AFP/ TANG CHHIN SOTHY
Duch gestures in the main courtroom at Cambodia's Extraordinary Chambers on the fourth day of his trial on Monday.
FORMER S-21 head Kaing Guek Eav told Cambodia's war crimes tribunal Monday that US foreign policy facilitated the rise of the Khmer Rouge regime for which he then "sacrificed everything".
"I believed my decision was proper at the time. I sacrificed everything for the revolution, sincerely and absolutely," the former school teacher, better known as Duch, told the court.
The 66-year-old, who is cooperating with the UN-backed tribunal, sought to fix blame on the United States for the ultra-communist regime's 1975-79 reign, saying the Khmer Rouge might have collapsed earlier had the US not supported a coup in 1970 by General Lon Nol that toppled the administration of Prince Norodom Sihanouk.
"Mr [Henry] Kissinger and Mr [Richard) Nixon were quick [to support Lon Nol], and the Khmer Rouge were quick to seize the golden opportunity," he said, referring to the former US secretary of state and president.
He also fingered Cambodia's former King Norodom Sihanouk for his role in garnering popular support for the Khmer Rouge.
"Sihanouk was the head of state of Cambodia. His position was populist, to preserve his throne," he said.
"King Sihanouk declared from China that all Cambodian people go to the jungles, and then the Khmer Rouge built up from 1970 to 1975. I think this is the political context," he said.
Responding to questions from judges Monday regarding his role in the regime leading up to his position as head of the notorious S-21 torture centre, the 66-year-old told the court how his admiration of a well-disciplined schoolboy in a children's book drew him to take Duch as his nom de guerre, and how Chinese novels and films about revolutionary struggle had cemented his dedication to the Communist Party.
"The only thing I loved in life was teaching. I thought that once the revolution won, they would allow me to be a teacher," he said. "This was my thinking. I did not ever think about what I did."
Questions from judges revolved primarily around his role in another secret interrogation centre, M-13.
Duch said that no records existed of who was detained there and "most people were not released".
"M-13A was the place where people were smashed. M13-B was where they were interrogated," he said.
He also restated his prior claim that he was a mere cog in a machine over which he had little control.
"I didn't have any alternative but to follow the orders, otherwise I could lose my own life," he said.
"I backed them. I did not ask any questions. I just wanted to teach, that's all."
When Judge Jean-Marc Lavergne asked him to describe what personal attributes led to his becoming head of M-13, he said, "In my entire life, if I do something, I do it properly."
Though the court is not under jurisdiction to investigate crimes that occurred before 1975, judges said it was necessary to hear about M-13 to understand parallels with S-21 and aspects of his personality that drew him to positions of responsibility.
Last week, he apologised at his trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity, saying he accepted blame for the extermination of thousands of people at the notorious Tuol Sleng prison.
Duch insisted Monday that he wanted to express similar contrition to the victims of M-13 "when the court permits".
"I would like to seek forgiveness from the victims who died at M-13," he said. "To the people who died, I will express my remorse and seek their forgiveness when the court allows me to do so."
Historian Alex Hinton told reporters outside the courtroom that key aspects of Duch's personality had come out in the account.
"There's this motif of schoolteacher - the way he either wants people to obey him, or him to obey them. A teacher is a figure of authority.
When they say something, people listen. In a way, today, he was speaking like a history teacher. It puts him in a position of authority, being
able to tell the story," he said.
"As someone who wanted to do things ‘properly', as he says, he is the exact type of person you want to have running an interrogation centre."
Hinton also reflected on Duch's eagerness to name names as well as his meticulous memory, which allowed him to recite exact names and dates without hesitation.
He said he believed Duch's comments regarding the US were a sign that the historical record would not overlook outside forces.
"He named the US, but he also named China and Vietnam. These questions were directed by judges, so there is obviously a desire to set the record straight," Hinton said.
"There is no doubt the US bears substantial responsibility for the rise of the Khmer Rouge, though I can't say responsibility for genocide."
The tendency to point the finger didn't rest well with many outside the court, leading to criticisms of his reference to the King Father.
"The argument used by Duch's defence team is pathetic," Minister for Information Khieu Kanharith told the Post.
"The King in 1975, to clean his name from Lon Nol's slander campaign, had no [other] way than cooperating with the Khmer Rouge to fight for his justice."
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY NETH PHEAKTRA