By Lauren Crothers
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AA) - The chief jailer at the Khmer Rouge’s most notorious prison took to the witness stand in Cambodia on Tuesday, offering testimony that pointed the finger directly at one of the two men on trial for having committed genocide.
Kaing Guek Eav, better known by his alias Duch, was chairman of the S-21 prison in central Phnom Penh under the ultra-Maoist regime.
The Khmer Rouge took over the former school after the April 1975 fall of Phnom Penh and turned it into a site where tens of thousands of people were jailed, tortured, executed or sent away to be killed at the Choeung Ek killing fields.
His head shorn of any hair, 73-year-old Duch’s sometimes cheerful demeanor Tuesday belied the crimes against humanity for which he is serving a life sentence in prison.
After his own trial, he returned in 2012 as a witness in Case 002/01 at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, the first portion of the case against “Brother Number 2” Nuon Chea and former Khmer Rouge head of state, Khieu Samphan.
The two are appealing their life sentences in that case, and are now being tried in the second portion, which focuses on crimes such as genocide.
Duch smiled incredulously when senior assistant prosecutor Dale Lysak read to him remarks made by Nuon Chea after Duch testified in their first trial, in which Nuon Chea denied having ever been responsible for the operation of S-21.
“I’m surprised by the denial by [Nuon Chea],” Duch said Tuesday. “I cannot believe that. The S-21 office, as well as all police offices under the [Communist Party of Kampuchea or CPK] were under the leadership of the party, and the policies of the CPK to smash enemies were produced in 1971 in the party congress.”
He added that Nuon Chea’s “denial is nonsense”.
Duch said that the octogenarian defendant “was connected to Pol Pot”, the leader of the Khmer Rouge, and even acted as prime minister when the former fell ill.
Co-defendant Khieu Samphan, on the other hand, “was part of the political bureau” in what was otherwise known as the powerful yet shadowy Office 870.
Duch told the court he first met Nuon Chea on Aug. 15, 1977, more than two years after the Khmer Rouge battled their way into Phnom Penh, overthrew the Lon Nol government and took power.
Nuon Chea had told his young comrade that because then S-21 chief Son Sen had gone to the battlefield, Duch was to work with Nuon Chea “from that time forward”.
A fastidious annotator and archivist, Duch had noted the exchange in his diary.
“It was clear I was his subordinate,” Duch told Lysak. “In short, he was aware of [S-21]. It was a very short meeting.”
Duch’s testimony continues Wednesday.