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Blogs 'N' Sods #11: Holiday in Cambodia

With the beheadings the ISIS group have been filming and posting to the internet, I just had to pick THIS book to review.

French journalist Thierry Cruvellier’s 2011 book, The Master of Confessions: The Trial of a Khmer Rouge Torturer, has finally seen a 2014 release in English this year. Those looking for light autumn reading need to keep walking. And quickly.

The book specifically is about the 2009 trial of Duch, the director of S-21. S-21 was once a public high school, and when the communist government of dictator Pol Pot took power in 1975 in Cambodia, it became the primary place where the regime committed torture, murder and extracted numerous forced confessions.

 Duch, born Kaing Guek Eav, was a former math teacher and loyal to the idea of the party. When he suddenly became the director of S-21 (its former director was killed during a “cleanse” by party leaders), he knew he had to maintain the staus quo or himself be executed. Thousands of people were tortured and put to death after weeks of severe abuse and starvation. According to the truly handful of people who survived to speak at the trial, many confessed just to put and end to it all.

The book is cold and precise, much of this due to the fact it was written by a journalist, not a novelist. It is estimated about 2.5 million people of Cambodia’s 8 million people were murdered during the 4 years the Communist Party held power. Details of what types of torture took place are listed during the trial and at times are so horrifying, you just simply have to put the book down and shudder. Just being suspected or related to someone the party did not like was enough to send you to S-21 or the infamous killing fields, a series of thousands of prisoner-dug mass graves.

The strange thing is, Duch admitted to his crimes. He asked for forgiveness and apologized for what he had done. And this leaves the books on the strangest of notes. No one is screaming in defense about how they were just following orders, forced to murder, etc. It makes one wonder why the trial took place at all.

 Was the purpose of the trial to remember the fallen or punish the guilty? Was it just another exercise in what we perceive is justice, like we have done in Nuremberg and Rwanda? Or will it serve as a primer in what invariably will happen in Syria and Iraq in decades to come?

 This is not a book of easy answers, with the most important one still lingering: will it ever cease?

 Love to you all.

 Ben Bear

originally published on 30 September 2014

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