From Khmer Rouge torturer to born-again Christian
The leader of Cambodia's most notorious prison, now on trial, has admitted guilt and asked for forgiveness in accordance with his new faith.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Once a devoted Khmer Rouge communist, the regime's former chief executioner traded leftist ideology for Jesus, and now, with his trial four days under way, presents himself as a pious, contrite, and cooperative old man.Skip to next paragraph
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At the second day of his trial March 31, he said: "I would like to emphasize that I am responsible for the crimes committed at S-21 [prison], especially the torture and execution of the people there."
This is the penitent Christian that Cheam Socheong, the director of Phkoam High School where Duch (pronounced "Doik") taught math in the 1990s, remembers well. "Duch often talked of God and the good way," Mr. Cheam said in a recent interview at his school office in Cambodia's remote northwest. "He asked me why I didn't go to church. He tried to convert me."
First with communism, then Christianity, Duch has always embraced and espoused his beliefs with fervor, friends and family say.
The court's psychological exam noted "obsessive" traits in his personality, "both past and present," though it did not link that trait specifically with his faith.
The intensity that once turned Duch into a feared prison chief has now transformed him into an evangelical Christian eager to cooperate with the court and seek forgiveness. Of five former Khmer Rouge cadres now in detention at the ECCC, he is the sole detainee to have cooperated with the investigating judges.
Duch's embrace of Christianity makes him "less likely than other defendants to justify the regime's abuses as necessary but painful steps toward socialism," says Stanford University's John Ciorciari, a senior legal adviser to the nonprofit Documentation Center of Cambodia.
A devoted communist teacher
Duch joined the Khmer Rouge in 1964 while attending college. The next year, he began teaching math at Skuon High School in Kompong Cham province, about 50 miles north of Phnom Penh. There, he often carried around Mao's Little Red Book and, although he could afford a car, rode to work on a rickety bicycle. He also encouraged students to embrace a peasant life, recalls Kek Channary, a former student.
That same year, Duch said goodbye to his family and friends and joined the underground ultra-Maoist movement. During the next decade, he oversaw several of the regime's security offices, most notably S-21 in Phnom Penh, now known as Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, where it is estimated that more than 12,000 people confessed under torture to counterrevolutionary activity and were executed.
From communist to Christian