Thursday, March 22, 2012

Leaders had final say

In this second day on the stand this week, former S-21 prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, aka Duch, yesterday described a regime marked by a rigid top-down hierarchy.

Duch, who is testifying in the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s Case 002 against three surviving senior leaders of the regime, said little if anything could be done without a superior’s direct orders.

“For example, one time, a cadre arrested someone (without orders), and then he too was later arrested,” Duch said, explaining that arrest meant the subject should then be “smashed and convicted”.

Prosecutors must establish that the three leaders, “Brother No 2” Nuon Chea, ex-president Khieu Samphan, and former Foreign Affairs Minister Ieng Sary were part of a joint criminal enterprise responsible for the deaths of more than 2 million Cambodians.

Duch’s testimony will be particularly key in implicating Nuon Chea in the common criminal plan. “I met Nuon Chea and I reported to him on a regular basis,” the torture and detention centre chief, responsible for the deaths of more than 12,000, said yesterday. Nuon Chea interrupted Duch’s testimony, using one of his trademark analogies to express his desire for Duch to be disqualified as a witness.

“The people never use bad tree stumps to ... sculpt into a Buddha for people to pay homage to,” Nuon Chea said, likening a respected Buddha figure to a court witness and Duch to a witness crafted from bad wood.

Nuon Chea, who customarily retires from the courtroom at lunch time, requested at about 3pm for proceedings to be adjourned and for him to rest in the holding cells at the court.

Judge Nil Nonn followed the request by ordering an immediate medical examination of Nuon Chea, then quickly accusing his defence lawyer Michiel Pestman of interfering in the exam by entering the examination room. He subsequently adjourned the hearing.Earlier in the day, Duch gave testimony on the evacuation of Phnom Penh, which is the key crime the first segment of Case 002 is focused on.

“The people were told to walk,” Duch said of the city’s population. “The evacuation of the people was done forcibly … Those who refused the evacuation would be shot.” Defence counsel for Ieng Sary and Nuon Chea raised concerns that Duch’s narrative had been reconstructed by information Duch has learned about events after the fact.

“A clear foundation must be laid as to what exactly the gentleman knew,” defence counsel Michael Karnavas said. “What he read after 1979 and since he has been incarcerated and ... from his lawyers – all this information has been incorporated not just into his memory but into his narrative.”