Archive | December, 2013

ABC News and Ted Koppel owe an apology for soiling the integrity of freelancers and the institution of journalism

12 Dec

Mr. Koppel, you owe an apology to the institution of journalism for soiling its integrity.

By Nate Thayer

December 12, 2013

Well, Mr. Ted Koppel, I, for one, would like to hear your response to my contention you pimped your reputation for integrity to ABC News/Disney Corporation in order to steal the life work of a freelance journalist. And then accepted a Peabody award for, well for doing exactly what, really?

This week has been a tad distracting, but I very much appreciate the overwhelmingly positive and supportive commentary from colleagues from around the globe over my objection to Ted Koppel and Nightline and ABC News, owned by the Disney Corporation, stealing my photographs, video, and exclusive eyewitness reports of Pol Pot, the cumulative result of more than a decade of my journalistic efforts, and ABC’s egregious violation of basic journalistic ethics and integrity by trying to take credit for that work, despite not having a single ABC employee assigned to all of South east Asia.

ABC TV stolen still pictures, in which they place four separate credits claiming this picture was taken by them and they had rights to distribute it. Note that, despite there not beingan employee of ABC news located in Southeast Asia at the time, there is no credit to the photographer of the picture

ABC TV stolen still pictures, in which they place four separate credits claiming this picture was taken by them and they had rights to distribute it. Note that, despite there not being an employee of ABC news located in Southeast Asia at the time, there is no credit to the photographer of the picture


Every freelance journalist on earth has faced untold numbers of similar experiences, but the cost of fighting back these huge media corporations makes most every case of this common practice almost impossible to fight back.

At least, in the case of the Pol Pot story and video and still images, the story was worth enough that lawyers, not my favorite category of people to spend my leisure time schmoozing with, were willing to take on my case.

It was not because they were outraged at the ethical and moral stench that this high-profile example of the routine treatment of freelance journalists by media behemoths represented.

It was because they knew they would make enough money to increase their tax bracket.

This allowed me to be able to fight back and win.

But, after 7 years of the most unpleasant life sucking process, after it became clear to ABC I would never be intimidated and never back down in the face of their behemoth corporate machinery, ABC demanded I sign a document saying I could never mention the issue again in public if they agreed to pay me for their clear-cut, intentional calculated theft and plagiarism of my copyrighted work.

Another ABC frame grab of my still pictures, taken after 15 years of work, which they distributed to the planet and took credit for

Another ABC frame grab of my still pictures, taken after 15 years of work, which they distributed to the planet and took credit for

I signed the document. I am now intentionally and without a scintilla of reservation or remorse violating that agreement. Because it an insult to the very fundamental premise of free speech and concept of a free press.

To demand that a journalist–that would be me– be forced to muzzle his right to free speech in order that another so-called icon of journalistic integrity compensate me for outright theft, after a very nasty, prolonged 7 year effort of blackmail, corporate intimidation, threats, bullying, and a bald attempt at bankrupting me, while Ted Koppel remained (and remains silent) shilling for his corporate pimps, was too much for me to stomach.

Koppel flew to Bangkok, signed a written legal contract promising to use the video for “Seven days North American rights only for video use only for Nightline only”, and then said to me: “You are going to have to trust me journalist to journalist” and looked me in the eye and shook my hand. That used to be the way journalists on deadlines dealt with each other. One had to trust another man’s word.

There was no time, and thank God, place for lawyers when a story needed to be written and produced and edited and researched and published on a very short tight deadline.

My still photograph, which became worthless on the international market after ABC TV America stole my pictures and tried to take credit for 15 years of my life work

My still photograph, which became worthless on the international market after ABC TV America stole my pictures and tried to take credit for 15 years of my life work

Ted Koppel then refused to talk to me for nine months. “My ABC lawyers have told me I can’t talk to you, ” is one direct quote, shortly after he got a hold of a copy of my video tape, which was transferred based on his personal word of honor and I accepted based on his reputation for integrity.

Ted Koppel had a price he was willing to sell his reputation for integrity, and by extension the integrity of the institution of journalism. That price was the instructions of his ABC/ Disney corporate bosses.

Then the ABC PR machine got a bit a head of themselves. They have an entire department devoted to applying for nothing but awards. And they made the mistake of applying for a Peabody award for their use of my stolen, copyrighted work, under my name, as a “correspondent for ABC Nightline.”

When I won, nine months after they stole my work, they had refused to pay me a penny until I signed a document saying they had done nothing wrong, I informed them I was scheduled to be in New York–ironically to accept another award for the annual “Courage in Journalism” given to the journalist who had “exhibited the most moral and physical courage in practicing his craft” that year.

I told Koppel I planned to attend the Peabody ceremony and, on stage, formally refuse the ward because “I in n o way wanted my name associated with egregious violation of journalistic ethics and integrity” that ABC television and Nightline had exhibited. My written invitation to the ceremony was rescinded by ABC and the Peabody awards and I was escorted from the Waldorf Astoria banquet hall by security guards, despite having not only been in a possession of a physical ticket but a recipient of one of the awards given that day.

I want to add here that I believe Koppel is indeed a man of integrity. He was one of the very best that American television had to offer. Which, in itself, is not saying much.

So, I signed the document where i promised to never speak a word disparaging of ABC on the matter, took the money they owed me, which virtually all went to lawyers and taxes, and am now saying “Fuck you ABC!”

You did what you did.

No one will ever force me to be gagged from telling the truth, particularly on issues that soil the reputation of the vital institution of a free press. The facts speak for themselves.

