Friday, May 15, 2009

Dunlop on Duch

The freelance journalist who tracked down and exposed Comrade Duch, then wrote about his investigations in the excellent book, The Lost Executioner, and who I first heard about for his work on the 1994 book War of the Mines, Nic Dunlop (pictured), will be holding court at Meta House on Tuesday 19th May at 7pm. Dubbed a 'grown-up Harry Potter' by one fellow journo, Dunlop's expose on the man who oversaw thousands of interrogations and executions at Tuol Sleng is a fine book, well worth reading and will no doubt be covered as part of the Q&A that will take place at Meta House after a short documentary screening on the night. Bangkok-based, his current work is a photo-led project on Burma's dictatorship, though with the Duch trial taking place in Phnom Penh right now, you can appreciate he is more interested than most.
Link: website.

To refresh memories, here's my review of The Lost Executioner: A Story of the Khmer Rouge:
Nic Dunlop's first-rate detective story on the trail of Pol Pot's chief executioner, the notorious Comrade Duch, is a fascinating journey into Cambodia's recent bloody history. Through a series of testimonies by Duch's family members and people who knew him, Dunlop builds up a compelling picture of this former teacher turned mass murderer, whilst also giving us a running commentary on the development of the Khmer Rouge organisation through the eyes of former cadre such as Sokheang, now a human rights investigator though formerly a Khmer Rouge sympathiser.
The Lost Executioner is Dunlop's first book; he's primarily a photographer who became obsessed with S-21, known to many as Tuol Sleng, and its commandant, Comrade Duch. He even kept a photo of Duch in his pocket. By an astonishing stroke of luck, Dunlop met the man responsible for the deaths of more than 20,000 people, in Samlaut, a small town in northwest Cambodia in 1999 and exposed him with the help of Nate Thayer and the Far Eastern Economic Review, leading to his arrest and detention, awaiting trial. Dunlop's subsequent investigations and interviews now provide us with a great wealth of detail about Duch's life before, during and after the Khmer Rouge reign of terror though ultimately the reason for Duch's transformation into a brutal killer remains an unexplained puzzle. In a perverse twist, Duch converted to Christianity, had worked for an American charity, was living under a new identity and had returned to teaching before his unmasking. The book is written in an easy to follow though powerful narrative and I recommend The Lost Executioner to anyone seeking to delve into the morass that is Cambodia's recent past. It's a remarkable and revealing story. [pic Chor Sokunthea]

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