Khmer Rouge member asks for acquittal on war crimes, torture charges

By Tim Johnston
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, November 27, 2009; 9:00 AM

BANGKOK -- Kaing Khek Iev, who ran the Khmer Rouge's most notorious prison, unexpectedly asked judges in Phnom Penh on Friday to acquit him of charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes, murder and torture.

The former high school mathematics teacher, better known by the nom de guerre Duch, ran S-21, a prison where some 15,000 men, women and children were tortured before being killed.

Duch has admitted that he ran the institution, housed in a former high school in the Cambodian capital, but said he never personally tortured or executed anyone. A born-again Christian, he has expressed remorse and asked for forgiveness, telling the court he was merely following orders and would have been executed himself had he not obeyed.

On Friday, Duch's attorneys told the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia that their client was not a senior member of the Khmer Rouge, the regime that caused the death of as many as 1.7 million Cambodians in its attempt to create a utopian agrarian society in the late 1970s.

"I would ask the chambers to release me," Duch said at the end of his closing statement. "Thank you very much."

Prosecutors have asked that Duch be sentenced to 40 years in jail.

For eight months, the court -- a hybrid institution consisting of both Cambodian and international judges, prosecutors and defenders -- has heard a litany of horror from the families of victims, historians, and most poignantly, some of the few men and women who escaped death.

The court was shown original confessions extracted under torture, some with annotations in Duch's hand that the prisoner should be tortured further. They heard how inmates were tortured and beaten -- favored techniques included mutilation, waterboarding and draining prisoners of blood -- before being driven out to the killing fields. There, adults were slain by being hit in the back of the head with a mattock, a tool similar to a pickaxe, and children were held by the legs and swung about so their heads smashed into tree trunks.

Duch, 67, is the first prominent member of the Khmer Rouge to go on trial. Pol Pot, the French-educated architect of the slaughter, died of natural causes in 1998. Four of his alleged senior lieutenants, including Nuon Chea -- "Brother Number Two" -- and Ieng Sary, the regime's foreign minister, are due to go on trial next year.

The court, which has the authority to impose a maximum sentence of life in prison, is expected to hand down a verdict in the Duch case early next year.

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