In just four years, the communist Khmer Rouge liquidated almost two million people in Cambodia, a nation of perhaps just over seven million, a mass murder rate that dwarfs anything seen in modern times. Yet there was no link of the Khmer Rouge with communism in two stories by Seth Mydans this week on the trial of a Khmer Rouge defendant known as Duch, in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh.
Although Mydans referred to the Khmer Rouge as "one of the 20th century's most brutal and repressive regimes" and his two stories vividly recounted the torture methods used under Pol Pot, Mydans ignored the regime's specifically ideologically communist - nature. In fact, a reference to communism in Mydans' Tuesday story apparently ran on news wires but removed from later editions of the paper.
Testimony opened Monday at the first trial of a Khmer Rouge official, with a detailed description of the internal workings and methods of interrogation in the regime's central torture house.
In statements included in a long indictment read by court officials, the defendant, Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, admitted ordering and taking part in systematic torture that sometimes continued for days.
In his statements, made during pretrial investigations, he said he was working on orders from the top Khmer Rouge leadership, an assertion that appeared to implicate four other defendants who are awaiting trial.
Thirty years after the regime was deposed, Duch is the first person to take the stand and answer for one of the most horrific episodes of mass killing in the past century, in which 1.7 million people are estimated to have died from 1975 to '79 of starvation, overwork, disease or execution.
Another, apparently earlier version of Mydans story captured on various news aggregatorshas the useful and accurate phrase "notorious communist regime" in the first line:
The first substantive sessions in the trials of former Khmer Rouge officials began Monday morning, 30 years after the end of the notorious communist regime that left some 1.7 million Cambodians dead.
That phrase doesn't appear in either the current online or print version of Mydans' story, though a nytimes.com search for the phrase "notorious communist regime" turns up Mydans' Tuesday story, indicating the phrase was previously present there but later removed.
Wednesday's follow-up from the Phnom Penh court room, "Khmer Rouge Defendant Apologizes for Atrocities," also failed to tie the fanatical Khmer Rouge to communism. The only brief mention of communism was related to the prosecutor talking about the fate of Chay Kim Huor, who had "recruited [Duch] into the Communist Party in 1964."
The Khmer Rouge modeled themselves on Mao and Lenin and then shifted into overdrive. They emptied the cities of their inhabitants and force-marched everyone - the elderly, the sick, pregnant women, children - in the tropical heat to the countryside where there were no facilities, little drinking water, scarce food, no medicine, and no shelter except thatched huts. There they were starved and enslaved when they weren't shot on the spot for some minor infraction. Anyone who had any connection to the West or to modernity itself was suspect. People who spoke other languages, owned a typewriter or eyeglasses, or any forbidden book could be shot. Failure to make sufficiently abject apologies for ideological errors was enough to merit a bullet between the eyes.