One of the cruellest men ever to have lived died on September 2 in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. Kaing Guek Eav, popularly known as “Duch”, was 77 and had been convicted of mass torture by the UN/Cambodian war crimes court. He was the only one of the five defendants to admit his crimes. In July 2010 in a trial I witnessed first-hand he was sentenced to life imprisonment.
According to Seth Mydans, the New York Times’s correspondent in Cambodia at the time of the rule of Pol Pot who founded the guerrilla movement, the Khmer Rouge, “he was a schoolteacher before the Khmer Rouge came to power. He took his revolutionary name from a children’s book about an obedient schoolboy named Duch. ‘I wanted to be a well-disciplined boy who respected the teachers and did good deeds’, he told the court.
That obedience made him an effective operative for the top Khmer Rouge leadership. His chief defence was that he, too, had feared for his life if he did not carry out orders. But the vigour, creativity and cruelty with which he ran his torture house belied that defence. 15,000 or so died at his command. And his brashness and arrogance during the trial were anything but that of a young innocent”.