Yasith Chhun, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Cambodia, was arrested on June 1, 2005, in California on charges related to the activities of the antigovernment group he heads, the Cambodian Freedom Fighters. In 2001, the U.S. State Dept. declared the group to be a terrorist organization.
He was taken into custody Wednesday without incident at his residence in Long Beach… [He] was arrested pursuant to two indictments. The first charges him with conspiracy to kill in a foreign country, conspiracy to damage or destroy property in a foreign country, and engaging in a military expedition against a friendly nation. The second indictment charges him with running a fraudulent tax-preparation business.
The reason the government might backpedal from the terrorism label in this case is that some powerful Republicans, notably Rep. Dana Rohrabacher from California’s Orange County, support Chhun’s group in its resistance to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who is accused of using strongarm tactics to stay in power. There is a complication, however. Hun Sen is democratically elected. He heads the Cambodian People’s Party, which controls the National Assembly in coalition with the royalist FUNCINPEC party.
Like a lot of Cambodian Americans, Chhun has been an active supporter of the GOP. In 2004, he attended the annual meeting of the Business Advisory Council of the National Republican Congressional Committee in Washington, DC. A spokesman for the group claims they didn’t know Chhun was a terrorist.
“At this point, the gentleman hasn’t been convicted of anything,” [NRCC spokesman Carl] Forti said. If he is a terrorist, “it’s something we need to look at. Clearly, we wouldn’t want any leader of a terrorist organization being members of our business advisory council.”
[But] Chhun… has never made a secret of his role in the 2000 attack on several government buildings in the capital, Phnom Penh. He spoke openly about it to newspapers and magazines, where he was portrayed as a would-be revolutionary who ran his resistance movement out of his tax office in Long Beach.
This case proves the lie of the whole ginned-up, GOP “War on Terror” marketing scheme. We are no more “at war” with the Cambodian Freedom Fighters than we are with the Irish Republican Army or the Shining Path. Our conflict is with radical fundamentalists in Islam. If we are to prevail, Job One is to understand who our enemies are and why they oppose us. Bush and his party have deliberately fuzzied up both the nature of the conflict and the identities of our enemies in order to rally their simple-minded base.
This fuzziness ought to render the GOP vulnerable when one of their own gets nabbed. But with the news media super-busy covering this crucial juncture in the Michael Jackson trial, the Republicans needn’t worry about blowback from the arrest of a terrorist member of their party.
Imagine the media circus that would have erupted if the names Clinton or Kennedy, rather than Rohrabacher, had been associated with a known terrorist. The Jackson trial would become a mere sideshow.
This brings to mind another non-story in which a Republican activist was arrested here in Calfiornia for spying. Katrina Leung was charged with “illegally obtaining secret documents to the advantage of a foreign power,” namely Communist Red China. She was arrested along with her boyfriend, who happened to be married – and also happened to be an FBI agent. He was charged with making false statements to federal agents by concealing his “improper intimate relationship with an FBI asset” who he was charged with handling.