The Killing Fields

I've been moved by the case of Kaing Guek Eav (or Kang Kek Iew — otherwise known as Duch), former head of the Santebal — the dreaded 'special branch' of the Khmer Rouge. He became a prison commander for them and oversaw the torture and execution of some 16 thousand prisoners.

Seventeen years after the fall of the regime he converted to Christianity and subsequently became a lay pastor. (See the third paragraph under "After the Fall".) He's now on trial in Cambodia for crimes against humanity.

For the families of the victims of the killing fields (and the few survivors) his very public acknowledgment of the terrible atrocities that took place creates a form of closure some 30 years after the events. Of the few remaining Khmer Rouge leaders still alive he is the only one to have confessed to his crimes and been willing to stand trial.

The seriousness of his crimes cannot be over-estimated. According to Trial Watch, "Duch is alleged to have overseen the interrogation and torture of suspected traitors. At least 15,000 people were shipped to Tuol Sleng, a former high school, where they were chained to beds, tortured into making false confessions, and executed in a nearby field. His name is on many execution documents, including one ordering the deaths of 17 children whose parents were accused of being spies. Only a handful survived, probably less than ten."

A Guardian Newspaper report states that during trial hearings, "descriptions of the crimes committed on his orders at Toul Sleng prison were also detailed: the people allowed to bleed to death, victims whose toe-nails were pulled out, or those put in pits that filled with water until they drowned."

The fact that Duch has been willing to talk openly and face the strong likelihood of life imprisonment, to my mind can only (or most likely) be put down to the life changing power of his religious conversion and subsequent experiences of God's power.

In normal circumstances no human psyche could survive the awful self-knowledge of such crimes without a very heavy dose of truth-denial and selective memory impairment. The only way someone like Kaing Guek Eav could possible live with himself, and openly acknowledge what happened, is if his conscience has been cleansed and restored by a remarkable sense of forgiveness — forgiveness from a source with an authority far higher than that of any human court.

To the natural mind crimes against humanity such as these deserve the worst possible punishment a court can inflict. And for the good of society that's right and correct. All tyrants and state endorsed criminals should live in fear of internationally endorsed retribution.

But, according to the Bible, that's not the way it is in the Heavenly Court which operates in realms and ways beyond human reasoning. There justice is not based on "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth". Instead it's based on the principle of repentance – that is, the principle of full and unequivocal confession leading to full and unequivocal forgiveness.

This is what we might call New Creation Theology. The Apostle Paul stated it this way:

"May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision [the old Judaistic order of things] nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. (Gal 6:14,15) Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Cor 5:17 NIV)

In talking about a 'new creation' Paul isn't simply using hyperbole to impress his readers. He's expressing the very deeply held conviction that when God gets His hands on a person, and that person submits to the molding power of those hands, in a very real way the individual become a new person — a new creation. No longer are they the old Joe Blogs or Sally Anne they once were. Instead, like a classic car which is rebuilt and remodeled with entirely new working parts, they really are a different entity.

Now when that conversion process happens to the average man or woman in the street the results of may not seem very significant. Friends might say that they were nice people before it took place, and afterwards they're possibly a little bit nicer. It's only when we look at an extreme case — such as that of Kaing Guek Eav — that we really see the power of the New Creation principle at work.

A brief look at his face speaks volumes. To my mind this photo shows a man, not fearful and cowed by terrible guilt over huge numbers of unspeakable crimes against his fellow humans. Instead it seems to me that this is the face of a man who is living under the daily conviction that in God's eyes he is a new creation, and that one day he will live in the presence of the Great Forgiver.

That's powerful stuff indeed!

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