Man or Monster?

The Trial of a Khmer Rouge Torturer

Book Pages: 360 Illustrations: 22 illustrations Published: October 2016

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Asian Studies > Southeast Asia, Law > Human Rights

During the Khmer Rouge's brutal reign in Cambodia during the mid-to-late 1970s, a former math teacher named Duch served as the commandant of the S-21 security center, where as many as 20,000 victims were interrogated, tortured, and executed. In 2009 Duch stood trial for these crimes against humanity. While the prosecution painted Duch as evil, his defense lawyers claimed he simply followed orders. In Man or Monster? Alexander Hinton uses creative ethnographic writing, extensive fieldwork, hundreds of interviews, and his experience attending Duch's trial to create a nuanced analysis of Duch, the tribunal, the Khmer Rouge, and the after-effects of Cambodia's genocide. Interested in how a person becomes a torturer and executioner as well as the law's ability to grapple with crimes against humanity, Hinton adapts Hannah Arendt's notion of the "banality of evil" to consider how the potential for violence is embedded in the everyday ways people articulate meaning and comprehend the world. Man or Monster? provides novel ways to consider justice, terror, genocide, memory, truth, and humanity.


"Hinton’s book doesn’t just tackle the complexity of a character like Duch through the lens of the trial. It offers a way to understand the court proceedings, which can often be dry, convoluted, and peppered with legalistic jargon." — Erin Handley, Phnom Penh Post

"Hinton’s intent is ambitious and unusual; recording is not enough. As he explains in his dense introduction, he wants us to understand this man, this trial and the questions it raises in our very bones. So, contrary to standard academic practice, he presents his material in an astonishing variety of ways. . . . Hinton’s book is profound, insightful and singular, probably even important. Most certainly a boon to anyone interested in Khmer Rouge history, international tribunals, torture or the ambiguities of evil."
  — Antonia D. Bryan, Mekong Review

"The book draws on various literary genres in compiling a work which is artistic and scholarly, readable yet theoretically grounded, empirically rigorous and engaging yet approachable by people unfamiliar with the case. . . . This book will become standard reading for anyone studying the portrayal of perpetrators during post-conflict justice processes. . . ." — Timothy Williams, Genocide Studies and Prevention

"Hinton has written a commendable work offering a new standard in the field of ethnodramatisation linked to the performative realm of an international tribunal where the hybrid nature of the court against the background of a shattered Buddhist society rebuilding from the ashes makes for real spectacle. . . . His book also stands out for its literary and philosophical innovations."
  — Geoffrey C. Gunn, Journal of Contemporary Asia

"Hinton has written an interesting and insightful book, with a critical look at the way justice shapes and 'redacts' our understanding of the past, and an invitation for its readers to analyze our own way of seeing the world and overcome the simple categorizations we all use in our everyday life, which can have monstrous consequences."
  — Sanne Weber, Historical Dialogues

"Hinton does the reader a tremendous service by not reducing Duch to a single identity. The book is certainly not a sympathetic take on Duch’s character, but it is a concerted effort to create a multidimensional understanding of a complicated man acting in complicated circumstances.... By using Duch’s trial as a case study, Hinton also addresses the many larger questions of transitional justice." — Sharon Wu, LSE Review of Books

"Hinton expertly weaves trial proceedings, testimonials, and contemporary analyses of Democratic Kampuchea, thereby crafting an ambitious exposé of Duch’s trial and the various forces behind collective memory of him.... Man or Monster? is a thought-provoking literary triumph by Hinton" — Matthew Galway, Journal of International and Global Studies

"It is difficult to talk about enjoying a book like this given the weight of the subject matter, but Man or Monster? uses one man’s trial to pose important and challenging questions about how we understand periods of immense violence." — Rebecca Gidley, New Mandala: New Perspectives on Southeast Asia

"The book, with its chilling but instructive contents, will benefit tremendously Asian experts as well as specialists on pogrom as well as researchers and students interested in the Cambodian story." — Augustine Adu-Frimpong, African and Asian Studies

"[A] nuanced look at a complex individual who was not just a man or a monster but a little bit of both. Hinton’s analysis is detailed and his arguments are well-considered and thought-provoking." — Ronald Bruce St John, New Books Asia

"Hinton's 'scholarly memoir' is a commendably brave work, one that should be appreciated and, above all, read by many."  — Andrew Mertha, Contemporary Southeast Asia

"Alexander Laban Hinton has written a highly engaging and experimental ethnography of international justice that narrates the criminal trial of Kaing Guek Eav (aka 'Duch'), a central figure in the 'killing fields’ of 1970s Cambodia." — Richard A. Wilson, Anthropology Book Forum

"Hinton opens the door for the reader to question the epistemological constraints of academia in studying its subjects.  . . . Man or Monster? may therefore be looked upon as a record of one of the millions of ‘silenced subjectivities’ of the Khmer Rouge." — Sabah Carrim, Journal of International Criminal Justice

