In a hostile confrontation with a victim lawyer, former S-21 Chairman Kaing Guek Eav on Tuesday was pressed to admit his account of M-13, a wartime prison camp he ran in Kompong Speu province, was falsified and self-serving.
The tribunal also concluded testimony concerning the accused’s actions while in control of M-13 from 1971 in 1975, which over the course of witness statements was depicted as far more enthusiastically violent and involving more executions and more varied means of torture than he has claimed.
In indicting Duch in August, investigators described M-13, which was located for most of its existence in Thpong district’s Omlaing commune, as a precursor to secret police operations at S-21, where Mr Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, has confessed to the brutal killing of as many as 14,000 people.
Over six days of testimony concerning M-13, Duch showed a mastery of the documentary evidence and several times chided lawyers for asking repetitious questions. Thirty-four years after the event, witnesses were hesitant to estimate the size of the prison population, and the total number of those executed there remains unclear.
British lawyer Karim Khan, one of a team of lawyers representing 38 victims in the first of four civil party groups at the trial, challenged Duch to admit that keeping several dozen prisoners in two to three pits dug two meters into the ground had little to do with protecting them from the covert US aerial bombardment of 1969 to 1973.
“Let me be very plain lest there be any misunderstanding, Mr Duch. You kept prisoners in these pits well after the United States aerial bombardment ceased, did you not?” asked Mr Khan.
“After the B-52 bombardments, there were some aerial bombardments, the normal aerial bombardments,” answered Duch.
“Mr Duch, I put it to you that the reason you are so wedded to this story about placing people in these pits for their own protection is borne out of nothing other than a very blatant attempt to somehow mitigate your conduct in placing people in shackles, in miserable conditions in these pits. Would you agree that is a fair assessment?” asked Mr Khan, noting that in 1974 prisoners had drowned in the pits.
Hostile cross-examination, as is practiced in common law courts, is not permitted under the inquisitive form of justice used by the Khmer Rouge tribunal.
French defense lawyer Francois Roux unsuccessfully asked the Trial Chamber to caution Mr Khan against showing disrespect to Duch.
“I want to be short. I have said this a hundred times, but because you are just here today I may have to repeat. The people in the pits were shackled. That’s all,” answered Duch.
Witness Chan Khorn, 53, testified Monday that both his grandfathers had been interned at M-13, where he was a guard, and that he had not seen executions but had found bodies in a pit afterwards.
He said Tuesday that Duch terrified everyone at the camp.
“He means business. Whatever he says, he follows it. So everyone was scared of him,” he said. “I myself was afraid of him. I could not look at him in the face.”
In final remarks to the court, Duch said that during his time at M-13, the Khmer Rouge turned from eliminating suspected spies to eliminating entire social classes, perceived as enemies in their totality.
“In 1973, the situation changed. They killed not only the spies but the class, to smash the exploiting class. According to Brother Sy, we had to smash the feudalists and the capitalists,” he said, referring to Chou Chet, former deputy secretary of the Southwest Zone.
“I received the duties that I once hated and these kinds of duties were criminal in nature,” said Duch. “I will try to think and find ways to confess to my nation and people. I have not yet said enough.”
Testimony is expected to begin this morning concerning the establishment of S-21.