When hundreds and possibly thousands of Khmer Republic officials, soldiers and civil servants loyal to Lon Nol were trucked en masse to a desolate site in Pursat province in the days following the April 1975 fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge, they were blindfolded before they met their ends.
This, according to the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s deputy co-prosecutor, William Smith, was to spare the men’s killers from having to actually look their victims in the eye as they wielded clubs and aimed their guns, slaughtering their prisoners—tied together in groups of up to 20—one by one.
The executions at Tuol Po Chrey is one of the central crimes that co-prosecutors on Friday argued that co-defendants Nuon Chea, 87, and Khieu Samphan, 82, are directly responsible for, even if they ordered their subordinates to carry out their “dirty work.”
“Tuol Po Chrey would not have happened were it not for a well-established policy to kill former regime soldiers,” Mr. Smith said. “And this was a policy that was vigorously promoted to a loyal and disciplined force by Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan and other [Communist Party of Kampuchea] leaders.”
The executions, he said, were emblematic of a much broader policy to wipe out former Khmer Republic regime members and officials, targeted for what they stood for, and many of who met similar ends in Phnom Penh, on the roads leading out of the city and at killing sites around the country. Because of the tighter scope of this part of Case 002, however, prosecutors can only use Tuol Po Chrey as a prime example of such a policy.
During the trial, three witnesses testified that the prisoners were loaded onto trucks under the illusion they would be taken to see then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk. Video footage of interviews with members of the Khmer Rouge “preventive unit” who were ordered to stop breakaways from fleeing the killing site tells of brains and blood spattering across the area, bodies piling up and then the sound of decomposition under an unrelenting sun.
As prosecutors’ closing statements in Case 002/01 segued into their second day, Mr. Smith unleashed a volley of barbs toward Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, who he said had gone to great lengths to try to distance themselves from such crimes, despite evidence to the contrary.
One such piece of evidence is a video clip in which Nuon Chea says on camera that Lon Nol officials had to be “liquidated.”
“Your honors, let there be no doubt, Nuon Chea is admitting to murder, murders that are charged in this indictment,” Mr. Smith said.
“This is an admission made with no pressure, with resolve, no uncertainty and no remorse. Nuon Chea still believes extrajudicial killings in Democratic Kampuchea were justifiable and necessary.”
Much of Mr. Smith’s presentation on Friday centered around arguing that the pair were, in fact, closely connected with each other, Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) leaders and Pol Pot himself. These arguments were supported in court with the use of photographs and video footage of the men together.
“To sum up, hundreds and thousands of former Khmer Republic officials were executed in Phnom Penh during transfer or on arrival in special and southwest zones,” he said.
“These killings took place in other zones where other former officials were located. This evidence proves that the CPK had a centralized coordinated policy to persecute and kill Khmer Republic officials.”
And right there at the center of it all, he said, were Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan.
“Khieu Samphan was accepted into the inner circle because he agreed with them,” Mr. Smith said, including approving of plans to evacuate Phnom Penh and forcibly transfer evacuees to other parts of the country.
“Behind the charm and smile of Pol Pot was a small group of men, including Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, who were prepared to do whatever it took to realize their radical vision of their Cambodia,” Mr. Smith said.
“Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan and their criminal partners were the masters and the Cambodian population were their slaves. They were dictators who controlled Cambodians by brutal force and fear…. Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan killed for power. They spilled blood for it. They brutalized and dehumanized.”
And yet, when it came to “the work of butchers, human butchers”—the killings that robbed wives of their husbands, brothers of their sisters, mothers of their children and children of their parents—the co-accused had others do it and, in doing so, distanced themselves further from their own humanity.
“This blood is bad blood and cannot be the standard by which we live,” Mr. Smith said.
“When you torture someone to death you have to get close enough to your victim to inflict pain. But although that closeness allows you to kill, you also see the eyes of the victim. You see the fear in the face and disbelief as to what is happening to them. When another human begs you for their life, you see their eyes.
“When you wield a club above your head, you see their eyes. Seeing your victim’s eyes makes it hard to kill. If you look close enough you see yourself, your own humanity in their eyes.
“Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan chose not to see the eyes of their victims. They chose not to see their own humanity. This made it easier for them, more humane for them, by urging, persuading and ordering others to do the work of killing.”
Had they had to bear witness to such terror, “they may not have pulled the trigger, swung the ax, tied them up or dug the pit.”
Instead, they “contracted out the inhumanity of their work so they could feel more humane. All for their unrelenting, unforgiving vision of creating a society that they wanted.”
The co-prosecutors will continue making their closing statements on Monday, when they will also submit their request for sentences.