Making good on a pledge to account for his past, the former director of Pol Pot’s uppermost secret prison addressed his judges and the nation Tuesday both to accept responsibility for the killings of the Khmer Rouge regime and express remorse to his victims.
“I believe in general that at this time people regard me as a coward and an inhuman person. I would like to accept this with honesty and respect,” Duch told the court.
“In my position as head of S-21, I dared not think about any possibility beyond following orders from superiors, although I knew that enforcing the orders would lead to the end of thousands of people’s lives,” he said.
“I attest under the law to all the murders in S-21, especially to the torture and carnage,” he continued.
On his transfer in 2007 from the Military Court’s custody to the Khmer Rouge tribunal, Duch pledged to reveal the crimes of the former regime and is alone among the court’s five detainees in cooperating with judicial investigators.
A day after he had coolly greeted gruesome accounts of the allegations against him, Duch delivered a half-hour address Tuesday, looking at his judges individually, pausing at times and appearing to quiver with feeling.
Though the defense had been scheduled to rebut the prosecutors’ opening remarks, they offered instead to let the accused first make an elaborate expression of re-
morse, recognizing his guilt and reiterating a pledge to cooperate with the court—aspects of a case that can sometimes argue in favor of a reduced sentence.
In their opening statements Tuesday morning, prosecutors said Duch had expressed remorse only late in life and called into question his sincerity.
“Duch never asked for the forgiveness of his victims while supervising their torture and death. Can we believe those pleas now?” asked international Co-Prosecutor Robert Petit.
“If the accused is to benefit from the apparent remorse during the determination of the sentence, as an attenuating circumstance, it is necessary that this remorse is sufficiently well grounded,” Petit said.
“From the time he heeded the call of the party and went underground in 1966 to about 1992 when he distanced himself from the Khmer Rouge, there was nothing in evidence to convincingly support any other conclusion than that the accused was fully committed during those 28 years to the cause of the Khmer Rouge and the success of its policies,” he added.
“We have to note that when the regime fell, he did not escape, he did not grab the opportunity of-
fered by the chaos of the aftermath of the war to break ties with the Khmer Rouge and to acknowledge his actions and to make them known. On the contrary, he fled, once again in the jungles with what was remaining of the Khmer Rouge troops. There he stayed voluntary a member of the CPK for 13 further years,” Petit continued.
Using still photographs and footage of S-21, prosecutors also described the secret police operation run by Duch as the keystone of internal security under the Kh-
mer Rouge, drawing its victims from zones and sectors under the direct and close authority of the party’s standing committee.
The fact that the detainee population was drawn from so far and wide meant that its operations constituted a systematic and widespread attack on the civilian population of Cambodia, which constitutes crimes against humanity, Cambodian Co-Prosecutor Chea Leang said. Petit also called on the Trial Chamber to reinterpret the facts of Duch’s August indictment to hold him liable for his alleged crimes under the legal doctrine of joint criminal enterprise, a form of criminal responsibility that defense lawyers have harshly attacked in attempt to prevent its use at the tribunal and its extension to other suspects.
Joint criminal enterprise can allow suspects to be held directly accountable for the acts of other people and prosecutors say all five of the court’s current detainees en-
gaged in such an enterprise under the former regime. Both co-investigating judges and the Pre-Trial Chamber have declined to amend Duch’s indictment to include prosecutors’ allegations that Duch en-
gaged in such an enterprise.
“As we outlined from the very beginning of this process, we urge this court to consider and apply joint criminal enterprise, or JCE, to the facts of this case,” Petit said.
“It allows holding someone responsible, if he intends the commission of the crimes and contributes to their commission, even if he never himself got his hands dirty,” he said.
Cambodian defense lawyer Kar Savuth said Duch had been one of nearly 200 Khmer Rouge prison directors, and had not been the deadliest among them, as at one prison, Kar Savuth claimed, as many as 150,000 people had died.
“I do not want Duch to be just a scapegoat,” Kar Savuth said. He also said that Duch fell out of the court’s jurisdiction as he did not qualify as a senior leader and was not among those most responsible.
Prosecutors seized on this assertion, noting by Tuesday that it was too late to challenge the court’s jurisdiction over Duch.
French defense lawyer Francois Roux called on the court to recognize precisely what Duch was confronting in himself.
“What allows a man who is confronting all of this still today to remain alive if it is not because he is convinced that he still has a role to play in humanity?” Roux said.
“Will we be able to, at the end of these hearings, to be able to return to the victims all of their humanity but to also be able to allow the one who had exited humanity to return to humanity?”