Facing the Torturer

An encounter with Duch, the most infamous mass-murderer alive today, by the author of the internationally acclaimed THE GATE In 1971, 30-year-old ethnographer Francois Bizot was captured by the Khmer Rouge and kept prisoner for three months in the Cambodian jungle, accused of being a CIA spy. His captor, Comrade Duch, eventually had him freed. It took Bizot decades to realise he owed his life to a man who, later in the Killing Fields regime, became one of Pol Pot's most infamous henchmen. As the head of the tuol Sleng S-21 jail, Duch personally oversaw the detention, systematic torture and execution of thousands of detainees. Duch's trial as a war criminal began in March 2009 and Bizot was the first witness to testify. In July 2010, Duch was sentenced to 35 years' imprisonment for the murder of an estimated 14,000 people. Unable to reconcile the young man who saved his life with the war criminal who terrorised and killed countless innocent people, Bizot attended Duch's trial and spent time with him in prison, trying to unearth whatever humanity Duch had left. If he was going to talk to anyone, it was Bizot, whom he still referred to as his 'friend'. At once a personal essay, a historical and philosophical meditation, and an eye-witness account, FACING tHE tORtURER will join a very short list of important books about man's personal responsibility in collective crimes.