Tuesday, February 17, 2009

     How should we punish truly evil men?  The subject comes up because there's a hearing today preceding the trial of one of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge leaders, Kaing Guek Eav, alias Comrade Duch.  The Khmer Rouge controlled Cambodia in the 1970s and killed more than a million of its people.
     The New York Times has an op ed piece today by a man who was a prisoner in the camp Duch ran--Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh.  The man, Francois Bizot, survived, obviously, but many others didn't.  He writes that Duch ordered the death penalty at least 12,380 times, and that when led to the scene of his crimes he said, "I ask your forgiveness--I know that you cannot forgive me, but I ask you to leave me the hope that you might."  Bizot writes that Duch then collapsed in tears.
    Well, maybe so.  But it's hard to forgive mass murder.  Should we kill him?  The Allies executed some war criminals after World War II.  Did it deter anything?  I doubt it;  we have certainly not been war-free nor atrocity-free since then.  The U.N. will not execute Duch.  Bizot writes that the only way to look at the torturer is to humanize him.  He was there and I was not, but I find that difficult.  There is good and evil in all of us, sure.  But that much evil?  I can't imagine ordering 12,000 deaths, can you?
     I think the simplest solution is just to lock him up for the rest of his life.  Serious detention--three meals a day but no books, no TV, no visitors.  Just a chance to think much about what he's done. 

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