In an interview given at Phnom Penh’s military prison, former S-21 prison director Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, spoke for the first time in nearly a decade about the thousands killed at S-21, crimes for which he is now under investigation by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.
However, officials said Monday’s cover story in the British newspaper The Independent, a rare instance of access to Duch during his eight-year pretrial detention by the military court, was conducted as much as a year ago—long before his July 31 detention by the UN-backed tribunal.
The Defense Ministry allowed the rare 30-minute interview, conducted while Duch was officially under judicial investigation by the Military Court, with journalist Valerio Pellizzari, ministry Secretary of State Neang Phat, who was present for the interview, said Monday.
“He, the Italian, requested to the Ministry of Defense to interview Duch, and the ministry agreed to this request,” Neang Phat said. “If anyone asked, the ministry would consider whether they were suitable for meeting [Duch].”
“It was a long time ago. It was not recent,” Neang Phat added.
Reports of Duch’s reemergence after 20 years in hiding prompted Cambodian authorities to arrest him in May of 1999.
In a 1999 interview with journalist Nate Thayer, Duch placed blame for the regime’s atrocities on Brother Number Two Nuon Chea, now being detained by the ECCC; Khmer Rouge Defense Minister Son Sen, who was executed by Pol Pot in 1997; and the regime’s Deputy Prime Minister Vorn Vet, who was purged at S-21.
However, Pellizzari quotes Duch in The Independent as saying that Khmer Rouge military commander Ta Mok, who died in 2006, had ordered the elimination of S-21 detainees and that he, Duch, was himself a prisoner of the Khmer Rouge hierarchy.
“I say there was no way out for anyone who entered the power system conceived by Pol Pot,” Duch said in The Independent. “If I had tried to flee…my family would have suffered the same fate as the other prisoners in Tuol Sleng.”
Pellizzari wrote that Cambodian military officials sat in on the interview with Duch, of which there is no audio recording.
ECCC Co-Investigating Judge Marcel Lemonde said Monday that the Duch interview deceptively implies that it was granted after Duch’s detention by the ECCC.
“The entire article is discredited. It will not be considered during the investigation,” he said.
E-mailed requests for comment to The Independent were not immediately answered Monday.
Kar Savuth, Duch’s Cambodian defense attorney, said that the defense would not be troubled by the renewed publicity given to his client in the press.
“I defend only the law,” he said.
Photographer Nic Dunlop, author of the Duch biography The Lost Executioner, wrote by e-mail Monday that the Duch interview in The Independent shed little light on the Khmer Rouge chain of command.
“I think the key to this interview is the context in which it was carried out; the interpreter, the military men sitting and listening. To what extent did they influence what he said? To what extent did he censor his replies?” Dunlop wrote.
Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said Duch’s references to the Khmer Rouge chain of command were feeble attempts to avoid blame.
“Every criminal has his excuses. The point is that you were responsible for the 14,000 prisoners who died under your authority,” he said.