Forgive My (Aging) Sins! – Duch, Polanski and all the rest face a jailed future

Former Khmer Rouge regime leader and torturer Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, made front page news today when his trial ended with a plea for acquittal. Prosecution lawyers are striving for a 40-year sentence for the man who was responsible for the torture and killing of some 15,000 people in the S-21 prison in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979.

Duch, now 67, has admittedly had some distance from the situation. About 30 years of distance, in fact. My question is, do you prosecute someone who committed a crime in virtually another lifetime or let him enjoy the last years of his life with the dignity of an elderly man?

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Take dear Roman Polanski and his underage lover from the late 70’s. Or French President Jacques Chirac’s embezzlement charges dating back to the 1990’s. And who can forget Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic and his 11 charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity from the early 90’s?

I could fill this page with names of people who are only now facing up to poisonous acts executed decades ago. And there’s an additional, and equally long, list for those we’d like to indict (re: George Bush). But is it fair to send these usually aging and possibly reformed former leaders into the bleakness of prison for what will be, most likely, the remainder of their lives?

For me, it’s partly a question of age. Just as I cannot imagine sending a 12 year-old boy to jail for the rest of his life for shooting off a gun at his neighbor, I have trouble envisioning a grandpa-type withering away his last days in a tiny, steel cell.

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Additionally, there is the question of torture, since most of these soon-to-be inmates will face it at some point in their jailed lives, even as hunching old fogeys. Do we say, “you got what you deserved” and leave it at that?

There is something to be said about mental space. Space, in the form of years, in which the brain can reformulate patterns of thinking. Reform. I will be the first to criticize the Born Again Christianity movement, but I have been privy to cases where a person or family unit was ultimately transformed by their renewed belief in Jesus. In effect, Duch of Cambodia has tried to get off scot free using his Born Again status as proof that he’s a changed man. Are we buying it? And if we do, should we?

I’m not saying that we should just let all the bad guys go. Obviously, if no one learns that genocide or rape or torture is inherently wrong, we have no chance of eradicating it in future generations. I just think that when we’re dealing with a combination of old age and years passed since a crime’s occurrence, a little perspective is due. And possibly, maybe, a little humanity as well.


2 responses to “Forgive My (Aging) Sins! – Duch, Polanski and all the rest face a jailed future

  1. I know I am very late in a response to this blog but I came across your page when I was doing some research about this genocide online and wanted to share my opinion. I think that it seems as though you have a really great heart and a genuine sense of compassion for all human beings. It’s really great to know there are people like you in this world still.

    To answer your question though, and my opinion on this happens to be a strong one, I think that man deserved to be punished for the rest of his life–whether jail or death.

    I am self-proclaimed to be undecided on death as a penalty, but I would feel no remorse if that were the punishment he was given, no matter the age or how much time has passed since these killings. The only sympathy that I have for people like him, is for the demons they must be fighting within themselves to have been capable of doing such awful things.

    It’s not that I don’t believe that people can go through serious changes, grow to truly regret what they have done or be born again Christians. If he is in fact true in his words, then God will decide on his forgiveness and his fate. But for the rest of his time on this earth, I do not believe that he deserves to enjoy any of the pleasures of this world in any shape or form…just as he swiped that privilege away from the outrageous number of all those innocent people.

    Additionally, I do not believe that he should be allowed to enjoy the rest of his life with dignity. I believe this without any doubt, without even the slightest resemblance of a fleeting thought that thinks that maybe he should. This is also something that he unjustly swiped away from all those people. Dignity… he swiped that away from all those people of all ages, seemingly without any consideration for their dignity, young or old.

    He had no compassion for innocent human life, and I believe that no matter how old he is, how long its been, and no matter what he claims to be today, no mercy should be shown to him. No feelings of sympathy, empathy, or understanding should be wasted on him. Those are feelings that should be reserved for the people who are deserving of it. Those who were murdered in that genocide, those who are wrongly accused of crimes, those who value human life. Those feelings are not to be spent on people like him.

    Ok, now that I am off my soap box… I’m not saying that my opinion is the right one. I mean, is there even a right one? That’s just my opinion. I felt strongly enough about to share on here. I really do appreciate your thinking on this matter and the ethical twang of the questions you shared. I believe it’s important to explore thinking just as you’ve done here.

  2. I don’t think time is a factor. I don’t thik jail is the only solution either. I do think that people, when found guilty of an act that is reprehensible by law and where survivors or the descendants of those are still alive and looking for/needing justice, should be faced with the punishment that is due and that they would have received if they had been found guilty 30 years before. The ‘born again’ plea has been abused so much that I don’t believe it has any credibility.

    I was always very interested in the work done by ‘Nazi hunter’ Simon Wiesenthal.
    “In a statement on Wiesenthal’s death, Council of Europe chairman Terry Davis said, “Without Simon Wiesenthal’s relentless effort to find Nazi criminals and bring them to justice, and to fight anti-Semitism and prejudice, Europe would never have succeeded in healing its wounds and reconciling itself… He was a soldier of justice, which is indispensable to our freedom, stability and peace.”

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