Secretary Clinton: The past must be confronted

Obama officials direct yet another nation to Look Backward in order to Look Forward

Published November 2, 2010 7:03PM (EDT)

(updated below)

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Cambodia yesterday and urged its government to proceed with more prosecutions of surviving Khmer Rouge officials.  This is how The New York Times described her visit:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited a former Khmer Rouge torture house in Cambodia on Monday and urged the nation to proceed with trials of the former regime's surviving leaders in order to "confront its past."

The commandant of that prison, Kaing Guek Eav, was sentenced to 19 years in prison last July in the first part of a United Nations-backed trial of leading figures of the Khmer Rouge regime, which was responsible for the deaths of 1.7 million people between 1975 and 1979.

A second trial involving the four most senior surviving leaders has been expected to follow, after they were formally indicted in September. But Prime Minister Hun Sen, who once said that Cambodia should "dig a hole and bury the past," has said that he would not allow any additional prosecutions beyond those four.

Mrs. Clinton repeated an argument that has been used by proponents of the trials, saying that "a country that is able to confront its past is a country that can overcome it."

"Countries that are held prisoner to their past can never break those chains and build the kind of future that their children deserve," she said. "Although I am well aware the work of the tribunal is painful, it is necessary to ensure a lasting peace."

Obviously, few regimes can compete with the Khmer Rouge in terms of the breadth and depth of its crimes, but I trust that everyone sees how irrelevant that is to the point.  Previously, Secretary Clinton instructed Kenya to proceed with war crimes trials of its former officials, while President Obama demanded that Indonesia continue investigating past human rights abuses on the ground that "we can't go forward without looking backwards."  In other news yesterday:  George W. Bush threw out the first pitch at the World Series baseball game while the Texas crowd cheered and chanted: "USA. USA."

* * * * *

I'll be in Madison, Wisconsin later today, where I'm speaking tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m., and will be at Sen. Feingold's campaign headquarters tonight, where I will try to post Twitter updates.  I'll also be on Al Jazeera at 9:30 and 10:30 pm EST talking about the election.


UPDATE:  Following up on yesterday's post regarding the evidence-free claims from anonymous goverment officials baselessly blaming Anwar Awlaki for the mailed bomb plot:  Andrew Sullivan today, referencing our recent debate over Obama's efforts to assassinate Awlaki, favorably quotes John Burns, who wrote on Sunday:  "Increasingly, Mr. Awlaki is being depicted by Western intelligence officials as a threat on the scale of Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri."  Right:  because if there's one thing that's reliable, it's anonymous claims about Terrorist threats laundered through The New York Times.  Actual Yemen expert Gregory Johnsen today details how ludicrous are these breathless government and media assertions about Awlaki's role in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

As for Andrew's citation of a news story today claiming that a man who knifed a member of the British Parliament was "inspired" by Awlaki's sermons:  is that supposed be a justification for killing Awlaki?  The Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment bars imposing punishment or other liability on someone for the actions of others "inspired" by their speech (that ruling was the result of efforts by the State of Mississippi to impose liability on local NAACP leaders in the 1960s on the ground that their incendiary pro-boycott rhetoric "inspired" various individual NAACP members to engage in violence to enforce the boycott).  But if merely "inspiring" violence with incendiary rhetoric is the basis for labeling an American citizen a Terrorist and then killing them, we need not look all the way to Yemen for that.  We can find that right here at home.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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