Man or Monster?: The Trial of a Khmer Rouge Torturer
Alexander Laban Hinton is Founding Director, Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights and Professor of Anthropology at Rutgers University. He is coeditor of Colonial Genocide in Indigenous North America, also published by Duke University Press, and author of the award-winning Why Did They Kill?: Cambodia in the Shadow of Genocide.
Before Duch’s lawyers presented their closing arguments, he delivered his own argument about his innocence, presented as a documentary “proof,” perhaps in keeping with his background as a mathematician. His lawyers then picked up on their argument that he had been a cog in the machine and a scapegoat, since, they said, he had not been a top leader. One of his lawyers, François Roux, also argued that the prosecution had missed an opportunity with history by seeking to portray Duch as a monster even though he sought to claim his humanity and hoped for dialogue and forgiveness, a claim many of the civil parties did not seem to believe. A critical divide emerged in the defense at this time, however, as Duch’s Cambodian lawyer seemed to argue for release, while his French lawyer argued for mitigation of the sentence. This produced a minor uproar at the end of the closings, with the civil parties and prosecution demanding that Duch’s defense make clear what he was arguing. After back-and-forth, Duch sided with his Cambodian lawyer, who told the court that Duch wanted to be acquitted. This undercut a key assumption for many observers of the trial—that Duch was cooperating in the hope of getting a reduced sentence. Suddenly everything had changed.