The Spectacle Blog

But Not Waterboarding

Kaing Guek Eav, the former Khmer Rouge chief at Tuol Sleng prison where nearly 17,000 Cambodians (and a few other nationals) were tortured and killed (or sent to nearby Choeung Ek for execution), has beenon trial the last few weeks in Phnom Penh.

By on 4.29.09 | 12:44PM

Kaing Guek Eav, the former Khmer Rouge chief at Tuol Sleng prison where nearly 17,000 Cambodians (and a few others) were tortured and killed (or sent to nearby Choeung Ek for execution), has been on trial the last few weeks in Phnom Penh. Unlike the few other top officials from Pol Pot's regime who are awaiting trial, Eav -- known as "Duch" -- has admitted responsibility for the evil. The brutalities committed under his authority are unimaginable: beatings, electrocutions, fingernail-ripping, burning, cutting, etc. Guards would toss infants in the air like they were skeet and fire away.

But in today's reports about the trial, the discussion of whether Tuol Sleng guards engaged in waterboarding was seized upon by the obsessive media. From Agence France-Press:

But (Duch) said he had not used the simulated drowning technique called waterboarding, and had not put plastic bags over prisoners' heads because of the danger they could suffocate to death.

"The kind of waterboarding technique was not employed and the plastic bag was also not a kind of technique," Duch said.

I guess that makes the Khmer Rouge more humane than the United States.

Duch said he discussed interrogation tactics with Khmer Rouge cadres soon after he began working at the prison.

"There were two techniques. The normal beating technique and the electrocution technique with use of a telephone (line)... which was connected to an electric current to electrocute prisoners. That was true," Duch said.

You would think if he was willing to 'fess up to electrocution and beatings, that if waterboarding was happening it wouldn't be a big deal to admit to that also. But that's not the point, obviously:

The United States has been heavily criticised for using waterboarding to interrogate suspected Al-Qaeda prisoners, with many commentators citing it as a brutal method of the Khmer Rouge.

Since when are commentators news? And if they are, why not also cite the commentators who believe it is justified? That is, if we are going to make commentators part of the story.

A similar reporting template was followed by Associated Press, which also emphasized Duch's waterboarding denial:

"The way people were detained, interrogated and smashed (killed) was unique to the prison (S-21)," said Duch, one of five senior Khmer Rouge leaders expected to face the tribunal,

Answering questions from prosecutor Alex Bates, Duch (pronounced Doik) said hundreds of children between the ages of 12 and 17 were rounded up from poor families in the countryside to serve as "special and honest security guards" at the prison.

"Because they were young, they were like clean pieces of papers that can be easily written or painted on," Duch said. "I myself educated them. I trained them."

That prisoners were only fried, smashed, and their children brainwashed -- that must come as a great relief to the anti-American, anti-waterboarding media.

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