ABC, Ted Koppel, and Nightline, rightfully should be ashamed of themselves.

I am not and never will be.

Has anyone noticed, that after 3000+ FB reposts, tens of thousands of Twitter comments, tweets, and re-tweets, neither Koppel, ABC, Nightline, or Disney corporation has uttered a single comment or response?

Their silence speaks for itself.

I, for one, would welcome their constructive comments on this issue. I believe it would contribute to a healthier state of the now very sad state of the institution of journalism.

I suspect they will be required to consult their massive legal department and corporate bosses before they are allowed to open their mouths.

And, the fact is, the powers to be at ABC, and the ABC’s that, today, control the media in free societies don’t really care whether they are selling toothpaste or quality journalism to free people.

If they can make more money selling toothpaste, they will sell toothpaste. Maybe journalism, and free people, would be better off if they choose to sell toothpaste.

There is a reason that public opinion polls rank the credibility and trustworthiness of journalists at the same level they do used car salesman, members of Congress, and lawyers. And I for one am tired of having my reputation soiled by them.

While I harbor no animosity towards ted Koppel personally, I do take grave exception to the undermining of the ethical foundation of the institution of journalism. I take that very personally.

Mr. Koppel, you owe an apology to the institution of journalism for soiling its integrity.

Corporate Power, ABC TV and Ted Koppel tried to censor the free speech of a free man in a free country. Fuck that.

10 Dec

Corporate power tried to steal my life work.

ABC  TV and Ted Koppel tried to censor the free speech of a free man in a free country.

Fuck that.

ABC TV stolen pictures frame grab from my copyrighted work. Count them--four separate credits demanding ABC be given credit for photographs taken when ABC did b not even have a staff person in all of Southeast Asia. This photo was hand delivered to the New York Times, The AP and posted on ABC's website

ABC TV stolen pictures frame grab from my copyrighted work. Count them–four separate credits demanding ABC be given credit for photographs taken when ABC did b not even have a staff person in all of Southeast Asia. This photo was hand delivered to the New York Times, The AP and posted on ABC’s website

Discuss freedom.

I would like to define this discussion, where it belongs: The power of corporate thugs using their money to put their jackboot on the necks of of freelance creative artists must stop.

It is time to draw the line and demand that we, as writers, photographers, musicians, creative artists are worthy. Our work should be respected and compensated as such.

Unlike the Atlantic magazine headache of a few months ago, let’s use our power to define the debate.

Please discuss.

Whatever the content of your opinion, of the  discussion, is fine. Whatever point of view you have, is legitimate.

But the censoring of free speech is not. Full stop. I will be damned before I allow a 10 cent lawyer to tell me when I can open my mouth and say what I want, or not, especially if it is the documented truth.

Fuck their money and their self delusion of power. I am free and intend to remain so.

My earlier blog post on the raw facts of the failed attempt of ABC TV–and their corporate owner–Disney–and Ted Koppel allowing himself to be a common streetwalker for his pimps, has gone viral.

I would like to hear from @ABC and @TedKoppel and @Disney what their response is. Are you selling quality journalism to free people, or are you only trying to deliver viewers and page hits to advertisers?

I respect Ted Koppel. It is why I chose him to bring the story of Pol Pot to North America. But he allowed himself to be a pimp for ABC/Disney in exchange for cash money. That is a fact. Of course he feels guilty. Ted Koppel, I believe, is a moral man. He was, ironically, the best that American TV had to offer. So take responsibility, Mr. Koppel. You will further contribute to the return of quality journalism to free people by doing so. You will be able to look yourself in the mirror without flinching at what you see. I can, mostly, now. As can you. But mostly isn’t good enough for you or me.

How Ted Koppel and ABC TV Tried to Steal my Life Work

8 Dec

How Ted Koppel and ABC TV Tried to Steal my Life Work

By Nate Thayer

December 8, 2013

I am banned by legal agreement to write the following: ABC Television/ Disney Corporation, after seven years in court, where they attempted to bankrupt me and ruin my reputation for objecting to them stealing fifteen years of my life work, buckled and paid me. They have the legal right to take back the money they finally paid me–which actually all went to lawyers and taxes–if I open my mouth.

Fuck them.

Good luck getting blood from a stone while trying to attempt to muzzle a free person in a free society while claiming you are an icon of the free press and free speech

So here goes…..

On July 25, 1997, I was the first outsider to meet Pol Pot since he killed 1.8 million people 20 years before.

It was, for a couple of days, the biggest story in the world. I, as a freelance journalist, had the only photographs and video and eyewitness account that existed since Pol Pot did what he did. It was a tumultuous few days of dealing with the very worst of what the big media companies represented.

Ted Koppel, of ABC Nightline, flew to Bangkok to view the video and signed a written contract for “North American video rights only for 7 days.” ABC America–owned by Disney–told Koppel to sign whatever Thayer asks for–our lawyers will deal with it later. He is just a freelancer. Give him whatever he wants. We can bankrupt him if he objects.

As soon as ABC, which had exactly zero correspondents in Southeast Asia, got a hold of a copy of the tape, which Ted Koppel personally and in writing promised he would not allow any frame grabs to be made into still pictures, or allow the video to be distributed to anyone outside of Nightline, or allow the transcript of the text of the video to be shown to anyone else, ABC created the below frame grabs from the video, distributed it personally to numerous news outfits, including the AP and the New York Times, where it appeared on their front page above the fold, and ABC placed them on their website crediting themselves with having taken the image.

