‘One Day It Would Be My Turn,’ Duch Testifies

Kaing Guek Eav, the S-21 prison chief better known as Duch, told the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Wednesday that he believed he would have been beheaded had he leaked details about what was going on inside the notorious security center.

In 2010, Duch became the first Khmer Rouge official to be found guilty of crimes against humanity. He is currently testifying in the case against regime leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, who are on trial for crimes including genocide.

The former warden said prison staff were ordered to obey a vow of secrecy regarding interrogations, and that he feared deadly consequences if he passed information anywhere other than up the regime’s chain of command.

“If the chief of S-21 and chief of M-13 did not practice the principle, then he would have been beheaded a long time ago,” he said, in reference to the jungle prison camp in Kompong Speu province that he oversaw prior to S-21.

“I had the authority only to re­port to my immediate supervisor, that is [Defense Minister] Son Sen, and later on Uncle Nuon,” he said, adding that a cadre named Pang was installed as an intermediary between him and Nuon Chea, the regime’s second-in-command.

Offering an example of the fragility of mid-ranking cadres, Duch said Pang was eventually arrested and swiftly killed at the very jail he had helped oversee.

“If there was no need to keep them, then the person had to be smashed. As in the case of Pang, it seemed there was no need to keep him since his confessions were confusing, so he was smashed,” Duch said.

No matter how many times a cadre was implicated in “confessions” by a prisoner at S-21, each case was judged on its merits, Duch said. He cited the example of Ta Mok, the feared Southwest Zone commander who was named in numerous “confessions” but re­mained a powerful Khmer Rouge commander until his 1999 arrest in Anlong Veng.

“In relation to Brother Mok, S-21 prisoners implicated him in 15 confessions. However, he was still the deputy commander-in-chief of the People’s Revolu­tionary Army, and he remained alive until he was imprisoned with me at the military tribunal,” he said.  

Duch told of his fears during the final days at S-21, as he witnessed purges of previously trusted Khmer Rouge officials.

“I was so tired physically, I could not do the job. As for my mental [state] at the time, I was al­ways think­ing of the arrests [of cad­res]. I was thinking at the time, one day it would be my turn,” Duch said.

Despite fearing for his life, Duch said the mass killing of prisoners was fast-tracked as Vietnamese troops edged closer to Phnom Penh, which they would overtake on January 7, 1979.

“The instruction was made by Nuon, Uncle Nuon,” Duch said. “To my recollection, all of them may have been killed by 3 Jan­uary [1979]. Because there were many prisoners, it was difficult to smash all of them in just three days.”

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