Via: The Atlantic
Feb 14 2013, 7:30 AM ET
By Henry Grabar
A look back at another instance in which the U.S. undertook a secretive and widespread bombing campaign.
A Cambodian man prays at a Buddhist ceremony as around 300 skulls that formed a giant map of Cambodia are dismantled at a genocide museum in Phnom Penh on March 10, 2002(Chor Sokunthea/Reuters)
Halfway through the Justice Department white paper [PDF] defending the lawfulness of government-ordered assassinations of U.S. citizens, there is a curious reference to a dark chapter of American history.
The memo, making the legal case for covertly expanding military operations across international borders, directs readers to an address by State Department legal adviser John R. Stevenson, “United States Military Action in Cambodia: Questions of International Law,” delivered to the New York Bar Association in 1970.
The comparison is fitting in ways the Justice Department surely did not intend.
Like the current conflict, the military action in neutral Cambodia was so secretive that information about the first four years of bombing, from 1965 to 1969, was not made public until 2000. And like the current conflict, the operation in Cambodia stood on questionable legal ground. The revelation of its existence, beginning in 1969, was entangled with enough illegal activity in this country — wiretaps, perjury, falsification of records and a general determination to deceive — to throw significant doubt on its use as a precedent in court.
The most important parallel, though, isn’t legal or moral: it’s strategic. As critics wonder what kind of backlash might ensue from drone attacks that kill civilians and terrorize communities, Cambodia provides a telling historical precedent.
Between 1965 and 1973, the U.S. dropped 2.7 million tons of explosives — more than the Allies dropped in the entirety of World War II — on Cambodia, whose population was then smaller than New York City’s. Estimates of the number of people killed begin in the low hundreds of thousands and range up from there, but the truth is that no one has any idea.
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