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Khmer Rouge Torturer Found Guilty

July 27, 2010

Head of Khmer Rouge
Torture Camp Found Guilty

30 years after the end of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime, the head of the notorious Tuol Sleng prison, or S-21,  has been found guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes. In the first trial of a leading Khmer Rouge figure, the United Nations-backed tribunal found that Kaing Guek Eay, usually called Duch, was responsible for the  torture and murder of more than 14,000 prisoners. It sentenced  him to 35 years in prison (including 16 years already served.) Cambodia has no death penalty.
            Although Duch (pronounced Doik) admitted to most of the charges against him, his defense argued that he was simply part of a larger killing machine which he was powerless to oppose. Seth Mydans, in the New York Times of July 26, 2010, quotes him as saying, “I am accountable to the entire Cambodian population for the souls that perished,” but adding:  “I ended up serving a criminal organization. I could not withdraw from it. I was like a cog in a machine. I regret and humbly apologize to the dead souls.”
            Mydans quotes historian David Chandler, author of a book about Tuol Sleng, as saying that Duch was the only one of five defendants to admit guilt: “’He’s a guy who’s thought about it, faced up to some stuff,” said Mr. Chandler, “Duch is the only human on trial. The others are monsters.” Check out Mydans’ article for further details, and our prior post on this case for some insight on the mind of this mass torturer.
            Despite the historic significance of the trial, Mydans notes that “Over the years, Cambodia has moved on, with new generations, new concerns and new horizons. Many young people know little about the Khmer Rouge era, and many older people have chosen to forget.”

…but Survivors Protest Sentence

Mydans’ followup story the following day notes that  “some survivors were distraught over what they saw as a lenient sentence, one that could possibly allow the defendant…to walk free one day.

“I am not satisfied!” cried one of the few survivors, Chum Mey, 79, who had testified in excruciating detail about his 12 days of torture. “We are victims two times, once in the Khmer Rouge time and now once again…His prison is comfortable, with air-conditioning, food three times a day, fans and everything,” he said. “I sat on the floor with filth and excrement all around.”
            Bou Meng, 69, another survivor who testified at the trial about his torture and humiliation, said he had waited for this day to quiet the ghosts he said continued to torment him. “I felt it was like a slap in the face,” he said of the verdict.
            But Huy Vannak, a television news director, said it was enough simply to have justice in a court, 30 years after the killing stopped.  No sentence could measure up to the atrocities Duch committed, he added.  “Even if we chop him up into two million pieces it will not bring our family members back,” he said. “We have to move on now.”

(Tuol Sleng photos by Inbal Goldstein)

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