Kirkus Star


The Trial of a Khmer Rouge Torturer
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With chilling clarity, a veteran international journalist delineates the totalitarian ideology and horrific crimes of the leaders of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge.

A witness to and chronicler of the war-crimes trials of Rwanda (Court of Remorse, 2010), Cruvellier likewise attended the arduous eight-month Khmer Rouge Tribunal in 2009 of the notorious head of the S-21 “death mill” in Phnom Penh, Kaing Guek Eav, aka Duch. Duch managed the prison, formerly a high school, between 1975 and 1979, and he was tasked with interrogating, eliciting confessions by torture and “smashing” the victim—the verb preferred by the court. A meticulous, methodical former math teacher and a loyal Khmer party member, Duch, then in his mid-30s, was the “perfect fit for the job” of interrogator. The pride he took in his work was reflected in the careful records he diligently kept and did not destroy before he fled upon the invasion of the Vietnamese in early 1979. The tens of thousands of his victims (which included children)—Duch constantly corrected the witnesses’ estimates—were duly photographed upon entering the prison, crammed in rooms, ill-fed and forced to confess by horrendous methods, including electric shocks, with the directions all annotated in his neat handwriting. Duch created the killing fields at Choeung Ek, the “lowly” act of actual murder relegated to his underlings. A dedicated Maoist, Duch directed his staff on the key elements of maintaining secrecy, fear and obedience. Former guards and victims of Khmer atrocities testified over many months, some more convincing than others; there were only a handful of living S-21 victims—e.g., two artists who were saved only due to the fact that they could make portraits of Pol Pot. The author’s portrait of the cool, contrite and calculating Duch is superbly memorable.

Cruvellier is an extremely articulate and compassionate observer to a country and its people plunged through the rings of hell.

Pub Date: March 18th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-06-232954-7
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2014


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