Expert witness David Chandler testified Thursday that he was “moved” by former S-21 Chairman Kaing Guek Eav’s admission of responsibility but that the crimes against humanity suspect had gone about the work of killing with enthusiasm and pride.
Author of the most comprehensive study of the secret police archives, Mr Chandler, 76, also told the Khmer Rouge tribunal that the accused, best known as Duch, and his subordinates showed no signs of moral distress in the process of inflicting arbitrary cruelties on thousands.
Duch responded to Mr Chandler’s testimony with a deferential expression of gratitude for his scholarship.
Unlike many of the witnesses before him, whose blinkered and risk-averse testimonies carefully avoided venturing outside of their specific roles at S-21, Mr Chandler was asked to answer larger questions, such as why S-21 existed, what intentions its staff had harbored and whether the accused was sincerely remorseful.
Though prosecutors have so far struggled on many occasions to present evidence beyond the allegations already conceded by Duch, Mr Chandler’s testimony touched on matters that are actively contested by the defense, such as Duch’s freedom in decision making, his influence over arrests and executions, and the credibility of his remorse.
Mr Chandler, emeritus professor of history at Monash University in Australia, told the court that in his four years of research in preparation for his 1999 history “Voices from S-21,” he had had no access to Duch but that interviews with staff and documentary evidence gave a detailed picture.
“The written annotations in red ink—and I’m very jealous of the neatness of his calligraphy, it’s wonderfully readable and clearly expressed—I think revealed what can only be described as his professional enthusiasm for the job which he had taken on, with some evidence that it was not a job that he had sought out but a job that he had been assigned to by his superiors,” said Mr Chandler.
“He wanted S-21 to be seen by superiors and…also by the international community eventually as a highly professional and efficient organization of which he as its administrator could be justly proud.”
Mr Chandler speculated that Tuol Sleng’s unparalleled archives were intended to demonstrate its efficiency, to provide the Khmer Rouge leadership with detailed information related to their suspicions of nationwide conspiracies, and perhaps, as former tribunal investigator Stephen Heder has suggested, as the basis for a communist party history.
Under questioning by international Deputy Co-Prosecutor William Smith, Mr Chandler said Duch had virtually no freedom to oppose the senior leadership but did not appear to have suffered from the work at S-21.
“I can’t help but think that the people who were inflicting this terrible damage on everybody knew what they were doing and, almost worse, did not seem to suffer themselves from what was happening,” he said.
“It didn’t seem to lead them to lose sleep, it didn’t seem to make their handwriting more unsteady, it didn’t seem to lessen their enthusiasm for coming back to work the next day.”
Under questioning by French defense lawyer Francois Roux, Mr Chandler said Duch’s regrets were admirable but not comprehensive.
“The defendant is now saying, as he not only has a right to do and has chosen to do and I admire him for that, he was the hostage and an actor of a criminal regime. I think the awareness that the regime was a criminal regime came in 1978,” he added.
“I think you have a documented series of regrets on the part of the defendant… I know I’m getting outside the frame of the tribunal, but these regrets did not extend to his deserting the movement in 1979 or 1980.”
Duch said Mr Chandler’s work had shown his “great virtue as a good researcher” and appeared to repudiate a written response to “Voices from S-21” that he had given investigators last year.
“I am very grateful having seen the achievement of Mr Chandler when he wrote about S-21. It is just a flower among the 100 flowers blossomed among the CPK,” said Duch. “My response to Mr Chandler is not a very significant achievement of mine.”