My picture, credited to ABC TV, was published on the front pages of hundreds of newspapers around the world, my footage was distributed around the globe, and my story was written in virtually every major news organ on earth, credited to ABC TV, before I actually had written my own story . which was published with the integrity and dignity and seriousness it deserved in my excellent publication, the Far Eastern Economic Review.

1018923 Pol Pot ABC Frame Grab Pic

ABC TV stolen pictures frame grab from my copyrighted work. Count them--four separate credits demanding ABC be given credit for photographs taken when ABC did b not even have a staff person in all of Southeast Asia. This photo was hand delivered to the New York Times, The AP and posted on ABC's website

ABC TV stolen pictures frame grab from my copyrighted work. Count them–four separate credits demanding ABC be given credit for photographs taken when ABC did b not even have a staff person in all of Southeast Asia. This photo was hand delivered to the New York Times, The AP and posted on ABC’s website

ABC distributed transcripts of the trial of Pol Pot I had made and allowed other news organizations to view the video tape with strict instructions to credit ABC for the images and story, and then refused to pay me anything unless I signed a release that they did nothing wrong and I promised not to take legal action against them.

I refused.

Nine months later, I won the Peabody award as a “correspondent for ABC Nightline.”

Ted Koppel called me up, nervous, to congratulate me.

I said “Fuck you! Where is my fucking money? I am going to go to the Peabody awards ceremony and refuse the award and tell the planet what unethical thieves ABC are and how you, Ted Koppel, acted as their pimp.” I was then banned from attending the award ceremony, escorted out of the Waldorf Astoria hotel banquet room by security guards.

I spent seven years in court fighting ABC.

I won, sort of.

It sucked the life out of me, which was the exact intention of ABC: to make my life as miserable and expensive and distracted as possible to punish me for objecting to bald plagiarism, fraud, and theft. They tried to bankrupt me and ruin my reputation.

But ABC fucked with the wrong person. They will never fuck with Nate Thayer again.

It was worth it. They thought I would back down in the face of their team of hundreds of staff lawyers and corporate power.

I refused.

Such is the life of freelance journalism.

Every freelance journalist alive has suffered under the corporate jackboot of the ABC’s of the media world, their work stolen and never compensated. Usually it is not possible to pay for a legal team to fight them to get remunerated for one’s work.

Above and below are a couple of the still pictures, still available by a simple Google search online.

Another ABC frame grab of my still pictures, taken after 15 years of work, which they distributed to the planet and took credit for

Another ABC frame grab of my still pictures, taken after 15 years of work, which they distributed to the planet and took credit for

These are just some examples of the still picture ABC frame grab’s ABC took from the video and distributed to the world, voiding scores of contracts I had sold for my stills for exclusive rights.I had scores of contracts for the sale of still pictures, video, and stories cancelled around the globe overnight.

ABC tried to take credit for 15 years of my life work. Below is one of my original still photographs, which became worthless overnight because  a degraded version was available for free from the ABC website.

CAMBODIA-POL-POT/WALK

One of my actual still photographs–taken by me–with a Nikon F-4 on July 25, 1997—the first pictures of Pol Pot taken since he murdered 1.8 million people during his 3 years 8 months and 20 days in power

polpot.abc

My still photograph, which became worthless on the international market after ABC TV America stole my pictures and tried to take credit for 15 years of my life work

My still photograph, which became worthless on the international market after ABC TV America stole my pictures and tried to take credit for 15 years of my life work

“Who is that singer? Johnny Jackson? Like he says, ‘We are the World!’ We are with the West! Let’s join together!” said a Khmer Rouge cadre

5 Dec

 

“Who is that singer? Johnny Jackson? Like he says, ‘We are the World!’ We are with you, the West! Let’s join together!” said the Khmer Rouge leader

After threatening to assassinate American civilians, the Khmer Rouge leader told me “Why don’t we join hands in national reconciliation. Join together! We are with you, the West!” he said, growing increasingly animated, half breaking into song. “‘We are the World!’ Who is that singer? Johnny Jackson? Like he says, ‘We are the world!’ Let’s join together!”

(Copyright Nate Thayer. All Rights Reserved. Excerpts from unpublished manuscript “Sympathy for the Devil: A Journalist’s Memoir from Inside Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge.” No republication or dissemination in whole or in part without express written permission from the author.)

By Nate Thayer

A non-descript Khmer Rouge operative, dressed in civilian clothes was standing in the hallway outside my seedy hotel room in the still dark hours before dawn in The Thai border town of Surin. He waved me out urgently, nervously checking to see that the hallways were clear and I accompanied him at a pace too fast to be inconspicuous through the hotel lobby outside to a beat up pickup truck with a Thai civilian in the driver’s seat who refused to identify himself.

The truck had Thai civilian license plates. Tuoch, the Khmer Rouge agent, refused to tell me where we were going or with whom I was scheduled to meet. “You will see,” he said solemnly. He probably didn’t even know himself.

He would not have had to be instructed to be vague. His mission was only to retrieve me from the hotel and deliver me safely to Khmer Rouge controlled Cambodia without drawing the attention of anybody.

In late July 1996, now more than ever, the Khmer Rouge believed that enemies were everywhere. And they were right.

Life for the Khmer Rouge in their jungle redoubts by mid 1996 was a far cry from the previous years, where hundreds of millions of dollars of Chinese military hardware was trucked across the borders from Thailand, coordinated by Thai military intelligence units, and with the political backing of the United States, and more than 120 member countries of the United Nations.

Khmer Rouge leaders had compounds in the relative luxury of Thai provincial capitals and traveled in chauffeured cars to Bangkok. Now they rarely got permission from the Thais to leave their isolated jungle hideouts.

