And Thet Sambath's material is back in the courtroom. I wrote my comments on its initial appearance in the courtroom on December 27, 2011. Back then the Noun Chea defense embarrassed itself by revealing that it was blissfully unaware of either Thet's film or his book (both of which are based on the same research material). Now only a year and a half since those comments and the revelation there is not a single person left on the Noun Chea defense team who was on it in December, 2011 (talk about turnovers). The present incarnation of the Noun Chea defense team appears to have done a bang-up job getting itself up to speed with these proceedings. That, or it is keeping a good face on things and steering clear of statements that might cast doubt on its competence, a skill that is sometimes more valuable than knowledge itself. This time the Noun Chea defense knew -- the pain of finding a way to rebut Thet's evidence seemed etched on Noun Chea's current International Co-Counsel Victor Koppe's face. It is doubtless that Koppe wished that he could have gone back in time and advised his client not to ever talk to Thet about as much as what he likes in his cereal. But that time is gone and Koppe has no other choice but to face the music Thet had been orchestrating for the few years leading up to the establishment of this court. What can Koppe do to rebut this evidence? Back in 2011, his client tried to argue that he did not know he was being filmed. Not a strong argument but will Koppe have to bring it back for lack of alternatives?
The prosecution's presentation shows that Thet's testimony forms a large part of their case against Noun Chea. Surely, there are a couple of scribblings on S-21 confessions that the prosecution attributes to Noun Chea. But the prosecution's sole witness on those is a convicted felon Duch whose credibility is not what someone would call 'ironclad' and there is more than one chink in his armor that the defense can exploit. There is some good material from other sources that links Noun Chea to the strategy of "seizing people" (the Khmer Rouge had the habit of moving the population of the areas from which they retreated with them leaving such areas unpopulated to make it difficult for the enemy to gain a foothold in them thus making them susceptible to recapture by the Khmer Rouge) but if the defense plays its cards right, there will be nothing besides Thet's evidence for the prosecution to get Noun for the executions. That is unless the prosecution manages to drive its point on Noun Chea and Pol Pot being a co-equal head of the Democratic Kampuchea government and to knock out this Brother No. 1-Brother No. 2 nonsense that has been perpetuated in the Khmer Rouge scholarship for years now (and by now one would imagine that the scholars would have heard about the communist principle known as 'democratic centralism' and figure out that this is how the place was run). If the prosecution does, it will be possible to successfully argue the totality of Noun's command responsibility and to, essentially, present Noun Chea to the bench as Pol Pot, by a different name (did the prosecution say "alter ego"? that's fair enough).
The amount of the prosecution's case that hinges upon Thet's research prompts another observation. For years the West has been paying millions of dollars to an archive that wants to be a research center (if it only could keep the researchers out, however), the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam). Yet, besides the S-21 documents that DC-Cam has collected there is nothing in its almost 20 years of research that the prosecution could use. And this is not as if DC-Cam did not try. In fact, its staff did interview Noun but those interviews are, to the greater extent, entirely unusable. Thet's research, on the other hand, that has not cost the West millions of dollars is very much usable. The prosecution's heavy reliance on Thet's research and almost zero reliance on that of DC-Cam flies straight in the face of DC-Cam trying to monopolize 'the business of the Khmer Rouge.' There might be a lesson for the international donors who are so eager to fund institutions and so reluctant to fund individuals in all of this.