Khmer Rouge vs. Islamic State (IS) – which is more evil?

Two days ago, an elderly Cambodian father told the Khmer Rouge tribunal here – yes, it is still in existence – of how his son from the boy’s Vietnamese mother had been thrown in the air, then fatally impaled on a Khmer Rouge bayonet as he fell. That happened to other children, including girls.

Meanwhile, his wife and mother-in-law had their arms bound behind them before being beaten to death, their bodies falling into a ready grave, such as happened in Nazi Germany.

“Why did you marry a Vietnamese wife?” the man, Prak Doeun, aged 73, was asked at the time. He was allowed to live to give evidence to the tribunal this week, decades later.

When it comes to the brutal Islamic State, we know that male victims are beheaded and their heads placed on their chests, while younger women are raped and older women, mostly from non-Muslim Middle Eastern religions like Syriac Christianity, or unacceptable off-shoots of Islam, are deemed too far on in years for sex and are buried in pits like the ones the Khmer Rouge had – which you can still visit just outside Phnom Penh.

Then there was the elderly archaeologist and guardian at the ruins of Palmyra in Syria who was decapitated and his body hung from a lamppost just a few months ago.

In the Cambodian Killing Fields, babies had their brains smashed out against trees, while older children were battered with hoes like their parents, or stabbed with bayonets, or thrown from the roof of S.21, the main place of torture and “interrogation.”

The surviving Khmer Rouge are facing trial before a hybrid court (since 2006) of pro-Hun Sen regime ‘lawyers’ and international jurists.

Presently Brother Number Two (to Pol Pot) Nuon Chea and the former international face of the Khmer Rouge, Khieu Samphan, are facing charges of genocide these days against ethnic Vietnamese.

Nuon Chea, whom this correspondent has interviewed a number of times, is famous for sending two of his own nieces to be tortured and killed in the mincing machine at Tuol Sleng. Khieu Samphan, once the “acceptable” face of the Khmer Rouge, may be treated somewhat more lightly

Of course, we have no idea yet what kind of trial the leaders of Islamic State will face if and when they are defeated. It might be at the International Court at The Hague, though it seems to me there will have to be some input by Islamic jurists to be considered fair. These are matters hardly touched upon yet as the bombs from various air forces have their day over Iraq and Syria.

But which is the worst of the two fanatical groups?

My feeling is that it is the Khmer Rouge that are the worst, as 1.7 million died under their brutal rule, and even babies were not spared. Torture is used by both. Electric shocks and lashes were popular with the Khmer Rouge. We can be sure that IS prisoners are tortured too before decapitation.

Of course, there is no capital punishment in Cambodia. There is, of course, in Arab states like Saudi Arabia, but for the IS trials decapitation is an unlikely fate.

Brother Deuch, the only Khmer Rouge whose case was decided several years ago, is in air-conditioned quarters here these days thinking over that old Khmer Rouge proverb: “To keep you is no gain, to lose you is no loss.”

The victims of the Khmer Rouge and Islamic State will live to contemplate their lives, and some IS killers might live to wave their black banners another day. But the more evil? We await future developments of Islamic State’s growing battle.

James Pringle covered the Khmer Rouge regime as a correspondent for Newsweek Magazine and other publications in a long journalistic career.