Duch describes trying to escape the shame of sending thousands to their deaths
Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON
A man looks at the remains of Khmer Rouge victims at the Choeung Ek killing fields.
FORMER S-21 chief Kaing Guek Eav told Cambodia's war crimes court Wednesday that he would be "forever" responsible for signing off on the mass executions that occurred at Choeung Ek, although he claimed to have only visited the killing fields once.
The 66-year-old defendant, who has continually denied any physical involvement in murder or torture, described his "emotional" and criminal responsibility for not only the people who died at Choeung Ek, but for the "more than 1 million people that were killed" by the regime.
"This is the fact, that I am accountable for the crimes at S-21, and that I am responsible, even more responsible, for annotating documents of the prisoners who were smashed at Choeung Ek," Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, said.
Judge Jean-Marc Lavergne asked Duch whether he viewed the prisoners as "any sort of human reality" when sending them off to be killed, or whether they were simply "mathematical equations".
"I tried my best, day and night, without feeling exhausted ... [and] tried to avoid seeing places that would affect my emotions," he replied.
"I knew that they were criminal acts, but I had a feeling to comfort myself, that the government is accountable in the eyes of history. I was a police officer, and in my capacity as the police I had to obey orders," he said.
During testimony Wednesday the former schoolteacher reasserted his claim that throughout his entire time as chairman of Tuol Sleng, he never visited the parts of the prison where inmates were held, and only once witnessed an execution, on the request of supervisors, which occurred at 5am to the prison's east.
I tried my best ... to avoid seeing places that would affect my emotions.
He added Wednesday that his only visit to Choeung Ek was a superficial one, to greet central committee member Son Sen at the gates when he visited.
"I went to Choeung Ek once on the instruction from my superior," said Duch.
"I did not look at the pits; I did not go and look in the house where the prisoners were kept before they were taken and killed.... I only went there for a very short time," he said.
Despite saying he avoided executions, Duch described for the court the ways his staff killed prisoners.
"The method of stabbing the neck of the prisoners was later changed to clubbing," Duch said.
Duch said the executioners feared his rigid command, but when asked whether he taught them killing methods, he answered: "I did not have to teach the crocodiles how to swim, because crocodiles already know how to swim."
Earlier in Wednesday's session, Duch accepted the court's estimate that there were around 12,380 people imprisoned at S-21.
When he confessed that he had signed the papers that would lead to the massacre of almost all of his prisoners, Judge Sylvia Cartwright asked, "So in effect, you ordered the execution of 12,380 people?"
Duch responded, "I would not deny the killing and the responsibility, but in principle the line from the upper had to be implemented, so my response is, the implementation [of this] was done under my authority."
Duch said Wednesday he believed there were five mass killings carried out under his orders, the first which took place in 1977, estimating that his subordinates took around "six days to smash 100 people".
He said the massacres made him ashamed to look at photos of himself at the time. "If you look now to the picture taken of me during that time, it seems like I was rather proud for maintaining the class stance firmly," he said. "But if I look at it now, I would say it is shame.... I am responsible for this act forever."
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP