Former Interrogator Tells Tribunal of Conditions at S-21 Prison

A former S-21 interrogator told the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Monday that three teams used to be on hand at the notorious Phnom Penh detention center to interrogate prisoners until they extracted a “confession,” by torture if necessary.

Lach Mean testified to both the conditions inmates faced at the school-turned-prison and the training he and other fellow interrogators received.

Lach Mean gives testimony at the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Phnom Penh on Monday.  (ECCC)
Lach Mean gives testimony at the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Phnom Penh on Monday.  (ECCC)

“We were instructed to interrogate until we obtained the confession because those who were brought into the prison were considered as enemies,” he said. “For those prisoners who refused to confess, those prisoners would be tortured.”

He said prisoners who did not confess would be sent back to their cells for two to three months, then face another round of interrogation from the “strict unit.”

“They were very firm with their assigned task,” he said. “They knew how to extract confessions in their interrogations.”

Mr. Mean described his transformation from prison guard to interrogator, a process overseen by the chief of S-21, Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch.

“For my interrogation study, I observed and watched with the interrogators and learned the skills on the job. Ta Duch also took the opportunity during the study sessions to instruct us in some aspects of the techniques used in the interrogation,” he said. “He instructed us to be loyal and know how to extract the confessions quickly from the prisoners.”

Duch, the first Khmer Rouge official to be convicted by the tribunal, is expected to give testimony as a witnesses in Case 002/02, which is currently focusing on S-21.

Mr. Mean described seeing evidence of torture on prisoners’ bodies.

“I saw bleeding scars and wounds on the backs and feet of the prisoners…. They were tortured and beaten,” he said, adding that medics were required to clean and bandage the wounds.

He said most prisoners had been either shackled together in large rooms or kept in single cells, where they were denied the regular hosing down granted to the others.

And while there had been pregnant prisoners at S-21, Mr. Mean said he had not seen any young children. He said high-level prisoners, including former officials and civil servants, even some S-21 staff, had been separated from other detainees.

“They didn’t want us, the guards, to know about those important prisoners, or that they might get to… know the guards,” he said.

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