Monday, January 16, 2023

Alexander Laban Hinton's "Anthropological Witness"

Alex Hinton is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Director of the Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights, UNESCO Chair on Genocide Prevention, and author or editor of seventeen books, including It Can Happen Here: White Power and the Rising Threat of Genocide in the US (2021), The Justice Facade: Trials of Transition in Cambodia (2018), and, most recently, Anthropological Witness: Lessons from the Khmer Rouge Tribunal (2022). In November, he received the American Anthropological Association’s 2022 Anthropology in the Media Award.

Hinton applied the "Page 99 Test" to Anthropological Witness and reported the following:
From page 99:
“Isn’t it true that Vietnam was the real enemy?” Koppe asks me as he turns to the last main topic of his questioning, Vietnam. “And [isn’t it true] that the fear of . . . the [Communist Party of Kampuchea was] real?”
A page 99 reader steps into the middle of the story about my March 2015 expert witness testimony at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Cambodia, which is the focus of Anthropological Witness. As the above excerpt suggests, page 99 reveals quite a bit. It gives a sense for the book’s writing style, which draws on creative non-fiction techniques including dialogue, narrative, character, tension, setting, and first-person voice.

One of the characters, international defense lawyer Victor Koppe, appears on this page as he presents the “crocodile defense” of a more major character, his client and the accused, Khmer Rouge “Brother Number Two” Nuon Chea. Working hand-in-hand with Pol Pot, Nuon Chea was responsible for enacting revolutionary policies that resulted in the death of a quarter of Cambodia’s 8 million inhabitants from January 1975 to January 1979. Now, more than thirty years later, he was on trial for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

Page 99 foregrounds a key issue in the book -- genocide denial -- that I had to combat during my testimony when confronted with Nuon Chea’s “crocodile defense” that sought to displace blame from the Khmer Rouge to outside actors, especially Vietnam. Relatedly, page 99 anticipates the book’s denouement: the end of my three and a half days on the stand when, upset with what I had said, Nuon Chea broke his long silence at the court to try to rebuke my testimony, which had damaged his defense and denials. He also took the opportunity to pose two questions to me, one of which centered on the responsibility of the U.S. for the violence. The book tells my reply.

Page 99 doesn’t connect all the threads of Anthropological Witness. But it does involve significant ones, including some of the most important stakes of my testimony: justice, accountability, explanation, and truth in the aftermath of genocide and mass violence.
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--Marshal Zeringue