Renowned journalist Thierry Cruvellier takes us into the dark heart of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge with The Master of Confessions, a suspenseful account of a Chief Interrogator's trial for war crimes.
On April 17, 1975, the communist Khmer Rouge, led by its secretive prime minister Pol Pot, took over Cambodia. Renaming the country Democratic Kampuchea, they cut the nation off from the world and began systematically killing and starving two million of their people.
Thirty years after their fall, a man named Duch (pronounced "Doïk"), who had served as Chief Prison officer of S21, the regime's central prison complex, stood trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Unlike any other tribunal defendant, Duch acknowledged his personal responsibility, pleaded guilty, and asked for forgiveness from his victims. In The Master of Confessions, Thierry Cruvellier uses the trial to tell the horrifying story of this terrible chapter in history.
Cruvellier offers a psychologically penetrating, devastating look at the victims, the torturers, and the regime itself, searching to answer crucial questions about culpability. Self-drawing on his knowledge, and experience, Cruvellier delivers a startling work of journalistic history—by turns deeply moving, horrifying, and darkly funny.
Journalist Cruvellier (Court of Remorse: Inside the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda) turns his attention to the matter of Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, the one-time director of S-21, one of the many prisons run by the Khmer Rouge during their bloody control of Cambodia from 1975-1979. Cruvellier portrays Duch as both perpetrator and victim, butcher and penitent defendant, monster and schoolteacher, in a contradictory manner which exemplifies the banality of evil and the flexibility of the human spirit. Leaving no detail untouched, Cruvellier takes readers in a meandering tour of Duch's life, the corpse-filled reign of the Khmer Rouge, the vicissitudes of the trial itself, and the legacy created. It's a sobering story of a horrifying episode in recent history, rich in detail and thoroughly-researched. In raising the question as to whether Duch was a man caught up in a struggle to survive or a genuinely evil person, Cruvellier tells a complicated, disturbing tale. However, at times the tone shifts from oddly poetic to detached, lending the text a distractingly varied amount of emotion, sympathy, and outrage. The result, though, is an unforgettable, overwhelming, exploration of a tragic period which shouldn't be forgotten or overlooked.