In 1971, Francois Bizot was kept prisoner for three months in the Cambodian jungle, accused of being a CIA spy. His Khmer Rouge captor, Comrade Duch, eventually had him freed and it took Bizot decades to realize he owed his life to a man who, later in the Killing Fields regime, was to become 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 more than 16,000 detainees.
Duch's trial as a war criminal ended in July 2010 amid a blaze of publicity. He was sentenced to a controversial 35 years imprisonment. In the tradition of Gitta Sereny, who sat with Speer in the Nuremberg trials, Bizot attended Duch's court case and spent time with him in prison, trying to unearth whatever humanity Duch had left.
'It would be all too easy,' says Bizot, 'if this man was a monster, not a member of the human race. We could use the slogan 'never again' and move on. But the deep horror is that this man is normal...Through his very qualities he became a mass murderer. Does that exonerate him from the crimes? Certainly not. But it does force us to question ourselves in a way that is deeply unsettling.'
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.
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A brave attempt at clarity; that it poses more questions than it answers is a measure of how unanswerable and disturbing these questions remain. - Literary Review
A hard and admirable book. - Spectator
A difficult but essential read. - Press Association
A powerful philosophical meditation on the nature of humanity – and inhumanity – and personal responsibility, and an empathetic attempt to bring Duch the man out from behind Duch the monster. - Financial Times
Facing the Torturer is Bizot's attempt to reconcile the monster of popular imagination with the man who set him free. - Sunday Times
This beautifully written book will certainly get you thinking and makes for an uncomfortable read about the human psyche. - welovethisbook.com
An unparalleled investigation into the nature of humanity itself... Facing the Torturer is a deeply moving book not only about Cambodia but the nature of evil. What takes place inside the mind of a torturer, and what in the end drives him to become deeply religious and confess all of his past sins? Haunted by his own guilt decades later, Bizot is still searching for those answers. - Asia Times
Remarkable insights into the lives of evil men. - Scotsman
Francois Bizot is an ethnologist who has spent the greater part of his career studying Buddhism. He is the Director of Studies at Ecole Pratique des Hautes-Etudes and holds the chair in Southeast Asian Buddhism at the Sorbonne. He lives in Paris.