A Change of Guard

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Sunday, 25 November 2007

Duch's Biography: The Lost Executioner

Vorn Vet, Duch's boss, along with Ke Kim Hourt, Duch's professor, was tortured and executed at Tuol Sleng Prison.
Photos: Duch as the chief executioner in the 1970s (below) and Duch as the prisoner in Feb. 2003 (left).

Radio Free Asia by Chea Vita

20th November 2007

Translated from Khmer by Khmerization

Duch was a director of the Tuol Sleng Torture Centre from 1975 to 1979. In just over 3 years between 16,000 to 20,000 prisoners were brought there. By the time the Vietnamese invading forces arrived in Phnom Penh in 1979 just 7 people survived. The rest have been tortured and executed in the most primitive and brutal ways under the supervision of Duch. Yet those who knew Duch as a young man described him as a gentle, kind and caring person. Below is his brief biography:(And please come back to read interview with Duch's sister in which she described about Duch's past).

Duch was born in Kampong Thom province in a poor family on 17th November 1942. He was of Sino-Khmer origin and has five brothers and sisters. Duch was born in a period during which the Cambodian economy was in recession. Many peasant families in Duch's village have become slaves to the bourgeouisie and the capitalists. Even he was poor, young Duch, alias Kaing Guek Eav, was a brilliant student. Duch was also a kind teacher to his students. So, what made the kind teacher to become one of the worst killers this world has ever seen?

When he was 14 years old Duch passed the exam to matriculate to a junior high school. Ke Kim Hourt, Duch's teacher, and who was later ordered arrested by Nuon Chea and imprisoned at Tuol Sleng prison and was tortured and brutally executed under Duch's supervision, has taught his students that in order to eliminate poverty and social injustice one must eliminate corruption. And in order to eliminate corruption one must eliminate the then corrupt feudal system of government in Cambodia.

In 1962 Duch passed the exam to matriculate to the elite Sisowath College in Phnom Penh. It was there that Duch had seen clearly the widest gap between the rich and the poor, between the rural and the city people.

According to the book, The Lost Executioner: A Story of the Khmer Rouge by Nic Dunlop, who had personally interviewed Duch, described that in 1964 Duch went to a Teacher's Training College. It was there that Duch met a teacher named Son Sen, a French-educated intellectual, who was later to become Khmer Rouge Minister of Defence and Security and effectively Duch's boss. In that same year Son Sen, whom Duch called "teacher", fled to the jungle and met up with Pol Pot to form a resistance movement. It was that Teacher's Training College that has become a breeding ground for the future Cambodian revolutionaries who later became dissidents to the government.

In 1965 Duch had become a very famous mathematics teacher at a high school at Skoun town in Kampong Cham province. Even though he hold a teaching diploma from Phnom Penh Duch was humble and never show off. The book, The Lost Executioner quoted one of Duch's students named Moeun who said that:"Duch was a different teacher. In Cambodia those who'd just been in employment always hide about their poor background in order to show off to other people that they are well off. Duch was a highly qualified teacher who was patient and very gentle. He worked tirelessly and never punished his students. He always provided food and accomodation for his poor students like what his teachers had done to him".

This ex-student of Duch added that Duch liked to read books about the biography of revolutionary communist leaders such as Mao Tse-tung and Karl Marx etc.

Duch always taught his students about Mao's communist theory. He had always encouraged his students to always help the poor and the weak. And he taught them to hate feudalism, capitalism and the monarchy.

In 1967 three of Duch students were arrested by the secret police of the Sihanouk government. It was then that Duch fled to the jungle of Chamkar Leu district. Chamka Leu was where Duch had become a full member of the Communist Party of Cambodia. But his escape to the jungle can be from another reason. The book, The Lost Executioner quoted Somaly, another of Duch's female classmate, who said that:" I just knew that he had played tontine (money game) in order to raise the money to support his revolutionary cause. When it was time to pay he didn't have the money to pay so he fled to the jungle in Chamkar Leu district".

