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Man or Monster?

PHNOM PENH -- The appearance of the first former Khmer Rouge leader in a special hybrid court established in Cambodia to bring that movement’s surviving leaders to justice provoked a question on which the tribunal’s integrity will depend: should an accused mass murderer be released from prison pending his trial?

Kaing Guek Eav, commonly known as “Duch,” presided over the deaths of more than 14,000 people at S-21, a former Phnom Penh high school turned into a torture center. He is one of five former senior Khmer Rouge leaders who will be made to answer for their roles during Pol Pot’s genocide, in which an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians perished. Until recently, Duch was the only one imprisoned, after being exposed in 1999.

The court – with its improbable blend of Cambodian and foreign judges and attorneys as well as laws – is meant to be a model for judicial reform and independent justice in a country where impunity has long been the rule.

The five red-robed judges who preside over the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (the tribunal’s official name) are the final arbiters of Duch’s detention, but the question they are now considering belongs as much to the people of Cambodia as it does to the court. Should mass murderers be afforded the same rights as everyone else?