The Master of Confessions: The Making of a Khmer Rouge Torturer

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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.

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About the author

Thierry Cruvellier is the only journalist to have attended trials brought before all contemporary international tribunals for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Since 2003, he has been a consultant with the International Center for Transitional Justice. Cruvellier was also a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University and holds a master's in journalism from Sorbonne University in Paris. He is the author of Court of Remorse: Inside the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Harper Collins
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Published on
Mar 18, 2014
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Pages
336
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ISBN
9780062329554
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Modern / 20th Century
Political Science / Political Ideologies / Communism, Post-Communism & Socialism
Political Science / Political Ideologies / Fascism & Totalitarianism
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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When genocidal violence gripped Rwanda in 1994, the international community recoiled, hastily withdrawing its peacekeepers. Late that year, in an effort to redeem itself, the United Nations Security Council created the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to seek accountability for some of the worst atrocities since World War II: the genocide suffered by the Tutsi and crimes against humanity suffered by the Hutu. But faced with competing claims, the prosecution focused exclusively on the crimes of Hutu extremists. No charges would be brought against the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front, which ultimately won control of the country. The UN, as if racked by guilt for its past inaction, gave in to pressure by Rwanda’s new leadership. With the Hutu effectively silenced, and the RPF constantly reminding the international community of its failure to protect the Tutsi during the war, the Tribunal pursued an unusual form of one-sided justice, born out of contrition.
Fascinated by the Tribunal’s rich complexities, journalist Thierry Cruvellier came back day after day to watch the proceedings, spending more time there than any other outside observer. Gradually he gained the confidence of the victims, defendants, lawyers, and judges. Drawing on interviews with these protagonists and his close observations of their interactions, Cruvellier takes readers inside the courtroom to witness the motivations, mechanisms, and manipulations of justice as it unfolded on the stage of high-stakes, global politics. It is this ground-level view that makes his account so valuable—and so absorbing. A must-read for those who want to understand the dynamics of international criminal tribunals, Court of Remorse reveals both the possibilities and the challenges of prosecuting human rights violations. A Choice Outstanding Academic Book

Best Books for General Audiences, selected by the American Association for School Libraries and the Public Library Association

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An eye-opening account of life inside North Korea—a closed world of increasing global importance—hailed as a “tour de force of meticulous reporting” (The New York Review of Books)
 
NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST • NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FINALIST
 
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Demick brings to life what it means to be living under the most repressive regime today—an Orwellian world that is by choice not connected to the Internet, where displays of affection are punished, informants are rewarded, and an offhand remark can send a person to the gulag for life. She takes us deep inside the country, beyond the reach of government censors, and through meticulous and sensitive reporting we see her subjects fall in love, raise families, nurture ambitions, and struggle for survival. One by one, we witness their profound, life-altering disillusionment with the government and their realization that, rather than providing them with lives of abundance, their country has betrayed them.

Praise for Nothing to Envy

“Provocative . . . offers extensive evidence of the author’s deep knowledge of this country while keeping its sights firmly on individual stories and human details.”—The New York Times

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The author of the acclaimed memoir The Gate now gives us a mesmerizing account of his personal relationship with one of the most infamous torturers of the twentieth century, and of his transformative experience observing and participating in that man’s recent trial for war crimes.

In 1971, François Bizot was researching Khmer pottery and Buddhist ritual in rural Cambodia when, along with two Cambodian assistants, he was arrested by Communist guerrillas on suspicion of being an American spy. In captivity, Bizot would establish an unlikely rapport with his interrogator, Comrade Duch, a twenty-nine-year-old former math teacher, now commander of the jungle encampment. After many long conversations, Duch would become convinced of Bizot’s innocence, finally deciding to release his prisoner against the wishes of his superiors, including one Saloth Sar—the future Pol Pot. And so it was on Christmas Day 1971 that Bizot was allowed to depart the camp but obliged to leave his assistants behind.

In 1999, Bizot would hear of the arrest of the “butcher of Tuol Sleng.” This was the nom de guerre that Comrade Duch had earned after releasing Bizot and proceeding to exterminate some ten thousand Cambodians, including Bizot’s assistants, Lay and Son. Duch’s unexpected capture after years in hiding presented François Bizot with his first opportunity to confront the man who’d held him captive for three months and whose strange sense of justice had resulted in Bizot’s being the only Westerner to survive imprisonment by the Khmer Rouge. The arrest also forced Bizot to confront a paradox: How could the man who’d been his savior have become one of the most monstrous perpetrators of the Cambodian genocide? 

Taking part in the trial as a witness, with Duch the sole defendant, would return Bizot to the heart of darkness. This is the testimony of what he discovered—about the torturer and about himself—on that harrowing journey.
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