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The Man Who Got Duch, sort of...(Part 2)

By: Aaron Leverton Posted: January-01-2006 in
Aaron Leverton

The facts of Duch's capture are well documented. He was "discovered" living in north-western Cambodia by photographer Nic Dunlop, he was interviewed by Dunlop and Nate Thayer and shortly after their story was published, he was arrested by the Cambodian military.

While the ECCC examines the legal ramifications of the detention that followed that arrest, Nic Dunlop, who started the whole process, looks at the philosophical questions the trial gives rise to.

Duch's discovery and Dunlop's book put him in with some other famous "Cambodiana" company, alongside the likes of Sydney Shandberg and Al Rockoff, who have become household names among those who follow Cambodia's story. Fame sits easily on Nic Dunlop; he doesn't believe he has any.

"I don't consider myself a player [in the drama] at all," he says, dismissively. "I was doing what I think..." Dunlop pauses, searching for the explanation. "It came naturally to me, it seemed an important thing to do," he says.

Dunlop gave interview after interview to the Cambodian journalists gathered at the ECCC to cover Duch's hearing.

"People have asked me what it's like, how I feel about seeing this man in court. This would imply that I have more in this story than is the case. I don't know this man," Dunlop states. "I don't know who he is. I know what he did, intellectually I know him, I don't know him as a person, as a human being."

"I feel I've more facilitated something just by virtue of being interested, of following this story since I was in my teens. In terms of finding him, it was really a stroke of luck. The ordinariness of this encounter, the accidental nature of the story is what is interesting," Dunlop says, dismissing any hero-worship that comes his way. "I think it would have been a matter of time before one of my friends or colleagues or somebody else would have discovered him and recognised him for who he was."

Dunlop points out that finding Duch allowed him to write a book that looked at questions that go beyond what happened in Democratic Kampuchea.

"Understanding what occurred and how. How ordinary people can be caught up in these kinds of things. How is it that someone can murder on a daily basis and then return home to be a family man, play with his children, be a loving father and husband? I think that all of these things are really important, big questions," Dunlop says. "And finding Duch provided me with the opportunity to explore these kinds of things in greater detail."

The phrase "the banality of evil" was first coined by Hannah Arendt in her 1963 book Eichmann in Jerusalem, about the trial of Adolph Eichmann the previous year. Asked if Duch is an example of this, Dunlop readily agrees.

"Absolutely," Dunlop says with no hesitation. "Yes, absolutely. I think Duch is what we might call 'tempered metal', that he may be more prone to the kind of work he ended up doing under the Khmer Rouge than, maybe, others."

Dunlop's next assertion is, like the torturer's confession in Death and the Maiden, likely to sit uncomfortably on some people.

"But we all...If there's one recognition that I have from this experience, it's that we are all capable of these things, given a situation. We're not entirely in control. We like to think we are, but actually..."

While discussing the nature of the Khmer Rouge, famous for its insularity, Dunlop notes that while Franco's Spain and Democratic Kampuchea came from opposite ends of the political spectrum, their methods of governing from the top down were identical.

"In a way you could describe it more as a fascist regime, that's possible. What it shares with Stalinist China, with any right-wing dictatorship in Latin America, with Franco's Spain is the nature of its totalitarianism. They all have common threads running through them. So, yes, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy that you will find enemies [of the state]."

The Khmer Rouge's methods for dealing with those enemies are well-known. What the Khmer Rouge, and the rest of Cambodia, are about to learn is how the international community deals with its "enemies". Dunlop has high hopes for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.

"They didn't discriminate," Dunlop says of the Khmer Rouge and its security apparatus, the Santebal. "What this tribunal, this process is about is showing, without a shadow of a doubt, who's responsible for what, what actually occurred. Making sure the facts of the case are understood so that it has been established in a neutral court of law that "beyond doubt, this person is responsible for doing this on a given date and X number of people were killed" or whatever. It's about clarifying."

"We have to look at this as being a very dispassionate process. It's a very important process in terms of sorting the truth out. What this tribunal really should be about is the epitome of everything the Khmer Rouge did not believe in; which is due process."

"Although it's pretty obvious that [Duch] is [guilty], you have to go through this process. This tribunal has to be seen by the ordinary people [of Cambodia], that a process has been followed and that includes his right to appeal, that he has that right just as anybody else that is accused."

While isolated Nazis such as Adolph Eichmann and Klaus Barbie were prosecuted decades after their crimes, the leadership of the Third Reich were put on trial at Nuremberg in 1945. The preparations began even before the Japanese surrender in the Pacific. It is nearly three decades since the Khmer Rouge abandoned Phnom Penh to advancing Vietnamese and Khmer forces. Although the State of Cambodia held a trial in absentia of some top Khmer Rouge leaders in 1979, it is widely viewed as a show trial. The "defence", for instance, joined the prosecution in calling for the death penalty.

"Obviously it's a great shame," Dunlop says about the delay. "This would have meant so much more to many more people in 1979, had it been possible. And it was possible, this is the thing."

"Of course, you've got a lot of witnesses, people who experienced this horrific period, who died in the intervening years and who aren't able to give testimony, who aren't able to shed light on this period in history. So, it's a real tragedy and it's perfectly legitimate to raise the questions "why is this tribunal happening now? Why so late?" These sorts of things will, I hope, come out in the course of the tribunal. It'll be explained to ordinary people, hopefully."

The Lost Executioner by Nic Dunlop is available at Monument Books on Norodom Boulevard, or call +855 23 217 617 for details of other outlets.


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