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Ear to the Ground

Inside the Mind of Pol Pot’s Henchman

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Posted on Feb 11, 2008
Kang Khek Ieu
AP photo / Heng Sinith

“Duch” on the stand: Kang Khek Ieu appears at a hearing in Phnom Penh in November 2007.

Thousands of Cambodians were tortured and killed under Pol Pot’s horrific Khmer Rouge regime, and now one of the major players from that reign of torture and terror, Kang Khek Ieu, may face justice for his role in the deaths of about 17,000 people. Here, The Independent’s Valerio Pellizzari hears the firsthand account during a rare interview with “Duch,” who could soon stand trial for mass murder.


The Independent:

And even as he waits to confront the proof of his crimes, it is clear that, for him, there was never any choice: anybody who was thought to pose a threat to the revolution had to be tortured and killed. Asked whether he had any moments of uncertainty, any doubts or feelings of rebellion while he set about wiping out his country’s entire intellectual class, he answered: “There was a widespread and tacit understanding.

“I and everyone else who worked in that place knew that anyone who entered had to be psychologically demolished, eliminated by steady work, given no way out. No answer could avoid death. Nobody who came to us had any chance of saving himself.”

The command had come from above, he said. “All the prisoners had to be eliminated. We saw enemies, enemies, enemies everywhere.” He could not have rebelled or fled, he insisted. “If I had tried to flee, they were holding my family hostage, and my family would have suffered the same fate as the other prisoners in Tuol Sleng. If I had fled or rebelled it would not have helped anyone.”

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By QuyTran, February 12, 2008 at 2:17 pm Link to this comment

Iraq will follow Cambodia when Bush @ Co. still want our troops to be dominated this country.

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By Outraged, February 12, 2008 at 1:54 pm Link to this comment

Quote: “Duch answered: “I obeyed. The work carried on until 7 January 1979, when the Cambodian liberation forces, supported by the Vietnamese, conquered Phnom Penh.”

It’s revealing that he says “the work” was carried out. And his statement, “I obeyed” show the disconnect of self from reality.  After all these years he still called it “the work”.

Duch’s is an extreme case and complex.  But I couldn’t help but to think about how it related to our own supposed ethics and the companies or managers who demand this same “work ethic” of their employees.

It is the same mindset we use when we go “to work” and are pressured to do something unethical, possibly illegal or just plain dangerous.  What, when you know you are hurting or killing someone?  Is it different to cover up that botched surgery for the hospital/doctor or ship that contaminated beef?  Look the other way or outright lie about those tainted vaccinations. Be “asked” to hire those who are ignorant of the laws so that the company is “protected”.  All these things kill people too.  And even though we get to go home to our modern home with all its conveniences and “forget work”, is our disconnect valid?  There’s not a gun to our head. Is it less lethal when we allow ourselves to use the disconnect that says “I had to do it, or I wouldn’t have a job.  It’s my job”, and any other rather fruitless statements to qualify our actions and somehow try to convince ourselves that we HAD to.  Isn’t knowingly killing or maiming people the same, no matter how it’s mete out…?  Is suffering for a week and then dying from KNOWN unsafe medications NOT torture…?

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