By Francois Bizot
Alfred A. Knopf, $25.00, 210 pages
It’s not uncommon to see portrayals or stories of torture in the news, TV programs and other media, but an examination or reflection on torture is more rare. Torture is either viewed as a bygone consideration or a foregone conclusion due to exceptional historical circumstances or solitary people, yet Francois Bizot has written Facing the Torturer to call to mind the very near, human missteps and configurations that underpin torture. Bizot describes that while imprisoned by the Khmer Rouge under Comrade Duch, he acted contrarily and was viewed differently than other prisoners; it is now Bizot’s endeavor to instigate a different view and show that “the butcher of Tuol Sleng,” and our shared humanity with him, needs broader scrutiny if we care at all about preventing torture. His book is recounted mostly in an impressionistic and anecdotal fashion, dropping graphic details and emotions along the way. Only towards the end of the book does “objective” court testimony and post-Khmer Rouge encounters with Duch appear and bring welcome grounding of the subject, but it is the myth-like passages that provide equal lucidity. Francois Bizot provides an authentic account of the process of “facing the torturer” which follows its own pace.
Reviewed by Sarah Alibabaie