Khmer Rouge Tribunal Convenes 1st Hearing Kaing Guek Eav, the former Khmer Rouge interrogator known as Duch, was brought to court in Cambodia for a pretrial hearing. It is the first public session of the U.N.-backed tribunal probing the regime's reign of terror in the 1970s. Duch, 66, is charged with crimes against humanity.

Renee Montagne and Sydney Schanberg, author of 'The Death and Life of Dith Pran'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/16452581/16451544" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

JOHN YDSTIE, Host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

The former leaders now under arrest have been living quite openly. Why has it taken so long to arrest these guys?

SYDNEY SCHANBERG: Well, mostly because of the resistance of the present government whose leader was, at one time, associated with the Khmer Rouge and then defected. The public reason he gives for all of his delay is that he didn't want to restart sectarian violence in the country by bringing these leaders to trial.

MONTAGNE: These former Khmer Rouge leaders who were arrested, the most senior being the former head of state, tell us about him: his role; what he did.

SCHANBERG: Well, Khieu Samphan was initially known in Cambodia as a mild- mannered teacher who worked on behalf of the peasantry and was not really known for anything approaching any advocacy of brutality. The opinion now, of Cambodians, is that he was just as responsible simply because he was sitting there, endorsing it. In the aftermath of his surrender, he says there was no genocide, these barbaric acts were carried out by undisciplined lower level people, but he does not admit that there were any rules or regulations that led to executions, death by forced labor, starvation, or any of the other causes of the nearly two million deaths - which, by the way, was one-quarter of the population.

MONTAGNE: Also under arrest is a man who is accused of running an infamous interrogation center in the capital of Cambodia, would seem to have known exactly what was going on.

SCHANBERG: Oh, yes. Everybody called him Duch. Under his control, that prison brought in roughly 15,000 people - all of whom were interrogated, some of them were wrote false confessions; in the end, all were executed. That accounted for documented 15,000 deaths because it's - they recorded every death.

MONTAGNE: Rather carefully, too.

SCHANBERG: Yes. It was very much in a way that the Nazis kept records in World War II.

MONTAGNE: Back to the issue of why now, what has changed so that these arrests in this tribunal is going to go forward, and what do the Cambodian people think of this or even one from this tribunal?

SCHANBERG: Nothing has changed, really, except time. If you go to Phnom Penn or any place in Cambodia today, you will still meet people who, when the subject comes up, will break down completely because suddenly, the memory of watching their parent die of malnutrition or the memory of seeing someone shot to death in front of them for some violation of the Khmer Rouge rules - the Cambodians who suffered through that time never knew whether the outside world knew about what they were going through. This won't mean closure for those people, but it will be a way for some kind of resolution in their minds that some of these people who ordered these killings will be brought to justice.

MONTAGNE: Sydney Schanberg wrote the book, "The Death and Life of Dith Pran," which inspired the film, "The Killing Fields."

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.