Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Today The New York Times ran an editorial, "My Savior, Their Killer," about the trial of Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Comrade Duch, the Khymer Rouge commander of the Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh. Duch is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity in the trial now under way under the auspices of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. He is responsible (notice how the modifier "allegedly" drops from view and into horrific statistical fact) for ordering the death penalty at least 12, 380 times. 12,380 times. At least.

The author of the piece, Francois Bizot, was a prisoner of this mass murderer for three months in 1971. His account of his experience, The Gate, translated into English several years ago, is one of most gripping, terrifying memoirs I've come across, accentuating dispassionately and powerfully our sense of historical nightmare and personal experience in the modern world. In the months that Bizot was interrogated by Duch, the two conversed at length on various subjects. Duch was an intellectual whose cruelty is shown to be even more awful for its clinical rationalizations and for the fact that any humanist underpinnings of his learning curdled into a subversive shadow of itself, its logic propping up a casual regimen of torture, mutilation, and killing. The Gate is a reminder of the fragility of the human world, how so easily it can collapse into the killing fields of any place, how the engineers of these machinations can articulate like orators and murder like butchers. Read this book and take pause. J/C