Monday, October 29, 2012

Bizot on Duch

I haven't read it myself but the reviews suggest its the best thing since sliced bread. I'm unconvinced by the pre-publication praise. I'm talking about Francois Bizot's Facing The Torturer, 224 pages and published about now by Knopf. The background to the story is this: In 1971, 30-year-old ethnographer François Bizot was captured by the Khmer Rouge and kept prisoner for three months in the Cambodian jungle, accused of being a CIA spy. His captor, Comrade Duch, eventually had him freed. It took Bizot decades to realise he owed his life to a man who, later in the Killing Fields regime, became one of Pol Pot′s most infamous henchmen. As the head of the Tuol Sleng S-21 jail, Duch personally oversaw the detention, systematic torture and execution of thousands of detainees. Duch′s trial as a war criminal began in March 2009 and Bizot was the first witness to testify. In July 2010, Duch was sentenced to 35 years′ imprisonment for the murder of an estimated 14,000 people. Unable to reconcile the young man who saved his life with the war criminal who terrorised and killed countless innocent people, Bizot attended Duch′s trial and spent time with him in prison, trying to unearth whatever humanity Duch had left. If he was going to talk to anyone, it was Bizot, whom he still referred to as his 'friend'. This is Bizot's personal eye-witness account, picking up where his powerful memoir of a decade ago, The Gate, left off. Bizot rates Duch as normal, ordinary, like anyone of us. He'll need to go a long way to convince me of that.

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