Whatever the reasons for his escape to the jungle in Chamka Leu, shortly after his escape to the jungle Duch was arrested by the authority and was sent to Preysor Prison. Duch was imprisoned there for two years without trial. It was there that Duch seen hundreds of other prisoners who were also imprisoned without any trials. One of the prisoners whom Duch met in that prison was a man named Morm Nay, alias Chan. Chan was later to become deputy director of the prisons code-named M13, M99 and S-21 (Tuol Sleng Prison) of the Khmer Rouge regime.

After taking power through a coup d'etat against the then Prince Sihanouk in 1970 Marshall Lon Nol's government pardoned all political prisoners. After his release from Preysor Prison in 1970 and probably due to his anger and hatred angainst the injustice Duch again fled to the Khmer Rouge zone in the Cardamon Mountains region. There Duch was appointed as a commander of security by a high-ranking Khmer Rouge official named Vorn Vet, who was later tortured and executed in Tuol Sleng Prison in around 1977. Duch was tasked by the Party to set up the prison system where he opened two centres code-named M13 or Monty Dop Bei in Orm Laing region of Kampong Speu province and a second prison code-named M99 or Monty Kao Sep Pram Bourn at the foot of the Oral Mountain.

Based on the book: The Lost Executioner, during the resistance against the Lon Nol regime there were approximately 20,000 prisoners who were tortured and executed in those two prisons. Victims included Lon Nol's soldiers, Khmer Rouge (KR)military personnel whom the KR considered to be their enemies. Vorn Vet who was Duch's boss and was later tortured and executed under Duch's supervision at Tuol Sleng Prison, had never gave clear instructions to Duch on the precise methods of how to torture in order to extract confessions from prisoners so Duch has to experiment to find the effective ways and methods.

Due to the methods and the brutal nature of prisoners' torture there, there was an assumption that those two prisons were the places where Duch first experimented his most effective ways and cruellest forms of torturing the prisoners. May be due to his experiences from those two prisons that Duch was appointed director of S-21 or Tuol Sleng Torture Centre after the KR took power in 1975.

In an interview with Mr. Nic Dunlop on page 76 of the book, an ex-KR soldier named Horm In, who had survived prison M13, has recalled like this:" Days and nights, we always heard voices of cries and screams all the time. There were many prisoners who were tortured in different forms, including the using of an ax to smash prisoners' knee-cap, their sheen, their back and their chest. Sometimes they burned prisoners with hot oil from a burning torch. And to deny the charges will make the interrogators become very, very angry so they will torture the prisoners until they become unconscious. There was another effective method of torture called the Victory Post which four prisoners were tied up together around a single post. After that the executioner would fire a single shot into one prisoner's head causing the blood and the smashed brains to splash over other perisoners' faces".

Mr. Horm In, who until now never knew what he had done wrong, said that he was personally interrogated by Duch and after knowing that he was born on the Year of the Horse, Duch sarcastically joked that the persons who were born in the Year of the Horse are destined to be imprisoned. Duch had told Horm In that if he agreed to work for the Party by spying on other prisoners he would be freed. Horm In, at that time, agreed to Duch's proposal. After serving three months prison term Horm In was released to work outside of the prison which gave him a chance to see all the killings and executions of the prisoners. One night, he saw young prison guards had executed two hundred prisoners.

Mr. Henry Locard?(spelling), a French expert on Cambodian history, has said that the KR has committed atrocities since before they took power. On the other hand, soldiers of the Lon Nol regime have also committed atrocities at almost the same level as the KR.

The KR Tribunal was set up, and has the jurisdiction, to try crimes committed under the KR regime from 1975 t0 1979 which between 1.7 million to 2 million Cambodians had died of starvation, overwork and by executions. Between 14,000 to 20,000 people were brought to Tuol Sleng Prison, tortured and executed, under the supervision of Duch.//

1.Read an interview with Duch's sister who claimed that Duch is a gentleman:http://khmerization.blogspot.com/2007/11/interview-with-duchs-sister-mrs-hong.html

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