26 November 2009
By Ek Madra
in Phnom Penh
THE Khmer Rouge's chief torturer and jailer has expressed "excruciating remorse" over the deaths of more than 14,000 people killed under his watch at a notorious prison during Cambodia's Maoist revolution of the 1970s.
Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, told the UN-backed "Killing Fields" tribunal he was solely liable for the killings, but that he served a "criminal organisation which destroyed its own people in outrageous fashion".
"I could not withdraw from it," the 67-year-old former maths teacher said. "I was like a screw in
the machinery of a car that could not be removed."
Duch is accused of "crimes against humanity, enslavement, torture, sexual abuses and other inhumane acts" as commander of S-21 prison during one of the 20th century's darkest chapters, when the Khmer Rouge, under Pol Pot, ruled from 1975 to 1979.
He said he was convinced he was fighting to free Cambodia from US imperialism during the Vietnam War. He has denied personally killing or torturing prisoners and has repeatedly said he was following orders out of fear for his own life.
Karim Khan, a civil party lawyer, urged the tribunal's five-judge panel to reject Duch's assertion that he had little choice but to carry out orders, saying Duch was "ideologically of the same mind" as the Khmer Rouge leaders.
The tribunal is seeking justice for the 1.7 million people, nearly a quarter of Cambodia's population, who died from execution, overwork or torture during the Khmer Rouge's agrarian revolution, which ended in the 1979 invasion by Vietnam.
"I am deeply remorseful of, and profoundly affected by, this destruction," Duch said. "I am solely and individually liable for the loss of at least 12,380 lives."
It is thought more than 14,000 were killed after passing through S-21. Only seven survived.
A verdict is expected by March, and Duch faces up to life in prison if convicted. A prosecutor said yesterday he should get 40 years. Cambodia does not have capital punishment.
Chum Mey, 79, a rare S-21survivor, said: "I want him to face up to 80 years or life in jail."
He was accused by the Khmer Rouge of working for the CIA before he was shackled, confined to a cell and tortured. He testified earlier in the year that his toenails had been torn off and he had nearly starved to death.
Now a born-again Christian, Duch has in the past expressed remorse for the S-21 victims, most of them tortured and forced to confess to spying and other crimes before they were bludgeoned to death at the "Killing Fields" execution sites.
But he appeared to take this further yesterday, telling the court packed with about 600 people, including some survivors of the regime, he would seek help to be recognised again as "part of humankind".
He said: "I am psychologically accountable to the entire Cambodian population for the souls of those who perished.
"May I plead with you to allow me to share with you my immense and enduring sorrow… in order to express my most excruciating remorse."
Prosecution lawyers say Duch had broad autonomy and did nothing to stop prison guards inflicting rampant torture. During 72 days of hearings, witnesses have spoken of beatings with metal pipes, electrocution, near-starvation, violent rape and prisoners being forced to eat their own excrement.
A defence lawyer said Duch had been unfairly singled out while nearly 200 other Khmer Rouge prison chiefs had never been arrested or brought before a judge, including some who had overseen prisons and camps where as many as 150,000 people were killed.
"They have to be brought before the court," he said. "Only then will justice be done."
Four other senior Khmer Rouge cadres are in custody awaiting trial. They are former president Khieu Samphan, former foreign minister Ieng Sary, his wife Khieu Thirith and "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea. Unlike Duch, they have not publicly apologised.
Pol Pot, the architect of the Khmer Rouge's "Year Zero" peasant revolution, was captured in 1997 and died in April 1998.
The panel of three Cambodian and two foreign judges – known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia – requires four to agree on a verdict.