A Change of Guard

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Thursday, 31 March 2011

Dispute Over Sentence of Khmer Rouge Prison Chief

The New York Times
Published: March 30, 2011
Read original article here.

BANGKOK — Prosecutors and defense attorneys both asked for drastic changes this week in the sentence given to the former commandant of the Khmer Rouge’s main prison and torture center.

In a three-day appeal hearing outside Phnom Penh prosecutors asked for a maximum sentence of life in prison. The defense asked for an acquittal that could allow the immediate release of the defendant, Kaing Guek Eav (pictured), better known as Duch.

He is the first Khmer Rouge official to stand trial for atrocities committed when the radical Communist regime held power in Cambodia, causing the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people from 1975 to 1979. Four senior Khmer Rouge leaders are in custody in what is known as Case Two, which court officers say is expected to start this summer.

Last July Duch was sentenced to 35 years in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity after an emotional and sometimes lurid trial describing the torture and killing of inmates at the Tuol Sleng prison.

The sentence was reduced to 19 years for time served and because of technicalities, arousing an outcry from survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime. It meant that Duch, now 68, could possibly walk free one day, particularly if the sentence is reduced for good behavior.

More than 14,000 prisoners were held and interrogated at Tuol Sleng; only a handful survived to see the Khmer Rouge driven from power by a Vietnamese invasion. The trial included vivid testimony, mostly from Duch, about prisoners’ torture and execution.

During the trial Duch acknowledged and apologized for his crimes in what many analysts saw as a tactic to obtain a lighter sentence, though some observers also saw genuine remorse. Then, on the final day of the trial, he fired the French lawyer who had constructed this defense. His Cambodian co-counsel said Duch was not guilty and demanded his immediate release.

During the appeal hearings this week his lawyers repeated that demand using a familiar defense — that Duch had obeyed his superiors for fear of execution. They called the tribunal, which is supported by the United Nations, “nothing but a venue for vengeance.”

“He had no other choice than to implement the orders, otherwise he would have been killed,” said one of his lawyers, Kang Ritheary, addressing the judges. “If you were in his shoes in 1979, what would you have done?”

Prosecutors, meanwhile, had their own criticisms of the court’s sentence last year. They said too much weight had been given to mitigating factors like Duch’s cooperation and his qualified expressions of remorse.

“We call for the imposition of a life term, reduced to 45 years,” said a prosecutor, Andrew Cayley. That figure takes into account 11 years Duch spent in illegal detention in a military jail. “For the purposes of history, a life term must be imposed,” Mr. Cayley said.

Duch’s unexpected declaration of innocence at the end of the trial undercut his claim of remorse, Mr. Cayley said.

A ruling is expected this summer.

Also this summer the second trial is due to begin, focusing on the four surviving senior members of the Khmer Rouge, all in their 70s and 80s and in poor health. The top Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998. The defendants in Case Two are Nuon Chea, known as the movement’s chief ideologist; Khieu Samphan, the former head of state; Ieng Sary, who was foreign minister; and his wife, Ieng Thirith, who was minister for social affairs.

Although much of the world’s attention has moved far away from the decades-old crimes of the Khmer Rouge, the atrocities still arouse intense feelings in this traumatized country.

Norng Chan Phal, who was rescued as a child from Tuol Sleng when it fell to the Vietnamese in 1979, burst into tears on the first day of testimony Monday when he heard defense lawyers arguing for acquittal, according to Reach Sambath, chief spokesman for the tribunal.

“This is crazy,” he shouted, flinging a plastic bottle of water to the ground.

“He lost control,” Mr. Sambath said. “He said: ‘There is no justice! This is not justice for my father and mother who died in Tuol Sleng.’ ”

Mr. Sambath said he had comforted him saying that he, too, had lost his parents and that it was time to move forward and to let the law take its course.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I will be angry if this guy got a way from punishment...I felt he's got of the hook!