Strict obedience to the rules was the only way to stay safe, and cadres risked being seen as deviant if they strayed one bit from the party line, Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, former chairman of the S-21 detention center, told the Khmer Rouge tribunal Thursday.
“Every step we took, we did not betray the party,” he told the court. “If the party pointed us to the left, we went to the left, or to the right, we went to the right.”
The day of debates at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia was largely devoted to the judge’s interrogation of Duch on Communist Party of Kampuchea policies, after his defense lawyer, Kar Savuth, declined to question him on the establishment of S-21.
Before 1970, the party focused on gathering forces for the revolution, Duch explained. Because recruits were precious, there were no internal purges except for one isolated case, he said. The policy of “smashing,” or killing, emerged in the early 1970s as the communist forces started “liberating” certain zones and eliminated poor people thought to be spies, he explained. “Some were not,” he added.
In 1973, he continued, the party formalized its ideas on class struggle and started targeting more enemies of the revolution: imperialists, feudalists, capitalists and reactionaries. They could be merchants, officers or tailors.
And after the Khmer Rouge took power on April 17, 1975, enemies were everywhere.
“The enemies were in numerous numbers until we were isolated, and we could not find even a piece of land to seek refuge,” Duch said.
The ideals of the revolutionary movement had already started to unravel.
The Constitution of Democratic Kampuchea, which promised “a national society informed by genuine happiness, equality, justice and democracy,” was only a facade that served to hide the dictatorial nature of the regime, he added.
“Everyone doing work used the revolutionary theory as a front, but [it was] a way of building a new dynasty,” he said.
The statutes of the CPK were also a facade, Duch explained. For instance, a list of 10 criteria supposedly determined who could be admitted to the central committee of the party, but the list was in fact used by Pol Pot to deny entry to those he did not favor.
A good cadre was one that fulfilled all his duties but did not show too much zeal and initiative in going beyond his orders, he added. Always fearing purges, cadres straddled a fine line between doing too much and not enough.
“For example, if we demanded more arrests, so it suggested we were leftists. If we did not want people to arrest anyone at all, then we were regarded as rightists,” he said.
Party members were instructed to be constantly looking out for enemies, which led to some paranoia, he added.
Duch said he had sincerely believed from a young age in Marxist-Leninist ideas and had wanted to create a society whose members could all reap the rewards of production. But he recognized that Democratic Kampuchea had not reached that ideal, and that it had been much more extreme than its model—the brand of Communism propogated by China’s Mao Tse Tung.
“I would like to emphasize that it was Polpotism, not Maoism,” Duch said. “[That] group went one step forward, but Pol Pot went 10 steps forward.”
The court has adjourned for two weeks, and the hearing will resume May 18.