Khmer Rouge torture, killings detailed at opening trial
Cambodia's reign of terror ended in 1979
PHNOM PENH - Khmer Rouge executioners threw victims to their deaths, bludgeoned them and then slit their bellies, or had medics draw so much blood that their lives drained away, prosecutors alleged yesterday at the opening trial of Cambodia's genocide tribunal.
The grisly accounts were part of the indictment read into the record for the regime's chief torturer and prison warden, Kaing Guek Eav, or Duch, the first suspect to face justice a full three decades after the Khmer Rouge's 1975-79 reign of terror.
Disabled survivors of the regime joined young law students and other spectators in a modern custom-built courtroom on the outskirts of Phnom Penh to watch the long-delayed proceedings get underway.
Duch, now 66, commanded the group's main S-21 prison, also known as Tuol Sleng, where as many as 16,000 men, women, and children are believed to have been brutalized before being sent to their deaths.
"I have mixed feelings. I am angry because the Khmer Rouge killed my wife," said 68-year-old Bou Meng, one of a handful of S-21 survivors. "I am happy because the Khmer Rouge leader was brought here today to be prosecuted."
The tribunal alleges that Duch oversaw such atrocities as execution by bloodletting, and the hurling of children down three stories to their deaths.
He is charged with committing crimes against humanity and war crimes, as well as torture and homicide, and could face a maximum penalty of life in prison. Cambodia has no death penalty.
The UN-assisted tribunal is seeking to establish responsibility for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians from starvation, medical neglect, slave-like working conditions, and execution under the Khmer Rouge, whose top leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998.
Duch's job was to extract confessions of counterrevolutionary activity, but "Every prisoner who arrived at S-21 was destined for execution," said the indictment against him.
No witnesses testified yesterday, and Duch spoke briefly only to confirm his identity and background for the court. But the reading of the 45-page indictment against Duch provided vivid snapshots of the "Killing Fields" years.
"According to Duch, only four methods of torture were allowed: beating, electrocution, placing a plastic bag over the head and pouring water into the nose," said the indictment.
Among the more lurid accusations was that children of prisoners were taken from their parents to be put to death by dropping them from the third floor of a prison building to break their necks.