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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Prosecutors challenge Duch

Prosecutors challenge Duch


Photo by: Georgia Wilkins

Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav describes at his trial how prisoners would be killed with a stab to the throat.

PROSECUTORS at the Khmer Rouge tribunal attempted on Monday to identify inconsistencies in the testimony of Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, while at the same time challenge the claim that, as a manager who delegated most day-to-day tasks, he learned the particulars of abuses perpetrated at the facility only after it closed.

In testifying about the operations of Tuol Sleng, Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, has in the past week repeatedly said that he had little firsthand knowledge of how torture was applied, how interrogations were carried out and how many detainees were housed at the secret detention centre.   

But deputy co-prosecutor William Smith said Monday that Duch knew much about daily life in the facility, pointing to the multiple meetings Duch said he held each day with his deputy, Khim Vat, alias Ho.

"You knew about the numbers detained, you knew about the conditions, you obviously knew about the torture and you knew about the killing," Smith said.

Smith also sought to debunk Duch's claim that he had no choice but to follow orders handed down by his Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) superiors or risk being killed himself.

He cited testimony given on April 27 in which Duch said he "personally was scared" after his former superior, Sok Thuok, alias Von Vet, was detained at S-21 in November 1978 and later was executed.

Smith said this indicated that Duch did not fear for his personal safety until less than two months before the regime fell.

"You were not scared because you were very proud of your work," Smith said. "You were proud of the techniques you adopted in terms of torture. You were proud of your techniques in training and education. You were proud that you had that position."

Prosecutors also used a series of documents annotated by Duch that Smith said would demonstrate "the concrete role of the accused" in interrogation, torture and killing at Tuol Sleng.  

These included a January 1976 confession in which Duch wrote, "More precise questions must be asked and more serious torture must be used in order to make her talk about her strings", a term used to describe a network of CPK enemies.  

On another, he wrote, "Request brother to stand independently and apply constant pressure".

And on a list of prisoners, including 17 children, dated May 30, 1978, Duch wrote to Ho's deputy: "Uncle Peng. Kill them all."

"It was my annotation to order them to smash," Duch said Monday.

To underscore his role in interrogations, prosecutors focused in particular on the interrogation of Khmer Rouge leader Ney Saran, alias Ya, in 1976.

In a letter dated October 1, 1976, Duch encouraged interrogator Tang Sin Hean, alias Pon, to step up the intensity of torture sessions, writing, "Although it may lead to death, comrade is not acting against Angkar's regulations".

Duch told the court Monday that he intended for the letter to be seen by Ya, describing it as a ploy to get the detainee to confess to crimes committed against the regime.

Duch's personal life

Though Presiding Judge Nil Nonn discouraged them, Smith also asked Duch several questions about his personal life as prison chief.

For much of that time, Duch lived with three assistants in a house on Monivong Boulevard near Street 95.

Though he married in December 1975, he told the court Monday that he spent just one out of every 10 nights with his wife, who he said worked at a military hospital.

His office was located behind the house, he said, "Because I might have an occasional visit from my wife and I did not want her to interfere with my confidential documents".

Much of his 11-hour workday was spent annotating confessions, he said, particularly towards the beginning of his tenure. But Duch also described a period in 1978 and early 1979 in which he grew "so hopeless with my life" that he had difficulty performing his job duties.

"I slept [all] day and night long," he said. "Even when my wife tried to wake me up, I could not wake up."

No influence on judges: govt

Also Monday, Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith denied that the government played a role in the selection of judges at the UN-backed court, saying, "The government has no ability to choose any judges of any court, including the [Khmer Rouge tribunal]".

"The Supreme Council of Magistracy appointed the judges, and the government sent the list to its counterpart, meaning the UN," he added.

Andrew Ianuzzi, a legal consultant for the defence team for former Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea, said last week that a document obtained from a source he declined to identify could perhaps be evidence that Prime Minister Hun Sen was involved in choosing judges.

Ianuzzi said Monday that the government's response failed to explain why the document, a list of judges, appears to have been annotated and signed by Hun Sen.




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