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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Khmer Rouge Prison Chief Kaing Guek Eav could get 40 years

Khmer Rouge jailer says sorry
(02:36) Report - Nov 25 - The Khmer Rouge's chief torturer and jailer in Cambodia in the 1970s expresses "excruciating remorse" in the final stages of his trial before the U.N.-backed "Killing Fields" tribunal. Kirsty Basset reports.

Khmer Rouge prison chief could get 40 years
By SOPHENG CHEANG and LUKE HUNT,Associated Press Writers

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – The prison chief being tried for running a torture center for the Khmer Rouge was only following orders and did nothing that scores of colleagues didn't also do, his lawyer said Wednesday, seeking to rebut popular calls for his client to receive the maximum possible punishment.

Prosecutors in Cambodia's first genocide trial are asking for a 40-year sentence, which would likely lock up 67-year-old Kaing Guek Eav for life, but which some of his victims say that would still not be harsh enough.

Judges will decide the verdict and sentence by early next year and can impose up to life imprisonment. Cambodia has no death penalty.

"I cannot accept this sentence request because it is too little," said Chum Mey, 78, one of a handful of survivors from the S-21 prison run three decades ago by Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch. "He should get 70 or 80 years. ... He should be punished by hanging, but Cambodian law doesn't allow it."

Closing arguments will conclude Friday in the case of Duch, who is charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes, murder and torture. About 16,000 men, women and children suspected of disloyalty were tortured at the prison in Phnom Penh before being taken away for execution.

In total, some 1.7 million Cambodians died due to the radical communist policies of the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime and their French-educated leader, the late Pol Pot. Four other senior leaders are in custody, and expected to face trial in the next year.

Duch (pronounced DOIK) has denied personally killing or torturing the S-21 prisoners, and testified that he acted with reluctance on orders from his superiors, fearing for the safety of his family and himself.

Addressing the court Wednesday, he once again apologized to the dead, their families, survivors of the regime and to all Cambodians _ something he has done repeatedly since the trial began in March.

He said he was "deeply remorseful and profoundly affected by the destruction on such a mind-boggling scale."

But he also emphasized that he was not alone in carrying out torture and killings, which also took place at 196 prisons across the country, and insisted there was little he could do to prevent the horror at S-21.

"I could do nothing to help," he said. "Pol Pot regarded these people as thorns in his eyes."

One of his lawyers, Kar Savuth, said his client was not a senior Khmer Rouge leader responsible for the group's policies and therefore should not be prosecuted.

Australian co-prosecutor William Smith earlier acknowledged Duch's admissions of guilt and the fact that he has given evidence against other Khmer Rouge leaders, but said he still must be held accountable.

"The crimes committed by the accused at S-21 are rarely matched in modern history in terms of their combined barbarity, scope, duration, premeditation and their callousness," he said. "Not just the victims and their families but the whole of humanity demand a just and proportionate response to these crimes and this court must speak on behalf of that humanity."

Theary Seng, a Cambodian-American lawyer and rights activist who as a 7-year-old was held in a Khmer Rouge prison with her 4-year-old brother, called the proposed sentence "unacceptable" and said it would create "an uproar among Cambodians."

"There are many counts, many crimes he should be found guilty of and each one carries a life sentence," she said. "So even with mitigating circumstances taken into account, he should at least get one life sentence, even two or three life sentences."

Others went further. "He must be punished heavily because he killed people. He should get the death sentence," said Roeung Sok, a spectator at the trial Wednesday.

But Huot Chheang Kaing, 67, who had been Duch's classmate in the early 1960s, said he thought that the defendant should not receive the maximum punishment because he was only following orders under duress. "I wish the court to sentence Duch to only 20 or 25 years in prison," he said

Khmer Rouge Prison Chief Could Get 40 Years
by Michael Sullivan (NPR)

Prosecutors in the genocide trial of a former Khmer Rouge prison chief demanded a 40-year jail sentence Wednesday for Kaing Guek Eav. They say he is responsible for snuffing out innocent lives and spreading terror across Cambodia. Victims of the Khmer Rouge regime called the requested sentence unacceptable.


Thirty years after the end of genocide in Cambodia, a trial is nearing its end. A former prison commander is the first former high ranking official to go on trial. He ran a prison called Tuol Sleng or S-21. He was an official in the Khmer Rouge, the group that ruled Cambodia during four years of torture and executions. As many as 1.7 million Cambodians died.

The prosecution is asking that Comrade Duch be given 40 years in prison. NPR's Michael Sullivan is at the trial in Phnom Penh, and we warn listeners that they may find some parts of this report disturbing.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN: Kaing Guek Eav's trial has been going on for nine months now. And during that time, the court has heard grizzly detail from survivors and from the Khmer Rouge's own meticulous record keeping, about the horrors inflicted on prisoners at Tuol Sleng. A list repeated by co-prosecutor William Smith today, as the prosecution wrapped up its case.

Savage beatings, fingernails and toenails pulled out with pliers, electrocution, all were part of the Tuol Sleng experience, Smith said, which ended for almost all of the prisoners at the killing field of Choeung Ek.

Mr. WILLIAM SMITH (Prosecutor): Blindfolded and handcuffed, the prisoners were forced to kneel down in the dark next to their own burial pits. There they waited until the blow of a shovel or car axle broke the back of their heads. And if that did not kill them their throats were slit before they were kicked into their grave.

SULLIVAN: The man accused of overseeing those executions isn't denying his guilt. Kaing Guek Eav, today, looked calm, relaxed even, in his blue button-down oxford and khakis, as the prosecutor spoke. The 67-year-old's defense, one he's repeated throughout the trial, that he was simply a cog in the machine, doing the bidding of his superiors lest he be killed, too. Duch, speaking through a translator, nonetheless apologized again today.

Mr. KAING GUEK EAV (Commander, Tuol Sleng prison): (Through translator) I still claim that I am solely and individually liable for the loss of at least 12,380 lives. I still and forever wish to most respectfully and humbly apologize to the dead souls.

SULLIVAN: Then Duch spoke to the handful of prisoners who managed to make it out of Tuol Sleng alive.

Mr. EAV: (Through translator) To the survivors, I stand by my acknowledgment of all crimes which were inflicted on you at S-21. I acknowledge them both in the legal and moral context.

SULLIVAN: Outside the courtroom, one of the survivors was having none of it. Chum Mey, who lost his wife and two children to the Khmer Rouge, a man imprisoned at Tuol Sleng for allegedly being a CIA spy, says his former jailer's remorse and pleas for forgiveness are both insincere and insufficient. The prosecution's recommendation of 40 years in prison for Duch, he says, not nearly enough.

Mr. CHUM MEY: (Foreign language spoken)

SULLIVAN: It's not justice, he says. Duch should get at least 70 to 80 years or life - or better yet, hang him, he says. Chum Mey says he's now going to have to light incense and pray that the souls of the dead may yet find justice when the court issues its verdict in the case some time next year.

Forty years on, many here are still looking for justice, or at least an explanation, why nearly two million people died during the four year long rule of the Khmer Rouge. But it's also true there are many here who simply aren't interested. I met both today, at a roadside video shop not a mile from the trial venue.

One young man, an accountant, said the tribunal was a good idea and would help the country heal from the wounds of that time. But his 20-year-old friend, a cell phone repair man, just laughed when I asked him about the tribunal. I don't know anything about it, he said. I can't even tell you who's on trial. That was a long time ago, he said, and right now, I'm too busy to care about that sort of thing.

Michael Sullivan, NPR News, Phnom Penh.
INSKEEP: This is NPR News

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