth-senior Khmer Rouge leader, and very close by marriage and friendship to Pol Pot.He was also responsible for persuading thousands of Cambodians safely living in exile to return home, when they were then put into camps and exterminated.

Thank you Vietnam

Cambodian workers in the rice fields under the khmer rouge why the khmer rouge got away with genocide pol pot

Cambodian workers in the rice fields under the Khmer Rouge (Richard Dudman/Corbis).

And how were the Khmer Rouge eventually deposed, having killed millions of their countrymen? Did the US and the forces of the ‘Free World’ combine to topple them perhaps? Maybe the ‘Humanitarian’ Chinese had had enough of the butchering by its Khmer Rouge friend and ally?


The Khmer Rouge were ousted by the Vietnamese in 1979 after they’d grown tired of them raiding their borders. The regime folded like a bad poker player and most of their leaders escaped to the sanctuary of Thailand and the refugee camps, where the US, Thailand, China, the British and many other nations disgracefully provided them with overt and covert financial and military assistance, in an effort to return the Khmer Rouge to power and to teach Vietnam a hard lesson for its ‘intervention’ in Cambodia.

UN sanctuary for Khmer Rouge murderers kurt waldheim met Ieng sary and Thiounn Prasith

Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim meeting with Khmer Rouge murderer Ieng Sary (centre), and the Khmer Rouge UN Ambassador Thiounn Prasith. (UN Photo)

The US also helped keep the Khmer Rouge’s seat open at the UN, and ensured it did not pass to the ‘new’ Cambodian government. It was sat in by a lifelong friend of Pol Pot, Thaoun Prasith, and the Khmer Rouge held onto their UN seat until 1993, fourteen years after they had been deposed. By then even the US had grown embarrassed about its continuing to turn a blind eye to what had long been a terrorist organization.

The complicity of many countries in trying to restore the Khmer Rouge to power, in part helps to explain why they effectively received a free pass on genocide from the international community, and over time I suspect a lot more will emerge from archives about the world’s dealings and hypocritical support for these mass murdering, evil shitbags.

Our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil. Set in the jungles of Laos and Vietnam, the film deals with the possible fate of US servicemen left behind after the US pulled out of the Vietnam War.

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For POWs left behind in Laos, see also:

© Peter Alan Lloyd

BACK Parts 1 and 2:

Reviews: Amazon.co.uk: Customer Reviews 

UK: Amazon.co.uk: BACK Parts 1 and 2 

US: Amazon: Back Parts 1 and 2

Smashwords: Back Parts 1 and 2

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Front cover of BACK Part 1.

Front cover of BACK Part 1.

Front cover of BACK Part 2.

Front cover of BACK Part 2.

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