Prisoners at S-21 were cut open for surgical practice and around 100 inmates died from having all their blood drained from their bodies in order to provide transfusion for wounded Khmer Rouge soldiers, former prison head Kaing Guek Eav told the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Tuesday in some of the most grisly testimony to date.
The defendant, also known by his revolutionary name Duch, told the court that vivisections were performed to help train new Khmer Rouge medics in anatomy.
“The purpose of anatomy study was for that exact purpose, to study the anatomy. Live subjects were used,” he said. “The live prisoners were used for surgical study and training.”
Under questioning by Trial Chamber President Judge Nil Nonn, Duch also acknowledged that prisoners at the Khmer Rouge’s secret detention center were drained of blood, which was later provided to Khmer Rouge soldiers.
“There were about 100 victims who died due to blood drawing,” Duch said. “Sometimes the blood was drawn until there was no blood left in the body.”
When asked why he had denied any knowledge of the blood draining during pre-trial investigations, Duch said that he had simply forgotten.
He said that later, “I recalled when my superior phoned me and told me…that blood which was drawn and injected into combatants had caused a rash on the skin.”
After that phone call, he said he ordered a more careful selection of the prisoners chosen for blood donation.
Duch added that the medical practices on living humans were ended after both the chief medic at S-21 and the head of a nearby military hospital were purged.
The former prison head also claimed to have temporarily saved the lives of a handful of prisoners who were slated to receive experimental medicine, sent to the prison by Brother Number Two Nuon Chea, who is also a defendant at the tribunal.
“Because the pill was in the capsule form, I threw away the powder inside, and then I cleaned inside the capsule with a cotton batten, and I replaced it with paracetamol powder,” Duch claimed, referring to a mild pain relief drug.
“My wife was not even aware of what I did,” he continued.
Trial Chamber Judge Jean-Marc Lavergne responded to that revelation with bewilderment. He inquired why, if no one could escape being “smashed” at S-21 as Duch has repeatedly claimed, he bothered to save those prisoners from possible poisoning.
“I don’t really understand the nuance here,” Judge Lavergne said to Duch.
Duch replied: “If they died [from the medication], then they would have died under my own hands…that’s why I tried not to be involved in the killing of those people directly.”
The bulk of Duch’s questioning on Tuesday related to interrogation and torture techniques at S-21.
“It was a key factor that the interrogator had to have an absolute stance,” Duch said. “The people who were arrested had to be regarded as enemies, otherwise their confessions could not be extracted.”
For a time, Duch said, the prison had a special unit of female interrogators, chosen from amongst the wives of party cadres.
“I think it was done in 1977, after the incident where a male interrogator sexually abused a female prisoner,” Duch said. He later explained that her questioner had raped the woman, a schoolteacher, with a stick.
Duch confirmed that the sole purpose for interrogating most prisoners was to obtain a confession of traitorous plans against the Pol Pot regime, and that torture was used in almost every case.
“I did allow people to torture people in four ways,” Duch told the court. One was beating with a stick or whip, another was electrocution and a third was pouring water down the nostrils.
“I forget the fourth method,” he said, but later remembered that plastic bags were used to simulate suffocation.
Under questioning by the trial chamber judges, Duch also acknowledged that torture methods such as using pliers to rip out finger and toe nails, and forcing prisoners to eat excrement and drink urine, were also occasionally employed to extract confessions.
However, he also conceded that most of the information in those confessions was false.
“All interrogations and the confessions, I never considered them as the truth,” Duch said, estimating that, at best, the confessions were “50 percent truth…. Pol Pot at one point did not even believe that the confessions were of true information.”
Trial Chamber Judge Silvia Cartwright later asked Duch to explain the inordinate number of confessions in which prisoners claimed to be either US Central Intelligence Agents or spies for the Soviet equivalent, the KGB.
He replied that he had remembered the acronyms CIA and KGB from discussions with superiors, and instructed his subordinates to question prisoners about those agencies.
“All the prisoners, from what I could conclude…who claimed they were CIA agents-no they were not,” Duch said.