Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - KR torture chief admits to mass murder

KR torture chief admits to mass murder

KR torture chief admits to mass murder


Duch, photographed near the Thai border earlier this month.

He oversaw the deaths of more than 14,000 people, participated personally in the

torture and killing of some - but now Duch has surfaced in Battambang - contrite,

garrulous and Christian.

Between 14,000 and 20,000 men women and children passed through the Khmer Rouge torture

centre S-21 when Duch was in charge - only seven survived.

Now his interests are more benign.

Speaking in his first ever interview "Hong Ben", or "Ta Pin",

the names that he now goes by, says he is a Christian.

"I want to tell all the people about the gospel" he says.

He has worked alongside international aid groups in recent years and proudly displays

a pair of laminated certificates he received after attending seminars held in Cambodia

by American evangelical churches - they commend his "personal leadership development,

team-building, and deepening commitment to Jesus Christ."

He was baptized in the Sangke River in Battambang under the supervision of the American

Pacific College which is part of the California based International Hope University

on Jan 6, 1996.

"I learned to be a Christian when I was a student in secondary school and I

compared them all [Christianity, Islam, Buddhism]," he says.

"I had a difficult life and I decided to be a Christian."

When confronted for the first time ever about his past and his true identity he replies

with an air of resignation, "It is God's will you are here. Now my future is

in God's hands."

He goes on, "whatever happens to me now that you have come, it is God's will

I am here".

"I have done very bad things before in my life. Now it is time for

les représailles [the reprisals] of my actions."

To date Duch is the only senior Khmer Rouge to fully accept his role in the genocide

without shirking responsibility or shifting the blame.

"The first half of my life I will remember for ever," he says.

"Then I thought God was very bad, that only bad men prayed to God. My unique

fault is that I did not serve God, I served men, I served communism.

"I feel very sorry about the killings and the past. I wanted to be a good communist.

"Now in the second half of my life, I want to serve God by doing God's work

to help the people."

There is little doubt about the actions Duch speaks about. According to Prof. Ben

Kiernan of Yale University, who headed the Genocide Studies Program, there is "as

much documentary evidence directly implicating Duch in mass killings as anyone else."

And Duch's new found frankness and honesty is unlikely to be welcomed by his former


Kiernan says that Duch would be "a key witness against Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan,

Ieng Sary, Ta Mok, Ke Pauk and other top Khmer Rouge leaders."

Duch was the link between the ideas of the leaders and the mechanics of mass killings.

Duch was present at many of the interrogations of prisoners in Tuol Sleng where the

guards used a wide variety of torture. They ranged from electrical shocks and the

pulling out of toenails to severe beatings and submersion into vats of water.

He sometimes made trips out to the "Killing Fields" of Cheung Ek to observe

executions. According to records obtained by the Documentation Center of Cambodia

he was personally involved in the abuse of prisoners, including torture as well as

the execution of prisoners whilst in detention. In his book, "A Cambodian Prison

Portrait", Vann Nath describes Duch abusing another prisoner by asking Nath,

"It's better to use him to make fertilizer, don't you think ?".

He also "ordered two nine-year old boys, two ten-year old girls, and five other

children under 16 years old be accused of association with dissident tendencies."

On May 30th, 1978, Duch signed the order : "kill them all"'.

When presented with copies of confessions from the prison he runs his finger over

a handwritten sentence that reads, "use the hot method, even if it kills him,

it is ok" and says, "Yes, this is my signature. I am so sorry. The people

who died were good people. There were many who were innocent."

He explains that "whoever was arrested must die. It was the rule of our party.

S-21 had no right to arrest anybody. We had the responsibility to interrogate and

give the confession to the central committee of the party".

As acting director of "S-21" he reported directly to Son Sen , the Deputy

Prime Minister in charge of National Defense.

"The killings were ordered by the central committee, not by one person"

he explains.

Seven foreigners met their fate in Tuol Sleng and according to Deuch, the killings

were ordered by Noun Chea, who requested that their bodies be burned so no bones

were left.

"Only the Europeans were burned. I remember well the Englishman (John Dewhurst).

He was very polite."

As far as the leaders of the Khmer Rouge are concerned Duch says that "Ieng

Sary knew nothing" and that "he only knew a little of the internal situation

of the country because his work was outside the country" in his position as

foreign minister.

He goes on to say that "Khieu Samphan knew of the killings but less than the

others" and confirms Sen Sen's involvement as well as Noun Chea's by pointing

out their handwritten instructions on the confessions presented to him.

When questioned about his thoughts on the trial of Ta Mok and other Khmer Rouge,

Duch says "I'm not interested in him (Ta Mok), I'm only interested in my children,

my stomach and God... there is no future for the Khmer Rouge. They're finished."

"For the trial of myself, I don't worry, it is up to Hun Sen and Jesus."

Dressed in grubby shorts and sandals, barking orders to deferential ex-Khmer Rouge,

Duch now runs a small shop with his sister in an obscure hamlet selling crushed ice,

cheap Thai snacks and gasoline to passing ex-Khmer Rouge soldiers and returning refugees.

