Deuch [Duch]

3 February, 2008
Chandler David

Deuch, whose real name was Kaing Khek Iev, is the best-known surviving representative of the second generation of Khmer Rouge officials who were recruited into the CPK through networks in the Cambodian school system in the period between the party’s founding Congress, in 1960, and Sihanouk’s overthrow 10 years later. He was born in 1942 in Kompong Cham, where he attended secondary school and became a mathematics teacher. In 1967, he was arrested by Sihanouk’s security police and imprisoned in Phnom Penh. But he was never brought to trial, and was released, along with hundreds of other Khmer Rouge sympathizers, in an amnesty declared by Lon Nol after the 1970 coup. Deuch was assigned to the so-called Special Zone around Phnom Penh, where he was given responsibility for the newly established Khmer Rouge prison system. There, in 1971, he found himself with a French captive on his hands: the ethnologist Francois Bizot. Deuch became convinced of Bizot’s innocence and appears genuinely to have done what he could to make his incarceration less onerous (Bizot, 2000). But his ruthlessness was already apparent. Bizot remembered Deuch « believed all Cambodians of differing viewpoints to be traitors and liars, and that he personally beat prisoners who would not tell the ‘truth’, a matter which drove him into a rage » (Vickery, 1984: 152). During this period, Deuch would have been directly or indirectly responsible for the death of 30 000 persons. Bizot learnt after his release that all his fellow-prisoners had been killed – a foretaste of the policies Deuch would apply when, in late 1975, he became head of the Khmer Rouge regime’s main interrogation centre, S-21, based from 1976 at a former secondary school in Phnom Penh. There, in the three years before the Vietnamese invasion, at least 14,000 prisoners were killed, most of them after lengthy torture. Deuch is not described as a sadist: he took no pleasure in the horrors S-21 inflicted. He merely carried out the task assigned to him with mathematical precision, pitilessly and without question. He took part in the questioning, annotated the ‘confessions’, gave directive for the torture and made precise reports to his superiors, who were Son Sen and Nuon Chea (Chandler, 2000). He later told an interviewer that if he had refused to do so, not only would he have been killed, but all his relatives would have been killed also (Dunlop and Thayer, 1999). It remains to be seen how the mixed Cambodian international tribunal which will try him will treat this argument. For all those who, like Deuch, were in subordinate positions, it is one of the central issues with which the judges will have to deal. At the time of the Vietnamese invasion, Deuch was among the last Khmer Rouge officials to leave Phnom Penh, having been ordered by Nuon Chea to kill all the remaining prisoners and destroy the prison records (Heder and Tittemore, 2004: 60-61). The prisoners were killed. But to the Khmers Rouges leaders’ fury, many of the records survived.

Deuch later spent time on the Thai border (1979-1991), then three years incognito in Beijing, working for the Cambodian section of Radio China International (Short, 2004). On his return to Cambodia, he was converted to Christianity by American evangelists and, as a “Born Again Christian” worked for humanitarian organizations. The second part of Deuch’s life is examined in detail in the book of the photojournalist Nic Dunlop, who tracked him down (Dunlop, 2005). After an interview given to the Far Eastern Economic Review (Hong-Kong), Deuch was arrested in 1999, and has been awaiting trial ever since. Deuch admits his own role in supervision torture and executions at S-21 and speaks freely about his past. He also appears to be a key witness, as he talks about the involvement of others (Heder and Tittemore).


BIZOT, François, 2000, Le portail, : Folio, Editions de la Table Ronde.

CHANDLER, David, 1999, Voices from S-21: Terror and History in Pol Pot’s Secret Prison, University of California Press.

DUNLOP, Nic and THAYER, Nat, May 1999, “Duch Confesses”, Far Eastern Economic Review.

DUNLOP, Nic, 2006, The Lost Executioner, New York: Walker & Company.

HEDER, Steve, TITTEMORE, Brian D., 2004, Seven Candidates for Prosecution. Accountability for the Crimes of the Khmer Rouge, Phnom Penh: Documentation Center of Cambodia.

HINTON, Alexander Laban, 2005, Why did they Kill?, University of California Press.

SHORT, Philip, 2004, Pol Pot. Anatomy of a Nightmare, New York: Henry Holt.

VICKERY, Michael, 1984, Cambodia, 1975-1982, Boston: South End Press.

Cite this item

Chandler David, Deuch [Duch], Mass Violence & Résistance, [online], published on: 3 February, 2008, accessed 17/02/2021,, ISSN 1961-9898
Back to top