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Words masked truth of torture centre's operations: Duch

In response to claim that he underreported the number of prisoners

released, Duch says 'released' notation really meant 'smashed'.

STAFF at Tuol Sleng prison deluded themselves and their bosses by writing "released'' on the confessions of prisoners who had been sent to their deaths, prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, told Cambodia's war crimes court Thursday.

In what Duch described as a "trick of the mind", staff used the "released" notation to gloss over the grisly reality of how the prison treated - and disposed of - its detainees.

"It's a lie to say the detainees were released," Duch told judges from the dock.

"It was a trick used by [Comrade] Nat ...  he wrote ‘release', but really they were just smashed," he said.

Civil party lawyers argued earlier in the week that Duch had deliberately underreported the number of prisoners allowed to leave Tuol Sleng in an effort to make it look like he had no power to release prisoners.

But in response to questions  from defence lawyer Kar Savuth, Duch said documents indicating that prisoners had been released or had "fled" were part of an entrenched "strategy" of delusion.  

"I believe this is a strategy to use in order to conceal that these people were taken out and smashed," he told his lawyer, who asked him to explain a document that claimed 32 Tuol Sleng prisoners from "escaped".

"How could they escape in mass numbers like this?" Duch said. "The base unit would arrest them."

He added that the "strategy" enabled prison staff to "protect themselves" mentally by distancing themselves from reality.

"Nat was weak at the time ... he would say, ‘Please, Angkar, make an effort to release people,'" Duch said.

Comrade Nat, who was a relative of Central Committee member Son Sen, was Duch's superior early during his tenure at Tuol Sleng.  

More questions on Prey Sar

Questioning on Thursday mainly concerned the operations of Prey Sar prison, or  S-24 under the Khmer Rouge. But it returned to Tuol Sleng, or S-21, for discussion of prisoners' files, which were sent between the two facilities.

Duch said Wednesday that he only visited Prey Sar four times.  

Civil party lawyer Moch Sovannary asked Duch whether he had ever thought "of ways to minimise the killing activities".

"Frankly speaking, no," Duch replied. "I only tried my best to survive. I did whatever was asked."

Duch also described how his exposure to communist ideology had transformed him from  an "ordinary" person to a "communist person".

"I was a new Duch that was completely different to the old Kaing Guek Eav who was a maths professor," he said.

The court is expected to call two key witnesses from S-21 when testimony continues next week, including surviving prison guard Him Huy and former S-21 deputy Mam Nay. 

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