The pickup truck was driven by a very nervous Thai civilian with a mobile phone that would ring periodically and he would grunt a few responses and hang up. He insisted he was not a serving military officer and I believed him. He was nervous, grim-faced, eyes darting and reluctant to utter a word, driving way to fast, and clearly uncomfortable.

Thai spooks were much more relaxed. They had carte blanche to travel these border regions still under Thai martial law since it was infested by armed guerrillas of the Communist Party of Thailand only a few years prior, and Thai military intelligence could pull rank with the flash of an ID card, getting a no-questions asked salute, and look of fear at any military checkpoint. I had seen it many times.

This fellow I was with had no permission to transport a foreigner through the Thai frontier, and certainly not to smuggle him across national  borders into a zone controlled by an armed Cambodian rebel faction at war with the central government in Phnom Penh, of which Thailand had formal diplomatic relations. The Thai government was constantly proclaiming they had no contact with the Khmer Rouge, and now, except for the legitimate national security functions of gathering intelligence, monitoring Khmer Rouge activities, and keeping their options open, they were largely complying.

He drove many miles out of the way through a network of back roads, bordered by endless rice paddies, specifically to avoid Thai military checkpoints. I wrote down every turn, drawing a map in my notebook, in case I needed to find my way back—or was ever inclined to sneak back this way again.

After a couple hours, the pickup turned down a dirt path into a small non-descript Thai village and pulled over at a thatched roof noodle and cigarette stall. The tinted one-way windows of the pickup shielded me from the solemn but prying eyes of the half dozen peasant farmers milling about. This was a village that knew well to look the other way when strangers came through. After chatting with the vendor for a minute, the driver hopped back in and we drove deeper into rice fields down rutted dirt tracks used only by water buffalo and farm equipment.

We pulled over under a lone majestic banyan tree amongst the rice paddies and waited. I was told to stay hidden in the truck. I was given a baseball hat with a Kiss rock-and-roll band logo of an extended tongue for disguise, sunglasses, and told to wrap a checkered traditional Cambodian scarf around my face.

Churning up dust in its wake, snaking through the rice paddies, a battered pick-up truck with no license plate and tinted windows approached from the east out of the jungle shrouded mountain ridge, which marked the natural Cambodian border a couple kilometers in the distance. It pulled next to us and a uniformed Khmer Rouge soldier got out, greeting my companions. With little small talk, I was promptly ordered in the cramped, small rear bench seat behind the driver, my 6-2 inch frame stuffed awkwardly like a sardine, my knees bent up to my chin. The Khmer Rouge soldier was at the helm, his face serious, a Chinese AK-47 propped by the gearshift, young Tuoch, who had knocked on my hotel door that morning, in the passenger seat. We sped toward the tree line. The rice fields devolved into now unproductive, fallow fields. This was always a mark of danger. As we neared the actual ill-defined border, fields were abandoned because of recent fighting. Landmines were everywhere. These were always eerie, peculiar scenes. Stark in their silence, abandoned rice fields are the sign that civilians have fled, giving up their most precious holdings—literally the source of the food on their table. Things have to be pretty bad for rice fields to be abandoned.

Periodically, artillery would fall, or clashes would break out, villagers killed or maimed, and they would retreat from their homes, waiting for the war that each side had nothing to offer them, to end. Hand painted blood-red skull and crossbones signs nailed to trees were everywhere, a crude warning to local peasants of landmines or booby traps. These increased proportionately to the importance of the area—either as a strategic road or military base or village of families of Khmer Rouge soldiers.

We drove for miles down dirt tracks through these abandoned, neglected fields, empty and silent, toward the tree line mountain escarpment on the horizon. Trees always marked the border between Thailand and Cambodia. In these parts of the Thai-Cambodia frontier if there were trees, there were guerrilla soldiers hiding in them.

We had one more obstacle ahead, I was told—an isolated Thai military checkpoint. The Khmer Rouge driver checked that I was sufficiently scrunched up in the back, hat and sunglasses on, traditional Cambodian scarf wrapped around my head, with only my eyes exposed. “Tell them you are visiting your family, if anyone asks,” he instructed, rather preposterously. The checkpoint consisted of a single raw cut log suspended parallel across and above the road, weighted on one end by concrete and tied by rope on a post on the opposite side of the dirt track. A bamboo hut was beside it. Next to it, in the mid morning sun, a single Thai soldier lay asleep in his hammock, his M-16 assault rifle propped against a tree. He didn’t even rise as Tuoch got out of the car to lift the barricade. We had now entered Khmer Rouge controlled Cambodia. The Thai never suspected an American was being smuggled through. The explosions of incoming artillery followed the rumbling of their firing further down the mountain escarpment ahead.

The guerrilla stronghold on a high ridge of northern Cambodia’s Dongruk Mountain offered stunning vistas of tropical jungles and besieged villages encircled by bunkers and land mines. Grim faced Khmer Rouge soldiers, many of them missing limbs and walking on crude hand carved wooden crutches, eyed me suspiciously, trying not to be obvious in the curiosity at the first westerner they had ever seen at their village.

One hut housed sophisticated radio equipment, its roof criss-crossed with antennas. Amputees in pea green Chinese style PLA uniforms, the elderly, and the women and children families of soldiers down the mountain in front line trenches battling government soldiers, walked the dusty single road through the guerrilla base or squatted smoking cigarettes and boiling rice over open fires around the village.

The rhythmic thud of incoming government artillery elicited no reaction from Khmer Rouge “Minister of Finance and Economy”, Mak Ben, as he emerged from a bamboo hut, wearing rimless spectacles and a grey Mao suit buttoned at the collar around his neck.

