One year ago, private attorney Kar Savuth was awarded the troublesome task of
defending Duch, the notorious Khmer Rouge director of the Tuol Sleng torture and
prison facility. This week, Savuth spoke to Anette Marcher and Chea Sotheacheath
about the ongoing investigation and the difficulties he faces as the single defense
lawyer for a high-profile prisoner.
The Post: How is your work on Duch's case progressing?
Savuth: It's a complicated and difficult case. The crimes my client is
accused of didn't just happen recently. They happened back in 1975-79. So far I have
spent at least 200 working hours on the case. For instance, I went to Duch's homeland
to find out about his background, his whole life and his childhood. To find out why
he became a murderer.
The Post: Your client has now been in prison for more than one year. Are the investigating
judges still interrogating him?
Savuth: The investigating judges still interrogate him twice a week, sometimes
for up to four hours. They keep asking him the same questions. They will ask a question
one week and next week they will repeat the question, because they are afraid that
he will give different answers when he goes on trial.
But my client always gives them the same answers. He never changes what he already
said. His morale is perfect, and he has a very good memory, even about things that
happened a long time ago. For instance, in 1971 the Khmer Rouge arrested two Angkor
conservationists and accused them of being CIA. Duch remembers that incident very
Ta Mok is more difficult to question. Every time they repeat a question to him, he
gives them a new answer. He is always changing his answers. I used to hear about
Ta Mok under the State of Cambodia. Back then, the government called him a hard-liner,
but I never met him, so I couldn't tell if they were right or wrong. Now I have met
him, and I agree that he is a hard-liner.
The Post: What do the investigating judges question your client about?
Savuth: They ask him a lot of different questions. About the way the Tuol
Sleng prison worked, how they killed people, when he joined the communists and who
brought him into the movement.
I believe his answers are sincere, that they are true. He has talked about the arrest
and execution of Vorn Vet [top-ranking KR minister who was purged in 1978]. He is
mentioning many other names, too, also of people from foreign countries. But I cannot
reveal these answers to you. I have to keep them safe.
The investigating judges always inform me when they want to question my client. And
I have told him that if I'm not present, he should not answer any questions.
You know, I have to work harder than the investigating judges on this case. I have
to meet my client more often than they do and ask him some other questions in private.
I have to know more, so I can defend him better.
The Post: What kind of difficulties have you experienced working with this
Savuth: I have two kinds of difficulties. One is finance. I get no payment
for my work. Duch is really poor. He lost all his money, so he cannot pay me. Also,
I receive no money and no logistical support from the government. So I don't get
any benefit from my work, but I don't know who to ask for financial help.
My second problem is that I'm alone. There is so much talk about co-prosecutors at
the Khmer Rouge trial, more UN lawyers and more UN judges. I keep thinking that when
the trial begins, all these guys are going to attack me and there I'll be, all alone.
If I had money I would get myself a partner, but I don't. I don't care if the government
is indifferent about the defense at a Khmer Rouge tribunal - the government hates
the Khmer Rouge. But what about the UN? The whole world puts pressure on my client,
and all he has is me.
As I said, this is a complicated case, and it involves a lot of work. I already spend
between four and 12 hours on the case every week, and when we get closer to the trial,
it will be more busy. Of course this case means that I have less time for my other
clients and I have had to turn away people who come to me and ask for assistance.
Therefore, I need money to process the work and I need another defender to assist
me. Preferably a foreign defender who is also an expert on this kind of law. I would
like to call for a generous defender, who will come and help me with this case for
free. But I believe it will be difficult to find. I can't even pay for the air ticket
for somebody to come here.
The Post: You work at the law offices of attorney Benson Samay who is defending
Ta Mok. Previously you have defended other minor Khmer Rouge cadres and are also
working on the case of Khmer Rouge general Sam Bit who is under investigation for
the kidnapping and murder of three foreign backpackers in 1994. Why did you agree
to accept Duch as a client, too, and how do you feel about this particular case?
Savuth: It is the right of any accused to have a defender. When you are
looking for a defender, money is very important, because you have to pay for legal
assistance. Duch cannot pay for my work, but I decided to help him anyway - for sentimental
reasons, so to speak. I see myself as a doctor. When somebody is sick, the doctor
has to help them, no matter who they are or if they can pay for it.
But, like I said, this case is difficult, because I get no money and because I am
alone. And I have another problem, too. When Cambodians hear that I'm defending Duch,
they hate me. They think I should be in jail with him.
The Post: How is Duch coping with prison life?
Savuth: Actually, he's very well in prison. The prison authorities give
him what he needs, although sometimes I have to buy food and clothes for him. My
client has four children, but they are not allowed to visit him in prison, so they
cannot care for him.
However, before he was arrested, he used to live a difficult life. He was very poor
and did not have very much food. So when he met with prison life, he was fine. He
told me himself that he was perfect in prison and that he feels better than before.
In fact, he has gained weight and looks more healthy. He has an exercise schedule
and is still a devout Christian who prays twice every day.
With Ta Mok it is different. He was a rich man who was used to living easily and
eating good food. Prison life is harder for him. Now he is much more skinny than
before he was arrested.