The Spectacle Blog

‘I Am Criminally Responsible for Killing Babies’

The words of a repentant American abortionist? Fat chance. Instead it's the confession of the chief prison-keeper and executionist of the Cambodian Khmer Rouge regime, Kaing Guek Eav (or Comrade Duch), who is the first of late dictator Pol Pot's lieutenants to be tried for war crimes.

By on 6.8.09 | 2:07PM

The words of a repentant American abortionist? Fat chance.

Instead it's the confession of the chief prison-keeper and executionist of the Cambodian Khmer Rouge regime, Kaing Guek Eav (or Comrade Duch), who is the first of late dictator Pol Pot's lieutenants to be tried for war crimes.

Duch, the first of five senior cadres to face trial for the 1975-79 reign of terror in which 1.7 million Cambodians died, said he accepted responsibility for the children's deaths but was following orders.

"When children arrived at the center I gave the order to kill them because we were afraid those children would take revenge," the 66-year-old told the court.

"I had to implement the policy of the Communist party," said the former chief of the S-21 interrogation center where more than 14,000 men, women and children were killed.

As you can imagine, it is tremendously sobering to visit the Cheoung Ek killing field just outside Phnom Penh, and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (the S-21 site) within the city limits. These places are testimony to the chilling potential of human evil. As Duch recounted a Khmer Rouge policy on detained children: "There is no gain to keep them, and they might take revenge on you."

If you've never heard Duch's story, a fascinating read is Nic Dunlop's "The Lost Executioner." It's an account of the Irish photojournalist's journey to track down the evasive Duch, which culminates in a compelling confrontation. By the way, Duch claims to have become a born-again Christian, which Dunlop seems skeptical about. I tend to believe it.

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