A blackboard on a thatched wall behind him shouted Khmer Rouge slogans in the Sanskrit based Cambodian script, proclaiming “Hate the Communist Vietnamese Aggressor!” and “Believe Deeply in Guerrilla Warfare!”

He walked over to greet me, extending his hand with a smarmy, insincere smile. “Welcome to the liberated zones!”

I, of course, had been given no idea with whom I was going to meet, whether we would continue deeper into the jungle, or whether I would be offered useful new information. I patiently exchanged pleasantries while fresh mangoes, papaya, and rambuttan fruit was served.

Mak Ben wasted no time launching into the lecture he was instructed to give me, denouncing the “Vietnamese puppets and their despicable alliance” who were darkly plotting to “swallow” Cambodia and eliminate the Khmer Rouge.

He saved special vitriol for the Americans. Much of the not very thinly veiled threats were directed at ears many thousands of miles away to official Washington.

“If you, the United States, continue to help the Vietnamese and Hun Sen fight us, we will use our right to self-defense. I must tell you that if you continue to aid the Vietnamese and their puppets, we cannot guarantee the safety of Americans in Cambodia,’ he smirked at me, betraying no friendliness. “One thing I should stress is we will never agree to surrender. Never!”

“We are very concerned, very interested in (U.S. National Security Advisor) Anthony Lakes meeting with (Thai) Prime Minister Banharn Silp-archa,” he continued.

A French trained engineer and former Khmer Rouge diplomat, Mak Ben held the meaningless title of Minister of Economic and Finance in the Khmer Rouge so-called Provisional Government. “We want to know exactly what Lake means when he says the U.S. wants ‘democracy, stability, and security’ in Cambodia? Is it security through national reconciliation, without the Khmer Rouge?”

I was beginning to seethe at the realization of what was happening.

I had been summoned from across the planet, on my own dime, to be lectured by a robotic mid-level Khmer Rouge minion because they, in their isolation-fueled paranoia, were reading dark plots into a routine stopover in Bangkok by a U.S. official.

And they wanted me to deliver their pathetic message to my “bosses” in Washington.

Anthony Lake’s comments meant nothing. They were the routine rhetoric of long stated U.S. policy, made on a courtesy stopover in Thailand on his return from Beijing to Washington, which was so short he never left the Bangkok airport.

But Mak Ben hammered on, visions of dark plots having been conjured up in these isolated jungles, attaching ridiculous significance to Lake’s visit.

That was why I had just flown across the world, drove to a remote Thai border town, holed up for days in a 1 star hotel hovel, and smuggled across international frontiers illegally: To meet this bonehead spout delusional rhetoric of a wholly out of touch with reality guerrilla band of murderous thugs caught in a time warp of their own making.

They were convinced that Lake’s routine, passing, entirely inconsequential comment was focused on destroying them, and  I had just traversed the planet on my dime so they could use me to relay to Washington that they would start assassinating American citizens working as humanitarian aid workers in Cambodia if the U.S. didn’t back off.

Mak Ben went on to describe a paranoid, fanciful geo-political strategy of the U.S. having entered into an alliance with Vietnam—using Cambodia as a theater—that aimed to undermine Chinese influence in the region. “

“After the cold war, Vietnam is too weak to carry out its expansionist strategy. But Vietnam will never abandon its strategy—which is deeply rooted among the old and young. Now 4 to 5 million Vietnamese nationals are in Cambodia. Laos is finished. Seventeen northeastern provinces in Thailand will encompass the Vietnamese Indochina Federation. The Vietnamese are breeding like rats. Vietnam is at our door. We cannot afford to be alone. We are with you! Who else if not the U.S., the West?”

He went on to contend that the Khmer Rouge enjoyed wide support in Asian capitals. “Diplomatically, ASEAN, China and Thailand are compelled to recognize the Phnom Penh regime…But morally we enjoy the support of the region,” he told me.

Mak Ben went on to downplay the influence of Pol Pot and the rest of the senior leadership, who had long officially retired but in fact remained in complete control. “Cambodia of the past belongs in the past. Let’s not talk about history. Pol Pot and all the Democratic Kampuchea leaders are very old. You can imagine how they are. They have lived 30 years in the forest without medical care.”

He continued to further piss me off.

“I would like to tell you that Pol Pot and the other old political leaders are not in the political game anymore. They are finished…I am here to speak on behalf of my colleagues. I tell you that we, our new group, abide and continue to abide by liberal democracy, to be with the western world—the U.S.! I dare to tell you we are with the U.S., the free world! You can believe it or not. I have to stress to tell you that this is our political position and we will never change. For the sake of our country, we cannot go communist…to survive as a nation.”

I had known Mak Ben for many years and always been particularly unimpressed with him. He oozed insincerity. And he had the self conscious, arrogant swagger of a nervous, gangly teenager who you wanted to feel sorry for except he was mouthing such dangerous dribble.

His eyes darted avoiding mine from behind his dark glasses.

“You have abandoned your children!” he said wagging his finger at me, referring to the American government. “Look at Funcinpec, isn’t it your child? And Sam Rainsy, he is a child of the West. They are all your children. You have given birth to them. You have given them food, milk! You have sent them to school. Are you going to abandon your dying children?”he scolded me.

Mak Ben failed miserably at trying to look intimidating.