"Hinton’s 'ethnodrama' of the trial of Duch is largely a chronological account, interspersed with personal commentary and even some poetic interludes that make it anything but a dry academic tome.  . . . Man or Monster is unique in its appeal both to students of post-conflict socio-political issues and to the general reader, and is a major contribution to genocide studies."
  — D. Gordon Longmuir, Pacific Affairs

"A rigorous, careful, and artful analysis...." — Jared Del Rosso, Contemporary Justice Review

"The book is a stunning achievement. . . . Hinton succeeds beautifully in drawing the reader into a confrontation with our own articulations and redactions of the world around us." — Catherine Bolten, American Anthropologist

"In this study that combines trial testimonies with redacted archival materials, photo­graphs and reflexive ethnography of Hinton's own struggles to understand, Hinton's project is realised: everyday thought outside Cambodia continues to organise the world to render some people more vulnerable than others. In this ethnographyt here is a glimpse of violence made possible through everyday thought, lingering on despite trials and verdicts."
  — Ram Natarajan, The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology

"Man or Monster is a valuable companion to the existing literature on S-21. In addition to his extensive first-person coverage of the trial, Hinton’s pioneering approach and his emphasis on the redactic leaves us with much to consider when evaluating perpetrators and the need to eschew simplistic either-or characterizations in this complex area of study." — JoAnn DiGeorgio-Lutz, Human Rights Review

Man or Monster? offers an interesting and novel treatment of the trial of a Khmer Rouge revolutionary accused of participating in Democratic Kampuchea’s genocide of 1.7 million Cambodians.” — Manus I. Midlarsky, Holocaust and Genocide Studies

Man or Monster? will be useful to those studying anthropology, geography, international relations, transitional justice and law, genocide, violence, and post-conflict politics. It will also be of use to those considering the very work we do as social scientists; how what we do is intimately involved in the frames of how others come to understand particular places, people, and events.” — JoAnn DiGeorgio-Lutz, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

“Compelling. . . . A highly original account.” — Rachel Hughes, Law & Society Review

"Hinton’s style is deliberately more literary and creative than usually appears in a standard scholarly text . . . This book will appeal to those interested in Cambodia and the ECCC . . . It will also interest scholars of transitional justice and international criminal law, and those looking to enrich their understanding of retributive justice and the adequacy of punishment from the unique perspective of anthropology." — Alex Batesmith, Peacebuilding

"The role memory plays in this book will intrigue oral historians." — Teresa Bergen, Oral History Review

“Hinton’s Man or Monster? is indispensable for perpetrator studies and those focusing on international criminal (transitional) justice. The book successfully develops a critical reflection of those who commit mass atrocities and creates awareness of the framing we use to explain their (criminal) behaviour. It amplifies and adds to existing scholarship on perpetrators of international crimes, international criminal courts and tribunals, and transitional justice.” — Suzanne Schot, Human Remains and Violence

"Man or Monster? is an elegantly written, passionate, and well-documented treatment of genocide, collective memory, transitional justice, the problem of evil, and the trajectory of Cambodian history. Alexander Hinton's decades of engagement with these issues and with Cambodia give the book power, persuasiveness, and integrity." — David Chandler, author of A History of Cambodia

"Alexander Hinton’s finely observed and elegantly meditative study of the Duch trial before the Khmer Rouge Tribunal prods us to think critically about how criminal trials construct and frame images of perpetrators of mass atrocity. Man or Monster? is a singular achievement." — Lawrence Douglas, Amherst College


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Alexander Laban Hinton is Founding Director, Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights and Professor of Anthropology at Rutgers University. He is coeditor of Colonial Genocide in Indigenous North America, also published by Duke University Press, and author of the award-winning Why Did They Kill?: Cambodia in the Shadow of Genocide.

Table of Contents Back to Top
The Accused, Fact Sheet, Public Version—Radacted  1
Foreground. Monster  3
Part I. Confession
Interrogation. Comrade Duch's Abecedarian  41
1. Man (Opening Arguments)  44
2. Revolutionary (M-13 Prison)  68
3. Subordinate (Establishment of S-21)  90
4. Cog (Policy and Implementation)  103
5. Commandant (Functioning of S-21)  130
6. Master (Torture and Execution)  142
Erasure. Durch's Apology  168
Part II. Reconstruction
Torture, A Collage. The Testimony of Prak Khan, S-21 Interrogator  171
7. Villain (The Civil Parties)  176
8. Zealot (Prosecution)  197
9. Scapegoat (Defense)  213
10. The Accused (Trial Chamber Judgment)  229
Background. Redactic (Final Decision)  243
Epilogue. Man or Monster? (Conviction)  288
Acknowledgments  297
Timeline  301
Abbreviations  303
Notes  305
Bibliography  335
Index  345
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Finalist, 2017 Ralph Lemkin Prize (presented by the Institute for the Study of Genocide)

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