He is open in approaching foreigners and speaks English almost fluently. This contrasts

sharply with those who remember him in his early days. Vann Nath, one of the survivors

of Tuol Sleng prison, who has written a book of his ordeal, recalls that although

he knew him to have been a teacher, "he was roughly spoken" and seemed


Duch, whose real name is Kiang Khek Iev, was born into a poor rural family in the

central province of Kompong Thom.

Ironically, for someone who came to so ardently embrace communism, he received his

early education from the United States government - the U.S. Agency for International

Development sent teachers to his village.

A brilliant student, he attended the Lycee Sisowath in Phnom Penh. In 1959, he ranked

second in the entire country in the National Baccalaureate examinations, later graduating

at the top of his mathematics class at university.

After graduation, Duch went back to be a deputy principal at a school in Kompomg

Thom, Pol Pot's birthplace, specializing in mathematics.

In 1967 Sihanouk jailed him without trial for three years for leading a riot and

it is believed that he joined the Communist Party of Cambodia on his release and

then disappeared from public view.

The few recorded encounters with him throw up conflicting reports of his character.

French scholar, Francios Bizot, who was captured by Khmer Rouge forces in 1970 and

interrogated by Duch recalled him "as a man of principal" but believed

that "all Cambodians of differing viewpoints" were "traitors and liars,"

and prisoners who would not tell the "truth" drove him into a rage and

he personally beat them.

According to historian David Chandler, a Khmer Rouge defector in the early 70's recalled

Duch as being "ill-tempered, impatient, and doctrinaire".

For many years rumors abounded as to his whereabouts. Some people believed him to

have been killed. However, KR officials reported, accurately as it turned out, that

he was working under a pseudonym for a non-governmental organization in the northern

part of the country.

Until last October, he was a "senior health worker" for the privately run

NGO, American Refugee Committee, which provided health care and training to refugees

in camps along the Thai-Cambodian border.

He used to receive a small stipend as well as UN food and assistance.

During his first meeting with a journalist he was even sporting a new T-shirt with

the initials of the American Refugee Committee and their logo that the aid organization

had given him.

Revelations about Duch's past came as a surprise to his former employers.

"We are in a state of shock frankly," says an ARC official. "He was

our best worker, highly respected in the community, clearly very intelligent and

dedicated to helping the refugees".

ARC told of how he was instrumental in stemming a typhoid outbreak in the camp. He

has also worked with the American based Christian charity World Vision in their immunization

program in another area again receiving glowing reports of efficiency and respect.

And now he is planning to build a school behind his house in his present position

as District Principal and one day hopes to build a church beside the shack that he

shares with his niece and sister.

He is already in the process of clearing land and says he has made a trip to the

provincial capital of Battambang where he sought funding from organizations such

as World Vision.

It was a long road from torture center director to NGO worker.

In 1979 he was the last Khmer Rouge to leave Phnom Penh an hour after the Vietnamese

had liberated the capital and found the prison.

Duch had spent the previous night trying to destroy much of the incriminating evidence

from the prison by burning thousands of documents and photographs.

His last act was to see to the executions of several surviving prisoners.

Duch says he then made his way to the Thai border and arrived in Borai camp in May.

Borai was a KR controlled refugee camp inside Thailand supplied by the United Nations

Border Relief Organization (UNBRO). It was there that Hong Ben says he worked closely

with UNBRO and taught himself English.

The camp was run by the KR. The Khmer camp administrators controlled the population

as captives in an atmosphere of severe intimidation.

It is unclear as to what role he played here but according to Norah Niland, "the

idea of openly 'disobeying' KR camp administrators (in Borai) was too frightening

a prospect for any refugee to contemplate" even when the order meant extreme


By most accounts the structure and behavior of the KR in the camps had changed little

since the '70's. Reports of disappearances, interrogations, public beatings and summary

executions were commonplace.

As Niland points out, foreigners were kept busy guessing what the KR camp administrators

real motives were "given their tendency to say one thing, but act differently".

Throughout the 1980's China, the US and other western countries supported the KR

and their allies in the ensuing civil war against the Vietnamese-backed Hun Sen regime,

while the UN continued to recognize the KR seat in New York.

During this time Duch says he remained in Borai camp inside Thailand. When questioned

about this period he says, "I wasn't in the war, I didn't want to kill anyone".

What will happen to Duch now is uncertain. DC-Cam director Youk Chang says that it

is essential that Deuch comes to Phnom Penh and tells all.

He said Duch is the key to the prosecution of former KR leaders.

Duch would also be near the top of the list for prosecution.

However there are fears that this could push some elements in the KR to take up arms


There are very real concerns by both Khmers and foreigners who are working in former

KR controlled areas that the recent peace may be short lived as the calls for justice

become more and more vocal.

They say people will start to wonder: if Duch is arrested where does one draw the


All over Cambodia today in virtually every strata of Khmer society there are people

who have played a role in the killings.

When questioned by international human rights investigators as to why Duch had not

been arrested, the army deputy chief of staff. Gen. Pol Saroeun replied, "what

do you want to do, cause a panic?".

Suddenly the interview ends as Duch realizes the implications of his discovery.

He changes his tone and asks, "does anyone know of this, that you are here,

that you know who I am?" he says.

"They will be angry if they know who you are. You must leave now." he adds


Then a cadre nearby laughs and says "He is afraid that you are going to cook

him to make soup," repeating an old Khmer adage.


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