The closing order and prosecutors' final submission recently made public offer an in-depth look at the workings of S21. The notorious security office's activities actually sprawled far outside the walls of Tuol Sleng, encompassing roughly 94 city blocks. I hadn't realized that S21 took up such a large chunk of Phnom Penh.
While the facility's primary functions -- interrogation, torture and execution -- have been widely reported, the new court documents underscore the incomprehensible suffering of S21's detainees. Apparently the conditions at S21 were confirmed through tribunal reconstructions with Comrade Duch, which were not open to the public or press.
According to the closing order, prisoners were kept in restraints nearly 24 hours a day, sometimes in individual cells and sometimes in collective cells. They were stripped down to their underwear and most were forced to sleep on the concrete floor.
"There were no washing facilities and prisoners remained shackled when 'bathed.' Several witnesses explained that bathing consisted of spraying the room with a hose from the doorway. ... Prisoners were not permitted to leave their cells to use the toilet and were forced to urinate in jerry cans and defecate in ammunition boxes," according to reports in the closing order.
Starvation, illness and beatings were routine. Duch has admitted that medical experimentation was also conducted on prisoners, including autopsies practiced on living people, medicine testing and blood taking.
"Medics regularly killed prisoners by draining their bodies of blood," reads the prosecutors' final submission. "This method of execution was used for thousands of prisoners. And the medics selected prisoners who were still in reasonably good health when their interrogation was completed and then delivered them to the S21 infirmary on Street 113."
And the primary "purpose" of this senseless brutality? Manufacturing largely bogus confessions.
Even Duch "now maintains that he was, from an early time, skeptical of the veracity of the confessions, claiming that they were demanded from above," according to the closing order. "He explained that the contents of the confessions were used 'as excuses to eliminate those who represented obstacles,' adding that 'even the Standing Committee, in my opinion, did not believe in it.'"
*Pictured: The exterior of Tuol Sleng holding cells strung with barbed wire (above), individual holding cells in Tuol Sleng (at right).