Personnel at the Tuol Sleng detention center walked a western man to the exterior of the compound, ringed him with car tires and allegedly burned him alive, according to testimony heard Wednesday from a former guard at the facility.
Assigned to guard the western edge of S-21 prison compound, Cheam Soeur said he saw three prison staffers at the beginning of one of his shifts lead the foreign prisoner out and place several car tires over his head and around his body.
The three of them then ignited the tires, reportedly burning the man alive. “I did not look. I only saw that the car tires were burning,” the now 52-year-old farmer said. “At that time the car tires were still burning and then the shift ended.”
Later, however, under questioning from civil party lawyers and a defense lawyer, Mr Soeur stated he did not recall hearing any screams during the incident and confirmed he observed the act about 20 meters away from where it occurred.
Mr Soeur said the charred torso and legs of the prisoner were still visible when he arrived at 6 pm the next day for the start of his shift.
“The body was not completely burned,” he said. “The remains were still there, nobody touched it.”
Given a chance to respond, former secret police chairman Kaing Guek Eav told the court he doubted the man’s testimony since S-21 staff were instructed by him to burn the dead bodies of prisoners until there was nothing left but ashes.
“It is hard to believe what he said,” stated the accused, best known as Duch. “Nobody dared to violate my order because it was absolute.”
Mr Soeur also detailed life as a guard at the institution. He said he was told to guard the facility against the “Vietnamese enemy” but admitted he never saw any Vietnamese nationals, only Cambodians.
Patrolling often in pairs from 6 pm to 12 am, the guards were barred from sleeping during their shift and were warned that if a prisoner escaped, they would serve as the prisoner’s replacement.
“It was difficult because we were frightened and we had to work hard to guard the compound.”
After Mr Soeur’s testimony, the court heard several civil party statements, including one from Nhep Hau Ho, a former guard on the upper levels of Tuol Sleng. In his statement, he recalled seeing “skinny” prisoners left in a “weakened state” after enduring “torture and beatings.”
“Some prisoners told me, ‘Brother, they beat me hard.’ But I did not dare say anything because I was afraid that if they came to interrogate them again they would implicate me,” according to the statement read aloud in the court.
After the statement was read, international defense attorney Francois Roux publicly voiced his disapproval of the reading of such statements, saying they were becoming repetitive and, at times, irrelevant. He called for the court to summarize the statements or highlight relevant elements.
“I have the impression that we are repeating ourselves needlessly,” he told the courtroom.
Following an adjournment, Judge Nil Nonn said the chamber will review the statements and decide which will be read aloud in full and which should be summarized.