Excerpts from interview with Pol Pot October 16, 1997
By Nate Thayer
Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 24 October 1997
Pol Pot, in his Oct 16 interview, dodged the big question - his role in mass murder - despite repeated attempts to get a response from him.
Nate Thayer's interpreter, senior KR cadre Tep Kunnal was less than keen on his job, trying to beg out of his translating duties. Thayer prevailed upon Kunnal to stay and translate the questions and answers. The following are excerpts, starting with Thayer's opening questions, addressed to the interpreter:
Q: He knows he is accused of leading and organization that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and that he has been condemned by most of the world for it. Is he a mass murderer, or what has he contributed to his country:
A: I think that you can raise all of the questions at one time, and some questions I think that I can answer connecting one to another to simplify things. But it's up to you...
Q: I'm interested in the issues of the time he was in power between 1975 and 1979. The millions of people who indeed did suffer during that time, and whether he feels that he's fairly accused. That's one question, let's start with.
A: Yes, I want to reply. Your question is not unfamiliar. That question has been raised time and again: I would like to say first that my conscience is clear. Everything I have done and contributed is first for the nation and the people and the race of Cambodia.
[Pol Pot then spoke about how the Vietnamese wanted to take over Cambodia, adding "they wanted to assassinate me because they knew without me they could easily swallow up Cambodia".]
Q: I would like to hear all of that, and if he's willing to stay here for hours, I am too. But if we could please deal with this first. As you know, most of the world thinks that you're responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent Cambodians who didn't deserve to suffer. Could you answer that question directly? Do you feel that you were indeed responsible for crimes against humanity, against your own people?
A: I'm going to reply. I want to tell you clearly. First, I would like to tell you that I came to carry out the struggle, not to kill people. Even now, and you can look at me, am I savage person? My conscience is clear... As I told you before, they fought against us, so we had to take measures to defend ourselves...
Q: You have an opportunity here, a historical opportunity. You know well that during your years in power, your policies - agrarian experiments, social and political organizations, the direct executions of many thousands of people - that many families suffered. The country itself also suffered because of your policies. Your fellow Cambodians want to know whether you feel any remorse, whether you acknowledge that you made very serious mistakes while you were in power?
A: There are two sides to it, as I told you: There's what we did wrong, and what we did right. The mistake is that we did some things against the people - by us and also by the enemy - but the other side, as I told you, is that without our struggle there would be no Cambodia right now.
Q: But for all those hundreds of thousands who suffered - not just died but suffered from forced labor, from lack of food, from what were clearly failed central policies while you were in power - don't you think that they deserve an apology?
A: For the wrong things of our struggle, as I told you, for the wrong things, it has been written in the book. This is a testimony before history.
Q: Which book?
A: The book is the "The Right and Wrong of Democratic Kampuchea". [Pol Pot was apparently referring to a political tract released by the Democratic Kampuchea movement, as the Khmer Rouge calls themselves, in the late 1980s.]
Q: But that acknowledged only 30,000 deaths. All independent scholars, from all political ideologies, acknowledge a minimum of hundreds of thousands of people who died as a result of failed central policies while you were in power...That is a fact. While you were in sole power-and all the other members of your standing committee say you were in full power-thousands of people died because of failed social policies of your government. Are you willing to acknowledge that fact?
A: As I told you, that was written in the book, and I'm tired of talking about it...
Q: Let's talk about Tuol Sleng. There is overwhelming evidence that you had overall responsibility for Tuol Sleng. Sixteen thousand people who signed confessions were executed, including women and children who were suspected CIA, KGB, Vietnamese agents. Were you responsible for Toul Sleng and do you really believe that those 16,000 - including women and children - were agents of a foreign government?
A: I was at the top. I made only big decisions on big issues. I want to tell you - Tuol Sleng was a Vietnamese exhibition; a journalist wrote that. People talk about Tuol Sleng, Tuol Sleng, Toul Sleng, but when we look at the pictures, the pictures are the same. When I first heard about Tuol Sleng, it was on VOA [Voice of America]. I listened twice. And there are documents talking about someone who did research about the skeletons of the people... They said when you look closely at the skulls, they are smaller than the skulls of the Khmer people.
Q: Are you saying that you never heard of Tuol Sleng before 1979?
A: No, I never heard of it. And those two researchers, they said that those skeletons, they were more than 10 years old.
Q: Sir, let me say that there is overwhelming scientific evidence, overwhelming proof that thousands of people, Cambodians, were executed at Toul Sleng while you were in control of Phnom Penh. There is no dispute among anybody else in the world outside of Anlong Veng, perhaps, that it is true.