A LENGTHY prison sentence for Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, would serve as a resounding repudiation of the facility he ran and the sadistic policies he so zealously promoted, prosecutors told the Khmer Rouge tribunal in their closing statements Tuesday.
“There are some crimes that are so serious, which involve the suffering of so many victims, which shock the conscience so profoundly, that the only response can be a lengthy prison sentence,” said national co-prosecutor Chea Leang.
Her counterpart, acting international co-prosecutor William Smith, said such a sentence would have a deterrent effect on “others who may be tempted to commit crimes like this against their fellow human beings”, adding: “It’s the Cambodian and international community’s way of saying S-21 should never have happened and it should never happen again.”
Due to technical difficulties with the court’s audio system, however, the prosecutors’ statements were cut short by about a half-hour, meaning they did not have the chance to tell judges the specific sentence they were seeking. Both Smith and Chea Leang said afterwards that they were planning to do so Wednesday morning.
As they have throughout the trial, the prosecution sought to refute the defence lawyers’ claim that Duch was a reluctant servant of the Communist Party of Kampuchea who had no choice but to carry out the arrests, torture and executions ordered by his superiors.
Rather, Chea Leang said: “He was the personification of ruthless efficiency. He was totally indifferent to the suffering of the victims. He was the perfect candidate to run S-21.”
Smith pointed out that judges were offered two wildly different descriptions of the accused during six months of evidentiary hearings. Whereas the defence routinely portrayed him as “a prisoner and a hostage forced to kill and torture human beings on a daily basis against his will”, the prosecution, he said, believed Duch was “a crusader who was prepared to sacrifice everything for his cause, prepared to torture and kill willingly for the good of the revolution”.
Smith accused Duch of having shaped every aspect of Tuol Sleng and its operations, describing the prison as a product of his devotion to Khmer Rouge ideology.
He said Duch “played a central role” in ordering the arrests of perceived enemies of the party, and that he coached and participated in violent interrogation sessions. The only reason Duch had not participated in executions, Smith added, was because he had determined that it “would not have been the best use of his time”.
“We do not suggest that the accused is a monster, nor do we say he is pathologically inhumane,” Smith said. “However, we reject any suggestion that he was a prisoner of the regime and a less-than-willing participant in the crimes. Based on the evidence, this claim is completely unfounded.”
From arrest to execution
Chea Leang outlined the specific crimes prosecutors contend have been proved beyond a reasonable doubt. In all, she said, Duch is liable for eight specific crimes against humanity: imprisonment, other inhumane acts, enslavement, torture, murder, extermination, persecution and rape.
She also referred to five grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and two violations of the 1956 Cambodian penal code.
Far more affecting, though, was her description of the typical Tuol Sleng prisoner’s journey from arrest to execution, which drew on the experiences of three Tuol Sleng survivors who provided some of the case’s most memorable testimony – two painters, Vann Nath and Bou Meng, and a mechanic, Chum Mey.
She reminded judges how Vann Nath told them in June of being tortured in district and regional security offices before he was finally taken to Tuol Sleng, where he was taunted by guards as his personal details were recorded and his photograph taken. Chea Leang also recalled how he wept from the dock as he asserted that prisoners “were treated more as animals than as humans”.
Though most prisoners were interrogated, Chum Mey, a civil party, “was treated particularly badly”, Chea Leang said. The day after Vann Nath’s testimony, Chum Mey told judges how interrogators gave him electric shocks and pulled his toenails out, at one point taking off his sandals to show his scarred feet.
Chea Leang also reminded judges how civil party Bou Meng had been “taken to a room and invited to choose which implement his interrogators should use to beat him”, and how Duch had personally instructed him to fight with another detainee “for his own cynical amusement”.
“But from surviving S-21 documents, and from prison staff who gave testimony or statements before these chambers, we know that there were even worse torments,” Chea Leang said, citing as examples how prisoners were forced to eat excrement and were subjected to medical experiments.
Though they obviously suffered, Vann Nath, Chum Mey and Bou Meng were lucky in that they were afforded the opportunity to describe crimes committed against them in open court, Chea Leang said.
In an overwhelming majority of cases, she said, “only the prison guards and the accused himself are able to describe the fate that awaited the victims”.
“At what point,” she asked, “did the victims know they were about to be executed? Was it when they were sitting on the trucks en route to the killing fields? Was it as they were taken down from the vehicle and let out into the darkness, or when they were kept waiting in the small hut, the noise of the generator attempting to drown out the screams of those ahead of them? Surely, they must have known as they were led out one by one and forced to kneel beside the execution pits that their lives were at an end.”
PM CALLS FOR WESTERN ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF KR SUPPORT
PRIME Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday called on international organisations and governments to acknowledge their role in sustaining the Khmer Rouge insurgency, as the closing arguments in the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s case against S-21 prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, entered their second day. During a speech marking the 30th anniversary of government-NGO partnership, Hun Sen criticised the United Nations and Western nations for supporting the Khmer Rouge after they were toppled from power in 1979, implying their support for the tribunal was an indication of their guilt. “Now is the time for them to say sorry to us and recognise that they caused inhuman tragedies to the Cambodian people, and dare to admit that they were wrong to support the leaders of the genocidal Khmer Rouge,” he said, adding that if Western nations did not recognise their support of the Khmer Rouge, there would be “no need for the Khmer Rouge tribunal to try Duch and other” leaders. The UN General Assembly officially recognised the Khmer Rouge-dominated resistance movement until 1991, due to pressure from China and some Western nations. The premier’s comments came a day after the release of a report from the New York-based Open Society Justice Initiative that said continued government meddling threatens to spoil the tribunal’s achievements. “Political interference at the ECCC poses a serious challenge to both the credibility of the court and its ability to meet international fair trial standards,” the report stated. KHOUTH SOPHAK CHAKRYA