Defence counsel for former “Brother No 2” Nuon Chea struck back after days of witness testimony that has repeatedly implicated his client in the running of the notorious S-21 prison, during the Khmer Rouge Tribunal yesterday.
Former S-21 chief Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, had previously testified that from August 15, 1977, onwards, his former superior Son Sen had left Phnom Penh for the battlefield and Duch was to report directly to Nuon Chea – a claim Chea has rejected.
Yesterday, defence lawyer Victor Koppe confronted Duch with a series of documents and news broadcasts that showed Son Sen was present in Phnom Penh on multiple occasions after his purported departure.
Duch explained Son Sen’s recurring presence in the capital, as well as the continued appearance of his signature on prisoner confessions, by saying his former supervisor was regularly called back from the front and was authorised to complete unfinished work at S-21.
When Koppe asked Duch if he had any documents to back up the claim that he was supervised by Nuon Chea, Duch said: “I have no evidence”.
“You were a party member of the lowest level. You couldn’t possibly know, could you?” Koppe pressed.
“How could I not know about that issue?” Duch responded. “Uncle Nuon called me to meetings with him and said Son Sen had gone to the battlefield . . . and I had to work with him to do the tasks.”
Koppe also asked if Duch, as the commander of a regiment, had held a similar rank to Prime Minister Hun Sen – also a regimental commander under the Khmer Rouge. However, Duch said they differed because Hun Sen’s “soldiers were fully armed and nobody dared to get in his way”.
“So Hun Sen could flee to Vietnam with his fully armed soldiers . . . but I could not do that because I had nothing,” Duch said.
Duch also testified that because members of the upper echelon were frequently implicated in confessions extracted through torture, one confession was not enough to justify an arrest – however, some cadres were placed under intense surveillance during the regime, he added.
Presented with a historical estimate that roughly 4,300 confessions had been extracted at S-21, Duch said he didn’t know if it was accurate.
“I cannot say anything about that . . . because there were many prisoners who were smashed without having confessions,” he said.