Former prison chief Kaing Guek Eav told the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Tuesday that he had difficulty recalling when Vietnamese prisoners of war began arriving at the S-21 detention center and that he had not been told of any armed conflict with Vietnam before 1978, circumstances that form the basis of his indictment for war crimes.
The accused, best known as Duch, also continued his expressions of remorse for the victims and rejected documents purporting to show the release of S-21 detainees as fabrications.
Duch has not contested prosecutors’ allegations that as many as 400 Vietnamese people, including 250 civilians and prisoners of war, were eliminated at S-21.
Judicial investigators found in August that a state of armed conflict had existed with Vietnam from the very day that the Khmer Rouge took power in Phnom Penh in 1975 and had persisted during almost the entire life of the regime. They found evidence to indicate that as part of the conflict with Vietnam, Duch may have been responsible for willful kill-
ing, torture, causing great suffering and injury, unlawful confinement of civilians and denying fair trials to civilians and prisoners of war.
Proving Duch’s awareness of conflict with Vietnam, through testimony and documentary evidence, is key to establishing his responsibility under the 1949 Geneva Conventions.
However, in court on Tuesday, Duch said he became aware of the conflict with Vietnam on Jan 6, 1978, when Pol Pot called party members to a political study session and announced the outbreak of hostilities.
Duch said he could not give details about any prisoners of war who may have arrived at S-21 before then.
“The two parties had a conflict, but the conflict was kept secret,” he said under questioning by Judge Silvia Cartwright. “I myself had little knowledge about the existence of the conflict.”
Military clashes between Cambodian and Vietnamese revolutionary forces occurred even before the Khmer Rouge took power in 1975. Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese forces attacked each other’s border locations in 1977. However neither side publicly acknowledged this.
Ms Cartwright asked when the first prisoners of war began arriving at S-21.
“I cannot recall it but there were a few before the 6th of Jan-
uary. Only at a later time then there were quite a number of them,” Duch said.
Ms Cartwright cited a June 4, 1999, record of an interview by investigators at the Military Court, which held Duch from 1999 to 2007. Duch told military investigators that S-21 had received Vietnamese soldiers captured on the battlefield in 1977, she said.
“I am not clear. However, the list at S-21 would shed better light than my statement at the military court,” Duch said.
Under questioning from civil party lawyer Kim Mengkhy, Duch described the experience in 1977 of personally interrogating former Khmer Rouge Commerce Minister Koy Thuon, who was the only detainee ever to be personally interrogated by Duch and whose purge heralded the start of a widening search for enemies within the Communist Party of Kampuchea.
“When I interrogated Koy Thuon, I did not even come to the point straight forward, because Koy Thuon was quick to react and sometimes he even broke the glasses or the pen,” Duch said.
“I let him calm down for half an hour before I started to interrogate him, and when he met me, I smiled to him and I said to him, ‘Brother, why did you do that? Do not think that I am fooled by way of your anger, and I would beat you to death until the confession was cut off.’”
Under questioning by defense lawyer Kar Savuth, Duch took issue with some conclusions in a report cited during testimony last month by prosecution expert
witness and historian Craig Etcheson.
In particular, he rejected Mr Etcheson’s assertion that documentary evidence unearthed last year by the Documentation Center of Cambodia indicated that some prisoners from S-21 had been released.
Contrary to judicial investigators’ finding that no one was ever released, DC-Cam publicized evidence in August according to which 177 people had been released from S-21.
“I did not release anyone as I have told the chamber,” Duch said.
“I will not use the fabricated list of released to conceal my crimes, and I would reject that statement by Mr Etcheson because I am responsible for my crimes. I cannot accept that document.”
The judges’ questioning on the matter of armed conflict with Vietnam is expected to continue this morning.