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The Torturer on Trial

PUBLISHED: February 17, 2009

Binh Danh Leaf
Today, after two decades on the run and another in prison, Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Comrade Duch, the notorious commander of the Khmer Rouge-run Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh, will finally stand trial for crimes against humanity. To mark the date, there’s an excellent brief history of the Khmer Rouge on Time’s website and a moving editorial by François Bizot, a former prisoner at Tuol Sleng, on the Op-Ed page of the New York Times. We, at VQR, direct your attention to “Faces Fleshed in Green,” a gathering of the chlorophyll prints by Binh Danh and poems by Robert Schultz from our Winter issue, honoring the dead of Tuol Sleng.

As fate would have it, just as Duch’s trial begins, Attorney General Holder must decide whether to approve and make public a report by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, which, by all published accounts, strongly criticizes the legal arguments supporting the Bush administration’s use of interrogation techniques deemed to be torture under the Geneva Convention. The New York Times says:

The report is expected to focus on three former officials of the Office of Legal Counsel, the Justice Department office that advises the executive branch on the interpretation of the law. They are John Yoo, a Berkeley law professor, now a visiting professor at Chapman University, who was the primary author of opinions on torture while at the counsel’s office in 2002; Jay S. Bybee, now a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, who as head of the office signed the 2002 opinions, which were later withdrawn; and Steven G. Bradbury, who wrote three more still-secret opinions on interrogation in 2005, when he was the top lawyer in the counsel’s office.

Though those memos remain secret, it is widely held that they were the basis for White House authorization of waterboarding. I think VQR’s stance on torture is already pretty clear, so I won’t belabor the point. I will only offer up one simple observation—one that will doubtless be repeated by many others: the favored technique for extracting confessions at Tuol Sleng was waterboarding.

If you would like to see more of Binh Danh’s work and hear more poems by Robert Schultz, plus commentary and poems by John Balaban, you’re invited to attend the VQR-sponsored event, “Faces Fleshed in Green,” at 10 AM, Saturday, March 21, at the Charlottesville City Council Chambers (605 E. Main Street), as part of the Virginia Festival of the Book.

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