I remembered Mak Ben well from 1991 in Phnom Penh. He arrived in late November with the Khmer Rouge delegation to Phnom Penh, led by  Prime Minister Khieu Samphan and the head of the Khmer Rouge security services, Defence Minister Son Sen, after the signing of the October 1991 Paris Peace Accords on the Khmer Rouge first return to the capital since they fled the Vietnamese invasion in 1979, leaving behind more than 1.8 million corpses under the feet of the broken souls of those who survived.

They were not warmly welcomed back.

Immediately upon arrival to their newly rented headquarters in downtown Phnom Penh, convoying in from the airport with armed United Nations protection, the Khmer Rouge delegation were besieged by a government sanctioned mob that attacked them, invaded their villa, beat them up, looted the contents, and burned it to the ground.

I invaded the house with the mob.

After Mak Ben and the others were trapped, beaten and terrified, he fled for his life through the crowd back to the jungle.

But while the mob was attacking Mak Ben and the other leaders, beating them bloody, I noticed nearby their unopened luggage and immediately began to loot it, rifling through looking for documents.

A very happy fellow next to me opened a suitcase with $200,000 American dollars in it.

Among many gems, I found Mak Ben’s Yugoslavian passport. And a letter from his daughter. She was a young girl, a refugee herself from the Khmer Rouge killing fields, who found her way from the UN refugee camps in Thailand to Australia as a very young child. She hadn’t seen her daddy in years. It was a heart wrenching letter that begged her father to address rumors that he was a Pol Potist.

“They say you are a murderer, daddy, it said.

After fleeing the Phnom Penh mob back to the jungle, other Khmer Rouge made fun of Mak Ban, saying he was terrified of returning to Phnom Penh and being killed. He wanted to stay in the jungle, afraid to face the Cambodian people.

Every time I saw him, I saw a bully and a coward.

After lecturing me on the U.S. abandoning their “children”, and threatening to murder American citizens unless Washington knuckled under to these nearly irrelevant delusional, self-important thugs sleeping in the forest, he smiled at me and tried to lighten things up. “

America is a liberal democracy. We are nationalists. Democrats, too! So why don’t we join hands in national reconciliation. Join together! We are with you, the West!” he said growing increasingly animated, half breaking into song. “ ‘We are the World!’ Who is that singer? Johnny Jackson” Like he says, ‘We are the World!’ Let’s join together!”

Mak Ben blithely ignored the fact that the U.S. government really could care less what happened in Cambodia, and it’s only stated policy towards the Khmer Rouge, in 1996, was funding projects to gather evidence to bring him and his comrades to an international court of justice to face charges for mass murder, torture, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

Retreating from his absurd and comically ineffective attempt at hipness, he again tried to look menacing. “It is up to you. Our cards are on the table. We can fight for 100 years. We can eat grass if we have to. We have no other choice. We cannot accept that our nation, the great 2000-year-old nation of Angkor, disappears. As patriots, we will use our right to self-defense. It is better to die in the jungle.”

I was very angry by this time.

It was clear to me that I had been summoned around the world to be lectured and to be a courier to deliver half empty threats to Washington.

I was not to see anyone important and I was not to learn much useful.

I asked, of course, to meet Pol Pot and others and to stay in the jungle and travel to guerrilla bases.

“The leaders are all busy,” he said dismissively.

He told me that I would have to leave that afternoon, before dark. “It is not safe here.”

Down the mountain I could see smoke rising after the ground shook from each burst of mortars and artillery. which shook the earth beneath us.

At lunch, a village elder looked morose. “We moved here last year to get away from government attacks,” he said. “For the people here it is a very hard.”

He eyed Mak Ben to make sure he wasn’t saying something wrong. “

We used to have hope that the Paris Agreements would bring peace. We want national reconciliation. In our hearts we want national reconciliation and peace,” he said, softly and quietly. “Especially peace.”

The village elder, like I, was fed up.

I left shortly afterwards, telling Mak Ben, in a moment of uncontrolled fury and indifference, to pass the message not to invite me back unless they were prepared to let me meet senior leaders. He was insulted. I didn’t care.

While he betrayed nothing of the matter that day, July 30, 1996, as we spoke, the jungles just south of here were simmering with a similar attitude, and rebellion within their ranks was about to erupt into violent mutiny and mass defection that would, later that week, deliver the biggest blow to Pol Pot and his loyalists since they were ousted from power by the Vietnamese invasion 17 years earlier.

It was the beginning of the end of the Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot and his movement had begun to implode. Simmering rebellion against the Mak Ben’s and their ilk at the top would soon result in bloodshed and resistance. In the Khmer Rouge, to resist meant either total victory or total destruction. There was no room for debate or discussion or disagreement or compromise. You either won or you were dead.

(Copyright Nate Thayer. All Rights Reserved. Excerpts from unpublished manuscript “Sympathy for the Devil: A Journalist’s Memoir from Inside Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge.” No republication or dissemination, in whole or part, without express written permission from the author.)

 

 

‘See Angkor and die’

4 Dec

‘See Angkor and die’

Fri, 3 December 1993

(This story, one of my favorites, was published 20 years ago today in the Phnom Penh Post)

Renée Grass died happy here in Cambodia a few days ago after travelling across the world to have her last dream come true.

The 83-year-old Belgian woman, frail from the passage of time, knew that she had entered the autumn of her life, several people who were on the tour to Angkor last weekend said. She travelled alone to Cambodia because her dying wish was to see the temples of Angkor.

“She told everybody ‘ I want to see Angkor before I die’ “, said Dr. Xavier Baranger, who was called to treat her after she collapsed and died on November 25 in Phnom Penh.

She arrived in the capital last week and was booked on a tour to visit Angkor over the weekend. Several other travellers and the tour guides suggested that perhaps the trip to Siem Riep and the difficult walk through the temple complex was too strenuous for her, ” but she refused their advice because she had this goal,” Dr. Baranger said.

