Chief Interrogator of S-21 Knew Nothing of Torture, He Says

If torture and executions were being performed at S-21 prison, Mam Nai knew nothing about it, the security office’s chief interrogator insisted during testimony at the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Tuesday.

“I was just a plain and simple in­terrogating cadre,” Mr Nai told the court, after testifying that he knew next to nothing about operations at the notorious detention center.

The former revolutionary, known to his comrades as Chan, also denied any knowledge of what happened to detainees after their interrogations had finished.

He said he received no instructions from prison head and tribunal defendant Duch to beat or torture prisoners in any way.

“I only interrogated the prisoners without applying torture,” he said. “It was my understanding that torture would lead to inappropriate confessions. There would be little truth in a forced confession”

As for other interrogators under Duch’s supervision, “It is possible that torture was used,” Mr Nai said, but added that the practice would have been a holdover from previous regimes.

During previous sessions of the court, Duch has said that Mr Nai did not often employ torture against prisoners

However, during questioning on July 1, civil party and S-21 survivor Bou Meng described being beaten by Mr Nai.

“Mam Nai stood up and grabbed a stick and started to beat me up,” Mr Meng said.

Mr Nai said Tuesday that he learned his interrogation techniques from watching Duch at the M-13 detention center in Kompong Speu province prior to the Khmer Rouge victory in 1975. “I did not observe the use of any torture. There was not even a single stick next to him.”

In a description of his own interrogation habits, Mr Nai said that he began each session by “playing politics” with the prisoners, explaining the importance of providing a biography and then confessing.

“When I asked the person about their biography and their activities, it was not difficult at all…. If the prisoner refused to respond, I ex­plained further.”

If they still did not confess, he said, “I would instruct the guards to take the prisoner back to the detention cell to think for a while, to reflect on their negative and positive activities.”

After two or three days, if a prisoner still refused to cooperate, Mr Nai said that he would prepare a report from what he had already learned and forward it on to Duch.

When Vietnamese soldiers be­gan arriving at S-21, Mr Nai said that he was assigned to question them because he spoke some Viet­namese. Again, he insisted that he did not use physical force to obtain confessions, which would later be broadcast over Cambodian radio as propaganda.

“The interrogation of these Viet­namese soldiers did not need coercion or whips because we could take their confession easily, just by asking about their situations and their ranks,” he said.

“By asking such simple questions, we found it easy to get a confession.”

He maintained in court that Duch never visited him to monitor his interrogations, despite telling court investigators that the prison head occasionally visited him to observe.

Mr Nai testified that he knew nothing about the detention facilities at S-21 because he performed his interrogations in a house just outside of the prison compound and was not allowed to venture into the prison.

When asked about the condition of the prisoners he interrogated, Mr Nai denied that they were in ill health, contradicting the accounts of prison survivors who have told the court that detainees were malnourished from eating meager rations of gruel.

“From my observation, those prisoners were neither skinny nor pale. They were in normal physical condition—neither fat nor skinny,” Mr Nai said.

Mr Nai was slotted to begin his testimony on Monday afternoon, but the hearing was postponed while he sought legal advice. He returned to court on Tuesday with representative Kong Sam Onn, who recently resigned as defense lawyer in the defamation suits against SRP lawmakers Ho Vann and Mu Sochua.

Mr Nai’s testimony is scheduled to continue today.


Related Stories

Latest News

The Weekly DispatchA weekly newsletter from The Cambodia Daily delivering news, analysis and opinion to your inbox. Published every Friday at 11:30am. Sign up today.