Lost Executioner: A Journey to the Heart of the Killing Fields

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Overview

"In Cambodia, between 1975 and 1979, some two million people died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. Twenty years later, not one member had been held accountable for the genocide. Haunted by the image of one of them, Comrade Duch, photographer Nic Dunlop set out to bring him to life, and thereby to account. "I needed to understand how a seemingly ordinary man from one of the poorer parts of Cambodia could turn into one of the worst mass murderers of the twentieth century." The result, The Lost Executioner, is an unforgettable, illuminating document that, by bearing witness, captivates us all with its revelation." Weaving seamlessly between past and present, Dunlop unfolds the history of Cambodia as a filter for understanding its tragic last forty years. He makes clear how much responsibility the United States must share, through failed political alliances and the illegal bombing of Cambodia, for the bloodshed that followed. Guided by witnesses Dunlop teases out the details of Duch's transformation from sensitive schoolchild and dedicated teacher to the revolutionary killer who later slipped quietly back into village life. From the temples of Angkor to the prisons of Pol Pot's regime, to his unexpected meeting with Duch himself, Dunlop's special vision as a photographer enlarges our own. The Lost Executioner is a blend of history and testimony - and a vivid reminder that, whether in the killing fields of Cambodia or the deserts of Darfur, if we turn our backs on genocide, we must bear a collective guilt.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Long preoccupied by the Cambodian genocide in the late 1970s at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, Irish-born and Thailand-based photojournalist Dunlop homed in on Comrade Duch, head of the Khmer Rouge secret police and Pol Pot's chief executioner, who had vanished. How had a well-educated schoolteacher (born Kaing Guek Eav) become commandant of a torture center and complicit in the deaths of an estimated 20,000 political prisoners? asks Dunlop in this measured but horrifying book, a chronicle of his dogged efforts to understand the carnage and bring about justice. With Duch at the book's core, the author (who worked in Cambodia throughout the '90s) weaves a contemporary account of a war-ravaged nation into the history of its ancient past and rumination on terror in the name of ideology. Dunlop also deepens his story with thoughtful-and very personal-commentary on photography and violence. In 1999, Dunlop found and confronted Duch, who voluntarily confessed to his role in the Khmer Rouge. Though Duch was then charged and imprisoned, he has not yet been brought to trial. Cambodia's labyrinthine politics can occasionally be difficult to digest, but Dunlop's personal quest for international justice holds the narrative together. (Feb.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Haunted by photographs of prisoners at the Tuol Sleng prison in Cambodia, where in the late 1970s many thousands were tortured and all but seven perished, Irish-born photojournalist Dunlop searched for its commandant, the zealous Cambodian executioner who was called Comrade Duch. In this historical account of his quest and the Khmer Rouge's genocidal reign in Cambodia and its aftermath, Dunlop interweaves stories of both the victims and the perpetrators, the indifference and the ignorance of the West, as well as his own personal journey to understand how and why the horrific happened and why the world seemingly turned a blind eye. Dunlop's search leads him, in 1999, to one Hang Pin, a born-again Christian relief worker and schoolteacher whom he soon realizes is Comrade Duch. When confronted by Dunlop, Duch admits his guilt: "My unique fault is that I didn't serve God, I served men, I served communism." Comrade Duch is still in prison awaiting trial. His photo and confession to the authorities were published, but Dunlop wonders if that did more to stifle the truth than bring about justice. Well written, harrowing, and blunt, this book is recommended for public and academic libraries.-Patti C. McCall, Albany Molecular Research Inc., NY Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A photographer/journalist charts the brutal, sanguinary history of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge and chases down one of its most savage officials, who now sits in prison awaiting trial. The kindless commandant of S-21, the most unforgiving of Khmer Rouge prisons, was a man of several names-Kaing Geuk Eav, his birth name; Comrade Duch, his Khmer Rouge name; Hang Pin, his name during his years in hiding, when he taught math and English in remote villages, declared himself saved by Jesus and worked for a relief agency. During his years as commandant, only a handful of prisoners survived. It's miraculous that any did. The methods of torture-60 lashes for urinating or defecating without permission, among them-bespeak both the vast dimensions of the terror and the unlimited abilities of people to imagine ways to torment one another. One of the most disturbing moments in Dunlop's narrative is an interview with a former prison guard whose lack of affect is both stunning and frightening. Many thousands died while in the care of Duch in ways horrible to imagine. Dunlop features interviews with victims and victimizers, including Duch himself, whom the author helped apprehend. Dunlop tells, as well, the sad recent history of Cambodia; at times, he is unable to restrain his disgust. He notes, for example, that the United Nations forces and bureaucrats, in the country in the early 1990s to supervise a cease-fire and monitor elections, spent $92 million on air-conditioned Land Cruisers for themselves but only $20 million on road and bridge repairs. Biography, memoir and history of unspeakable darkness.
From the Publisher
"How can the same rich culture that produced the temples at Angkor Wat be the same culture where 2 million people perished under the Khmer Rouge regime? Photographer Nic Dunlop shows a fine appreciation for that contradiction...and provides more than a few fascinating glimpses through that keyhole in his book...a fascinating story"—Rocky Mountain News"A brilliant and haunting tale...Dunlop interweaves his search for Duch with poignant character sketches, intimate interviews and insights about Cambodian folktales, rampant corruption, repressed peasants and frustrated scholars with nowhere to go."—Seattle Times"Harrowing yet engrossing."—San Francisco Chronicle"Dunlop's interviews with former Khmer Rouge members are both wrenching and revelatory…To date, only two prominent Khmer Rouge perpetrators are in prison: Comrade Duch and Ta Mok, aka "The Butcher." For Dunlop, it is but a small step in a long journey toward justice."—Booklist, starred review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802714725
  • Publisher: Walker & Company
  • Publication date: 2/7/2006
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 5.68 (w) x 8.63 (h) x 1.34 (d)

Meet the Author

Nic Dunlop was born in Ireland in 1969. His work has appeared in numerous publications worldwide. In 1999, he received an award for Excellence in International Journalism from Johns Hopkins for exposing the heard of the Khmer Rouge secret police, Comrade Duch. Dunlop lives in Bangkok, Thailand.

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