Hours after she visited the temples, she became ill, and a special airplane from Aviation Sans Frontier evacuated her to Phnom Penh.

She died the next day in her room at the Hotel Cambodiana, with the doctor and hotel staff by her side.

” I’ve seen situations like this before, when old people have one last goal in life, and when they have achieved it, they pass away content,” said the doctor.

Madam Grass probably didn’t know that King Sihanouk completed shooting of his latest film “Voir Angkor Et Mourir” (See Angkor and Die) at the temple complex only months ago.

Renée Grass travelled widely up until her last days. Her passport was full of visas from Argentina to Italy in recent months. She told others on the tour that she had no children and was a widow.

” She told people ‘ If I die travelling, just cremate me where I am,” according to the doctor. Her body was cremated at Wat Lanka here in Phnom Penh on Monday.

Corruption: American Style. U.S. foreign policy leadership for sale to those who give the most cash

4 Dec

Corruption: American Style. U.S. foreign policy leadership for sale to those who give the most cash

 By Nate Thayer

December 4, 2013

Earlier, I posted a link to the excellent blog of my friend, former diplomat turned author, James Bruno, who took exception to wholly vacuous and unqualified political socialites being given an ambassadorship, in an arrangement nothing short of legal political corruption, in exchange for raising cold hard cash for American politicians.

Bruno, who spent 25 years as a career professional diplomat, responded to a recent appointment of an entirely unqualified Hollywood socialite to an ambassadorship by publicly announcing himself as available to star in the Hollywood soap opera “The Bold and The Beautiful”, from whence the new ambassadors money, and therefore political clout came.

You can read James Bruno’s excellent blog (as well as link to his excellent thriller novels based on actual life experience and work) here: http://jameslbruno.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-american-diplomatic-spoils-system.html

Colleen Bell is the latest recipient of corruption doled out in the form of running an embassy and therefore U.S. national interests in a foreign country as a personal glitzy party favour in the stead of national interests and the common good.

Colleen Bell is the wife of the head of the Hollywood soap opera “The Bold and the Beautiful” and was nominated to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Hungary.

“I figure if Colleen can become an ambassador with zero foreign affairs credentials, why shouldn’t I be able to break into showbiz? After all, this is America, right?” wrote Bruno.

While her diplomatic credentials are nonexistent, Colleen Bell raised $2,191,835 in 2011 and 2012 for president Obama.

James Bruno wrote me back: “Nate – thanks for the kudos. How about dropping journalism and joining me to make some real money and fame in Tinsel Town? I’m packing my bags. See you there…”

I responded:

“Thanks for the kind offer, James Bruno, but journalism is really not so much of a choice, but a genetic based disability I am afflicted with. If I ceased being a journalist, my talents would peak at working the night shift in a South Asian owned convenience store or an urban fast food joint.

And a couple tips on your future Hollywood gig scheme: With your experience in the very belly of the beast of the Free World–Washington D.C.—and Hollywood are quite similar, sharing all the insincerity, lopsided lawyer to actual human being-with-more-than-a-circulatory-system-that- doesn’t-include-a-moral-compass-ratio, duplicity, unearned ego’s run rampant, and fraudulent, back stabbing hucksters posing as people of actual substance.

But in Hollywood, they specialize in the fictional, romanticized, blood sport version of the reality practiced here in D.C. At least here in Washington, they are actually in power and in control.

The bottom line: In both towns, don’t count your money until the check is cleared.

However, given your determination to pursue your dreams on Sunset Boulevard–a noble endeavor indeed– I can put you in contact with a number of agents, production companies of Big Screen Names, and lawyers out there who will woo you like a late night street walker, copiously shower you with compliments while plotting to suck the life out of you, occasionally pick up the bar or do-lunch tab, and option your books for the Big Screen with absolutely no risk to them or money in your bank account.

If you are lucky, they might even turn your life work into a made for cable TV movie, which will have absolutely no similarity to the creative work you spent years of angst to create and publish. After deductions, you will receive zero cash, having had to pay off your lawyers to force them to live up to their minimal substandard written agreements.

And you will be embarrassed by your soiled reputation.

Believe me, I know about these things. Oliver North and Francis Coppola called me personally to tell me I was the second coming of Christ. Brad Pitt was so sincere that he wanted to option my book and life story for a movie when he met personally with My People. I presume they remain well. I never saw a penny, however.

At least, when one is in Washington, one can count on living off the bloated dollar flotsam of the tax dollars paid by the average citizen who actually contributes to making the machinery of a properly organized society kept well-greased and turning.

And, occasionally, the world is made a bit better.

Here, at least, they successfully plot to assassinate the Bin Laden’s of the world.

In Hollywood, they make people think that doing so is fun and noble and moral and exciting and without nuance or consequence or repercussion.

I prefer the real blood on my hands when I contribute to those kind of just causes, despite that you can never wash it off and then repair for dinner to a Sushi restaurant.

If you ever need a place to stay in D.C., I have extra hammocks on my urban townhouse roof you are welcome to tie to two trees in this concrete jungle. Not to sound cynical….Really, I am not.”

“To [Ambassador] Greeting:

Reposing special trust and confidence in your Integrity, Prudence, and Ability, I have nominated and, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, do appoint you Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to [country], authorizing you hereby to do and perform all such matters and things as to the said place or Office do appertain, or as may be duly given you in charge hereafter, and the said office to hold and exercise during the pleasure of the President of the United States for the time being.

