Saturday, August 04, 2007

More on Duch

Torturer runs out of time
After years under assumed names, Comrade Duch is facing justice, writes Connie Levett of The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia).

He introduced himself as Hang Pin, just another Cambodian camp worker in a white T-shirt emblazoned with the American Refugee Committee logo, helping out on the Thai-Cambodian border.He didn't look like a monster, but a British photographer, Nic Dunlop, recognised him immediately as Comrade Duch, head of the notorious Khmer Rouge Security Prison 21 (S-21), where 17,000 people were interrogated, tortured and finally sent for execution. Duch meticulously documented his work, leaving behind a haunting gallery of frightened and defiant faces - now the Tuol Sleng museum. This week, 28 years after the regime fell, Hang Pin - whose real name is Kang Kek Ieu but who was known as Comrade Duch - now 64, became the first man charged in relation to the Cambodian genocide. After years of wrangling over funding, and the independence of the genocide tribunal, the charge has raised hopes among the scarred population that justice may yet be done.

Dr Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, said that although the world knew who the prime suspects were, it was "very significant for Cambodia to have a judicial process which responded to the call for justice". The centre has, for 10 years, been chronicling the genocide that killed more than 1.7 million people between 1975 and 1979. "Every one of us lost at least one family member," Dr Chhang said, describing the genocide trials as a real foundation to bring closure so people could go on with their lives. Vann Nath, one of only seven survivors of S-21, is keen to testify. "If they don't bring them to court, [the Khmer Rouge] won't know what they did was wrong. We need them to be responsible for what they did. If we don't do it, the young generation will not know what is wrong and what is right," he told the Herald this year. Vann Nath survived because Duch liked his painting style, setting him to work creating portraits of Brother No. 1, Pol Pot. Pol Pot, who led the murderous regime, died in 1998, never having to account for his actions. Brother No. 3, Ta Mok, the military commander, died last year. Twenty years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime, Duch must have felt quite comfortable with his new identity. In Samlaut village in 1999, "Hang Pin" was friendly and off guard - telling Dunlop he had been a mathematics teacher and fled Phnom Penh when the Khmer Rouge took power. In fact, he fled the capital in 1979 and did not leave the party until 1992. He then converted to Christianity and worked, under assumed names, for the United Nations and other aid bodies, in the refugee camps.What he could not know was that Dunlop had made it a personal mission to find him. Working as a freelance photographer in Cambodia, he carried Duch's photo in his pocket and showed it to villagers wherever he went, asking, "Have you seen this man?" When he saw Hang Pin, he knew immediately. "They thought I was mad," said Dunlop, who is now based in Bangkok. He did not confront Duch on the first day, discreetly taking photos before returning with another journalist a few weeks later to challenge him as to his identity. Duch did not deny it. Duch rationalised his actions, saying he was just following orders and would have been killed himself had he not. "It's true he was following orders but in terms of being able to influence decisions that were made, he also has a responsibility," Dunlop said."A key part of his case in this tribunal is whether he remains true to what he told me in 1999, which is 'Yes, I am responsible but so are these other people. I did follow the orders.' If he confesses to that it should be an incredible testimony."

In 1999 Duch told Dunlop that Pol Pot; Brother No. 2, Nuon Chea; and Ta Mok all knew what was going on inside S-21. Khieu Samphan, the chief ideologue, was also aware but less so. The tribunal has indicated it will charge another four as-yet-unnamed Khmer Rouge leaders. Duch's testimony could assist in their prosecution. Dr Chhang describes him as "a join between the lower and higher levels of the regime. He was chief of a prison, one of 189 across the country but his prison was at a level where most of the prisoners were officials of the Khmer Rouge itself, who had become enemies who needed to be purged." Duch's trial is expected to begin early next year. Dunlop, who wrote about his search for Duch in The Lost Executioner, is not sure if he will attend."It seemed inconceivable to me growing up in the West that things like this could occur. [What happened in] Cambodia represented everything evil in the world," he said. In trying to comprehend how it could happen, he realised it is important to understand the perpetrators as much as it is to empathise with victims. "At the end, these monsters so-called are people, human beings. There was nothing to indicate [Duch] was anything other than ordinary. The thing is we can relate to these people, they are not different to us."

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