Tuol Sleng torturer Him Huy
Him Huy is known in his village as a kind man. When he has the opportunity he says
he does good work and helps out his neighbors. But 20 years ago his assistance was
the touch of death.
The 44-year-old farmer is the side of the Khmer Rouge regime that has almost become
overlooked recently as the focus concentrates on debate over international tribunals
for KR leaders.
Huy is one of the people caught in the middle - part of the system of torture
and murder, but claiming all the time that he had no choice.
Now he says he is trying to spiritually redeem himself for the crimes he committed
during the Pol Pot years.
Huy joined the KR in the beginning of 1973. He was later transferred to Tuol Sleng
as a prison guard and was soon made head of a security group. Purges within the torture
center meant that rapid promotion was possible and by 1977 he was appointed deputy
chief of security.
It was a position, according to Cambodian documentation center director Youk Chang,
that involved torturing and murdering prisoners.
Huy survived the regime and subsequent Vietnamese attack and tried to build a new
He says he tried to keep his past hidden from his neighbors in Kandal's Anlong San
village but they found out in 1984 when he was arrested for his involvement in the
He says he was detained for about 10 months - three months in jail and 7 months in
a re-education camp working in the rice fields.
After that he decided he would start to help people in an effort to atone for what
he had done.
He says he started by doing small jobs, for example cutting firewood for new mothers
or going to find medical help for people who were sick.
One day he says he managed to save some children from drowning. "I try to do
the best for the people, to redeem all the karma for what I had done in the past
- even though I was forced to do it," he says.
Reaction to Huy's past has been, he says, generally tolerant.
His wife claims she did not know about his role in Tuol Sleng till after they were
married and when he told her he says she did not say anything.
As for neighbors, Huy says they understand how he came to be in the position he was
in and did not hold it against him.
He says a neighbor once said to him: "We had to do what they ordered us to do,
all the things that they ordered had to be done." It is unlikely that Huy will
ever stand trial for what he did and if a successful conviction could be obtained.
Youk Chang says DC-Cam has documentary evidence linking him to torture and murder.
But historian and KR expert Steve Heder, speaking about the lower level cadre generally,
says many of them may have a defense of being forced in their actions.
"Most of the KR were recruited under a false flag. They didn't join up to commit
crimes against humanity," he says.
Huy is frank about his being the deputy chief of security at Tuol Sleng but when
it comes to actually discussing what he did he is less than clear. He says he never
tortured or killed anyone.
Huy says his job was to receive prisoners, record their names once the questioning
was finished, then transport them to the killing fields. He says the transfers took
place at night around 6 or 7pm.
He then checked the names and waited while the prisoners were killed, usually with
a blow to the head with an axle from an ox cart. The corpses were dropped in a pit
that had already been dug. He then checked the names again and returned to Tuol Sleng.
He says the killings and burial had to be completed by dawn.
He says sometimes he and the other guards recognized friends or relatives among the
prisoners but they could do nothing to help them.
He says he saw his own battalion commander brought into the prison one day but all
he could do was warn him to be careful.
One day Son Sen, Pol Pot's defense supremo, came to visit the prison. Huy said he
asked Sen to be transferred - the reason, he says now, mainly because he saw the
way they were increasing the purges on the Tuol Sleng staff.
"I saw the killing with my own eyes and I knew if I was arrested they would
also kill me.
"So I asked [Son Sen] to send me back to my division. I prefered to die in the
army rather than die [in Tuol Sleng], but he refused."
However he was eventually moved to a rice field but he says he was still worried
about arrest for three reasons.
One of his father's close friends, a professor, had been arrested. Secondly he had
tried to protect one of the guards at Tuol Sleng, a boy named Jok who had fallen
asleep at his post. Huy says Jok eventually hanged himself rather than be arrested.
Thirdly, he was worried that the request to Son Sen to be transferred might be frowned
All his worries turned out to be groundless and he eventually moved back to his own
village. He is now keen to try and ameliorate any spiritual punishment that might
be visited upon him - probably the only punishment he will face.
However he believes it is not a bad idea to put the KR leaders on trial, saying they
are the people truly responsible for the crimes.
But for him that is some one else's problem and he has no intention of getting involved.
"I'm not going to be the witness at the KR trial because what I have said is