In testimony whereof, I have caused the Seal of the United States to be hereunto affixed—Done at the City of Washington this [x] day of [x] in the year of our Lord two thousand and [x] and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and [x].’-From the Presidential Commission for U.S. Ambassadors”

The Foreign Service Act of 1980 says ambassadorial nominees “should possess clearly demonstrated competence to perform the duties of a chief of mission, including … useful knowledge of the language … and understanding of the history, the culture, the economic and political institutions, and the interests of that country” and “Contributions to political campaigns should not be a factor” in appointments.

Over the last 30 years, 85 percent of ambassadorial appointments to major European countries and Japan, and 60 percent of appointments to global powers such as Brazil, Russia, India, and China, have been bald exchanges for raising cold cash for elected politicians.

Obama has only ratcheted up the trend of appointing wholly unqualified hacks to head U.S. interests abroad.

When he appointed Louis Susman, a retired Chicago investment banker and lawyer who raised more than $500,000 for Obama’s 2008 campaign as ambassador to London, the White House press secretary defended his qualifications saying “he speaks the local language.”

The U.S. Office of the Inspector General reported U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg Cynthia Stroum, a socialite who got her wealthy friends to donate $500,000 to President Obama’s 2008 campaign, was “aggressive, bullying, hostile and intimidating,” and said numerous professional diplomats volunteered to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan to stop working for her. The report said she made “several” employees spent “several days” searching for a patio umbrella.

Another OIG report said Obama campaign finance chair Nicole Avant, made Ambassador to the Bahamas led “an extended period of dysfunctional leadership and mismanagement, which has caused problems throughout the embassy”. Avant, former head of Interior Music Publishing, was absent from the embassy 276 days between September 2009 and November 2011, according to the report.

Obama has given his top fundraisers numerous ambassadorships, similar to his predecessors. The average amount raised is now $1.8m, according to the London Guardian.

Obama’s campaign finance chairman, Mathew Barzun was made ambassador to London after he raised $70 for Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign–$2.3m which was raised by Barzun. He was ambassador to Sweden after giving large amounts of money to Obama’s 2008 campaign.

Since last year, Rome has gone to John Phillips, a Washington lawyer who raised $500,000. John Emerson was made ambassador to Germany after he raised $1.5m. The ambassador in Paris, Charles Rivkin, raised $800,000. The ambassador in Lisbon, Allan Katz, raised $500,000.

Of 12 choice ambassadorships in Europe and the Caribbean, the average amount raised by each is $1.79m.

The appointees to the same embassies raised $5m in 2013, compared to $3.3m in 2009, $1.3m under George W Bush in 2005, and at $800,000 for Bush in 2001, according to the New York Times.

Studies show that the price tag for political contributions includes Luxembourg at $3.1 million, while Portugal costs $602, 686. London is an estimated $1.1 million in personal donations. Bundlers — who raise money on behalf of a candidate–get a discount to $686,583. France and Monaco cost personal contributions of $6.2 million, and bundled contributions of about $4.4 million, a report found. Norway is cheapest at $119,900 for personal, and $85,756 for bundled contributors.

In the last 60 years, 72 percent of U.S. ambassadors in Western Europe and the Caribbean have been political appointees while 86% of ambassadors in Africa and the Middle East have been career diplomats, according to the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA). No political appointee has ever been sent to Central Asia as an ambassador. The failed states, dangerous assignments, serious work, and the mandatory mundane routine actual important work of fostering mutual understanding through words rather than conflict through bullets, are left to the career officers.

The industrialized democracies of Europe and Asia and the island nations of the Caribbean are the destinations of the political appointees.

The exchange of allowing incompetence to lead on the ground U.S. foreign interests for cash money in the metaphorical under the table slipped envelope, is wholly bipartisan. Both Obama and George W. Bush had a 70 percent career/30 percent political appointment ratio. Gerald Ford was 62 percent career professional Ambassadorial appointments record and Jimmy Carter was 73 percent,

George W. Bush gave nearly 50 top donors, designated “Rangers” or “Pioneers” ambassadorial posts. “Pioneers” raised more than $100,000 and “Rangers” forked over at least $200,000 for the 2000 and 2004 presidential campaign.

No other properly organized nation sells its ambassadorships to the guy who gives the political leader the most cash money. Most European countries have all career ambassadors with a smattering of political appointees who have significant real connections to the halls of power.

Sexual, ethical and incompetence scandals are routine with politically appointed ambassadors.

Records show Richard Nixon routinely sold ambassadorships for hard cash to unqualified rich people. In a tape recording of then president Nixon about an ambassador to Belgium, he said: “Anybody who wants to be an ambassador must at least give $250,000. I’m not going to do it for political friends and all that crap.”

A 2008 report by the Center for Public Integrity’s “Checkbook Diplomacy,” said Vincent de Roulet, a rich guy made ambassador to Jamaica, publicly called Jamaicans “idiots” and “children” and promised to support one candidate if he did not nationalize Jamaica’s bauxite industry. He was expelled by Jamaica, which then tripled taxes and royalties on bauxite purchases by U.S. companies.

Former diplomat James Bruno, now a best-selling thriller author, responded to my post: “Nate – I’ll take you up on your offer to host me only if it also comes with anti-malarial meds. As for all the other stuff you said, you’re absolutely right. Tinsel Town is a sea of sharks. That’s why, when they come knocking on my door (so far it’s dead silence – go figure!), I’ll put on my Don Corleone hat and, quoting my great hero and fellow goombah, live by his dictum: “A friend should always underestimate your virtues and an enemy overestimate your faults”

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