BOOKS: by Michael Daniel (reviewer)News Weekly
The Lost Executioner: A Story of the Khmer Rouge, by Nic Dunlop
, December 3, 2005
Pol Pot's chief accompliceTHE LOST EXECUTIONER: A Story of the Khmer Rouge
by Nic Dunlop
Paperback RRP: $29.95A recent study in Britain revealed that a significant proportion of young people knew little of the World War II Nazi extermination of the Jews, despite an impressive array of resource material that is widely available.
If a similar study were to be conducted, it would reveal that even fewer young people would be able to recount details of the murder of some two million people, perpetrated by the communist Khmer Rouge in Cambodia between their seizure of power in 1975 and their ousting in 1979.HarrowingThe Lost Executioner
is a harrowing study of recent Cambodian history, which focuses upon the head of the Khmer Rouge secret police and Pol Pot's chief executioner, Kaing Guek Eav, alias Comrade Duch.
Nic Dunlop, an Irish photographer who has worked extensively in Cambodia, brings to this account his interest in the subject matter and extensive knowledge, based partly upon eyewitness testimony.
Like many of the key members of the Khmer Rouge, Comrade Duch (prounced "Doik") was educated. He eventually became a schoolteacher and used his position to promote revolutionary ideas.
Soon after the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge in April 1975, Duch was appointed commandant of the notorious S-21 prison.
In this role, he oversaw the deaths of some 20,000 people deemed enemies of the revolution, after they had first been brutally tortured to extract "confessions" from them.
The 1979 invasion of Cambodia and ousting of the Khmer Rouge by the Vietnamese brought a halt to this genocide.
Tragically, however, Cold War alliances between major world powers enabled the Khmer Rouge to regroup in Thai refugee camps.
They were also able to take advantage of the political turmoil of the next decade and a half, which witnessed the formation of a Cambodian coalition government in 1982, the final withdrawal of the Vietnamese in 1989 and the intervention of a UN peacekeeping mission in the early 1990s.
Duch spent some of these years in a refugee camp, but was eventually to convert to Christianity.
Ironically, he seemed to show the same zeal for promoting Christianity as he did for promoting the ideals of the Khmer Rouge!
Despite his brutal past, it was only in recent years that he and other members of the Khmer Rouge have been held accountable for their actions.
By chance, Dunlop met Duch in a village and exposed his identity well over a decade after he had first heard of him.
Dunlop argues that the Cambodian people have been reticent in bringing mass murderers such as Duch to justice, for fear that it may open old wounds and reignite the civil disturbances that have plagued Cambodia for over 35 years.
Duch has been held in prison for some years; but, at the time of writing, he has yet to be brought to trial for his actions.MacabreThe Lost Executioner
is an excellent, albeit macabre, introduction to recent Cambodian history as well as a portrait of an integral member of one of the most brutal régimes of the twentieth century.
As a global community, we ignore the lessons contained therein at our peril.