Comrade Duch’s Abecedarian
Man: (Opening Arguments)
This chapter commences the ethnodramatic-style part of the book, which follows Duch’s trial from beginning to end. The chapter opens with Duch’s apology, before turning to the opening arguments of the prosecution and the defense, introducing key personnel from these court units and from the Trial Chamber. The chapter also discusses the civil parties, including S-21 survivors and painters Vann Nath and Bou Meng, along with mechanic Chhum Mey. Along the way, the chapter suggests that the prosecution sought to portray Duch as a “man,” while the defense homed in on the argument that he was a scapegoat and an ordinary man seeking redemption.
Revolutionary: (M-13 Prison)
This chapter turns to the first substantial part of the trial, which focused on M-13, the security center Duch ran during the Cambodian civil war. There, he experimented and began to develop methods of interrogation and torture that he would take with him to S-21 after the war—along with a handful of his top former interrogators. A number of former M-13 prisoners and guards testified, some of whom claimed to have seen Duch engage in torture. A significant portion of the chapter focuses on the testimony of François Bizot, a French ethnographer imprisoned at M-13, who recounted his interactions with Duch, who was his interrogator. Bizot was one of the few prisoners released from M-13. Just before his release, he asked Duch who performed the interrogations. Duch claimed that he became furious when the prisoners lied and sometimes beat them to death. Duch was evasive about this exchange during his trial, arguing that he had been referring to a time when he was sick at M-13. Throughout the testimony on M-13, the depictions of Duch as “man or monster” persisted, including a key moment when he recited French poetry by heart. It also became clear that he would speak frequently during the trial, as he claimed to want to cooperate and reveal the truth—claims that, as the testimony of Bizot and other witnesses illustrated, were contested throughout the trial.
Subordinate: (Establishment of S-21)
This chapter traces Duch’s path from M-13, which was closed at the end of the war, to S-21, which was established around August 1975. Son Sen, a leading Democratic Kampuchea official and Duch’s superior, assigned Duch to be the deputy head of S-21 under Nat. During the early phase of S-21, as Nat ran the security center, which changed location several times, Duch oversaw interrogations. Duch and Nat appear to have been competitive as the first waves of prisoners, many of whom were former members of the old regime, passed through the gates of S-21 before interrogation and execution. Ultimately, Duch won the competition with Nat, who came under suspicion. In March 1976, Nat was transferred, and Duch took over as the chief of S-21.
Cog: (Policy and Implementation)
This chapter focuses on Duch’s command of S-21. Using the annotations on the document recording the confession of a S-21 prisoner named Long Muy, Duch argued that he was a cog in the machine who simply relayed information to his superiors, who gave him instructions that he relayed to his subordinates. He argued that, as illustrated by a March 30, 1976, decision to “smash” enemies, the power to execute was invested in four offices, including the Democratic Kampuchea Party Center, not S-21. At this time, the prison population began to change, with suspect Khmer Rouge, sometimes high-ranking, passing through the gates for interrogation, torture, and execution. Duch claimed that he followed orders and the Democratic Kampuchea party line, which he claimed was determined by the most high-ranking Democratic Kampuchea officials, including the regime’s leader, Pol Pot. Duch discussed how Pol Pot’s ideology paralleled and differed from that of Mao Tse-tung. As he described his role, placing himself primarily in his office, where he annotated confessions and spoke by phone with Son Sen and his top deputy, Hor, Duch described some of the purges of high-ranking cadre, including Koy Thuon, whose interrogation Duch admitted he had been a part of. The chapter also discusses testimony by an expert, Craig Etcheson, who argued that Duch, if caught in a hierarchical system, had latitude, innovated, and helped fuel the cycle of violence, especially with his summary reports and analyses of the “strings of traitors” that had to be purged.
Commandant: (Functioning of S-21)
This chapter explores the phase of the trial that focused on the functioning of S-21. Duch was questioned about his daily life, including when and what he ate and his interactions with his deputies Hor and Huy. The chapter discusses the prison population and prisoners’ path into S-21 and treatment therein, including the structure of Duch’s interrogation units, which included “hot,” “cold,” and “chewing” teams.