Co-Investigating Judges at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal have issued their long-awaited closing order in the case of "Comrade Duch," charging the former torture chief with crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions.
Duch (born Kaing Guek Eav) will be the first defendant brought to trial at the ECCC.
In a redacted version of the closing order, signed Aug. 8, the Co-Investigating Judges describe Duch's role as head of S21 detention and torture center. Though not a top Khmer Rouge leader, Duch is widely regarded as one of those "most responsible" for the crimes of Democratic Kampuchea.
According to the closing order: "While Duch was not a senior leader of Democratic Kampuchea, he may be considered in the category of most responsible for crimes and serious violations committed between 17 April 1975 and 6 January 1979, due both to his formal and effective hierarchical authority and his personal participation as Deputy Secretary and then Secretary of S21."
The evidence Co-Investigating Judges reviewed to make their decision about Duch's indictment came from 21 interviews the court conducted with the defendant, statements from numerous witnesses and various historical documents. Unlike the four other defendants in detention, Duch has spoken openly about his responsibility for Khmer Rouge atrocities.
He first spoke out in 1999 after he was discovered living under an alias in Battambang province.
Since then, he has "cooperated willingly in the judicial investigation, neither attempting to implicate anyone who was under his orders, nor placing the blame on the upper echelons of the party alone, in order to exonerate himself," according to the closing order.
Duch has expressed remorse to S21's victims as well as the staff who worked under him, saying they were "terrorized and constantly in fear for their lives."
He also claims he could not quit his post because he and his family would have been killed.
Still, the descriptions of Duch contained in the closing order are sometimes contradictory, and don't necessarily portray a man performing his heinous duties solely out of fear.
A major point of contention: While Duch consistently told Co-Investigating Judges he did not personally torture prisoners, various witnesses have testified to the contrary. Some said they saw Duch beat and electrocute prisoners.
And Duch has admitted to ordering torture, though he told the judges he was carrying out commands from higher-ups. It will be interesting to note how prominent a role the "just following orders" defense will play in Duch's upcoming trial.
* Pictured: Duch as a young man.