Khmer Rouge tribunal defendant Nuon Chea scolded the former commandant of the infamous S-21 prison for failing to destroy its archives as Phnom Penh fell to the Vietnamese in 1979, the court heard yesterday.
The archives contained lists of people to be “smashed”, interrogated or captured. Other lists detailed people whose health had faltered from torture or suicide attempts, and who had to be nursed back to health and “fattened up” to extract more confessions.
The reams and reams of documents are now being used as evidence in the tribunal’s current Case 002/02 against Chea and his co-defendant, Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan.
“In 1983, we met for the first time since the end of the regime,” Kaing Guek Eav, the former S-21 warden better known as Duch, testified yesterday. “I mentioned that the documents remained at the time, and he scolded me.”
Duch said that he never received orders to destroy the archives and he fled when he saw Vietnamese tank columns closing in.
In keeping with his testimony over the past few days, Duch continued to implicate Chea in the running of the notorious prison, where as many as 15,000 are thought to have been killed. When he was still overseeing the prison, occasionally higher-ups including Chea would order Duch to edit out names of VIPs that had been implicated in confessions – including Samphan.
Prisoner lists occasionally said that people were marked for release or removal, though Duch testified yesterday that this meant that the people were executed, sometimes simply to make room for new incoming prisoners.
As an example, he remembered writing “for removal” under names of Division 920 cadres, at the orders of Chea. In another case more than 600 Thai prisoners were “removed” by a cadre named Hor.
Duch recalled that injuries, disease and mental breakdowns from torture resulted in some people losing dangerous amounts of weight. These people were put on special meal regimes “to prevent the prisoners from dying and having their confessions cut off”, said Duch.
There were also suicide attempts. One important prisoner swallowed a screw, which had to be surgically extracted and another woman obtained a razor and cut herself.
One woman was dissected for anatomy training against Duch’s orders, as he believed she was still valuable enough to keep alive.