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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Khmer Rouge jailer expresses 'excruciating remorse'

By Ek Madra

PHNOM PENH, The Khmer Rouge's chief torturer and jailer expressed "excruciating remorse" on Wednesday for more than 14,000 people killed under his watch at a notorious prison during Cambodia's ultra-Maoist revolution of the 1970s.

In the final week of testimony for the first senior Khmer Rouge cadre to face the U.N.-backed "Killing Fields" tribunal, Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, said he was solely liable for the killings but that he served a mafia-type group.

"I found I had ended up serving a criminal organisation which destroyed its own people in outrageous fashion. I could not withdraw from it," said the 67-year-old former maths teacher.

"I was like a screw in the machinery of a car that could not be removed."

Duch is accused of "crimes against humanity, enslavement, torture, sexual abuses and other inhumane acts" as commander of S-21 prison during one of the darkest chapters of the 20th century, when the Khmer Rouge ruled from 1975-79 under Pol Pot.

He said he was convinced he was fighting to free Cambodia from U.S. imperialism during the Vietnam War. He has denied personally killing or torturing prisoners and has repeatedly said he was following orders out of fear for his own life.

Karim Khan, a civil party lawyer, urged the tribunal's five-judge panel this week to reject Duch's assertion he had little choice but to carry out orders, saying Duch was "ideologically of the same mind" as the Khmer Rouge leaders.

The tribunal seeks justice for 1.7 million people, nearly a quarter of Cambodia's population, who perished from execution, overwork or torture during the Khmer Rouge's agrarian revolution, which ended in the 1979 invasion by Vietnam.

"I am deeply remorseful of and profoundly affected by this destruction," he said. "I am solely and individually liable for the loss of at least 12,380 lives."

Researchers say more than 14,000 were killed after passing through S-21, also known as Tuol Sleng. Only seven survived.


Duch faces up to life in prison if convicted. A prosecutor said on Thursday Duch should get 40 years in prison for his role. Cambodia does not have capital punishment.

Now a born-again Christian, Duch has in the past expressed remorse for the S-21 victims, most of them tortured and forced to confess to spying and other crimes before they were bludgeoned to death at the "Killing Fields" execution sites.

But he appeared to take this further on Wednesday, speaking of his wish to apologise "forever" and telling a court packed with about 600 people, including some survivors of the regime, he would seek help to be recognised again as "part of humankind".

"I am psychologically accountable to the entire Cambodian population for the souls of those who perished," he said.

"May I plead with you to allow me to share with you my immense and enduring sorrow ... in order to express my most excruciating remorse."

Prosecution lawyers say Duch had broad autonomy and did nothing to stop prison guards from inflicting rampant torture.

Witnesses in 72 days of hearings spoke of beatings with metal pipes, electrocution, near-starvation, violent rape and forcing some prisoners to eat their own excrement.

A verdict is expected by March.

"I want him to face up to 80 years or life in jail," said 79-year-old Chum Mey, a rare S-21 survivor.

Mey was accused by the Khmer Rouge of working for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency before he was shackled, confined to a cell and tortured. He testified earlier in the year his toenails were torn off and he nearly starved to death.

A defence lawyer said Duch was unfairly singled out while nearly 200 other Khmer Rouge prison chiefs were never arrested or brought before a judge, including some who oversaw prisons and camps where as many as 150,000 people were killed.

"They have to be brought before the court," he said. "Only then will justice be done."

Four other senior Khmer Rouge cadres are in custody awaiting trial. They are ex-president Khieu Samphan, former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary, his wife Khieu Thirith and "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea. Unlike Duch, they have not publicly apologised.

Pol Pot, architect of the Khmer Rouge's "Year Zero" peasant revolution, was captured in 1997 and died in April 1998.

The chamber of three Cambodian and two foreign judges -- known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia -- requires four to agree on a verdict.

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