Currently seeking the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s clemency for his acts as chairman of S-21 prison, Kaing Guek Eav was visibly troubled Wednesday as the court’s first witness appeared to contradict his claims to have only rarely tortured detainees.
Francois Bizot, a French ethnographer detained at the M-13 prison camp that the accused, better known as Duch, commanded in Kompong Speu province between 1971 and 1975, told the court that he had seen evidence that prisoners were suspended by their hands and that Duch had claimed to have been personally and regularly involved in torture.
The court this week began hearing testimony about M-13, a pre-Democratic Kampuchea prison camp that investigators found provided many of the techniques and staff later used at S-21. Duch told the court this week the camp was a far smaller operation than the one described in statements given to the Documentation Center of Cambodia in 2001, that it killed a maximum of 300 people, that he personally administered beatings in only two cases, and that no one was ever suspended by their wrists.
Mr Bizot, 69, author of the 2000 memoir “The Gate,” which describes his encounter with Duch, repeated his long-held belief that his three-month detention at M-13, which ended on Christmas Day in 1971, had exposed him to the fact that monstrous acts can be committed by ordinary people. He also appeared to contradict several of Duch’s claims.
During a fireside discussion the night before his release, Mr Bizot asked Duch who was it that beat the prisoners.
“Duch did not hesitate to answer that it did happen that he struck prisoners insofar as they were lying or took contradictory positions, that lies were intolerable to him, and that this work…I do not recall the exact terms but perhaps that this work made him vomit,” Mr Bizot told the court. “This was his responsibility and this was what Angkar expected of him. This work corresponded to his duties. I was frightened.”
“I must say, your honor, that until that point I had been rather reassured. I considered that I was on the good side of humanity and that there existed monsters which I, thank God, could never resemble,” he said. “And it is that today which continues to make me tremble.”
Mr Bizot also said that while bathing in a river, he happened upon an empty cabin close to the camp.
“I saw that there was a rather thick vertical bamboo bar with hanging rings which I immediately interpreted as being bindings meant to restrain fists and then I quickly left but I kept that particularly memory,” he said.
Prisoners other than himself were never allowed to bathe, Mr Bizot told the court, contrary to Duch’s claims that detainees could bathe in a nearby stream.
French Trial Chamber Judge Jean-Marc Lavergne questioned Duch in light of Mr Bizot’s claims. Duch claimed in response that Mr Bizot had been correct but was detained at only one location. He also said that his discussion of beating with Mr Bizot had in fact concerned one of the two people whom Duch admits to beating.
“Probably that was the case when I shared conversation with Francois Bizot,” said Duch, adding that the rings apparently used to suspend people by the hands likely belonged to a police station destroyed by former Southwest Zone Secretary Ta Mok before M-13’s creation.
However, Judge Lavergne again returned to the question of beatings, quoting a passage from “The Gate” in which Mr Bizot wrote that Duch had been driven mad by detainees’ failing to confess promptly.
“You can’t imagine how much their lies drive me out of my mind,” Duch was quoted as saying. “When I interrogate them and they have recourse to every ruse not to speak…then I hit, I hit to the point of being myself out of breath.”
“Is this the truth or is it not the truth?” asked Judge Lavergne.
“I have not read the text written by Bizot, at any rate, not clearly, precisely,” answered Duch, noting that the events were now over 30 years old.
“For the time being I am not in a position to object,” he said, lapsing into French. “But on page 169…”
“You remember the precise page but you don’t remember what is written about torture?” Judge Lavergne interjected.
“Yes,” Duch replied in French, appearing to stammer.
Under civil party questioning, Duch told the court Wednesday morning that, following a 1972 prison break, when 30 detainees escaped, the detention center never held more than 10 people at any one time.
Mr Bizot is to continue his testimony this morning.