Mixed Reports About Interrogation Practices In S-21
Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, former chief of notorious Tuol Sleng prison or Bureau S-21, once told Nate Thayer, reporter for Far Eastern Economic Review, about the mysteries in Tuol Sleng prison which no one else knew besides few people in the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK).
Duch mentioned that Tuol Sleng prison was a secret center, and in order to keep the secret of this prison, even [Khmer Rouge] soldiers who were working in Toul Sleng were not allowed to travel freely. “Therefore, they were slightly different from the prisoners in term of freedom,” said Duch.
“I never saw the river side though I had been working in Phnom Penh for 3 years. Neither did the other soldiers,” Duch told Nate Thayer in 1999 before he was arrested by the government.
Cambodian history researchers said that the main policies of Tuol Sleng prison were to search for the network of the betrayers of the revolution. “The prisoners were not “destroyed” immediately, but were interrogated and tortured ruthlessly over a period of time,” they said.
“Generally, prisoners at Tuol Sleng prison put their hands together and begged for lives by crying and asking for help from their mother, father or even Angkar to save them,” said people who used to interrogate Tuol Sleng prisoners.
“The tool for torturing was nothing but sticks plucked from “Mean” or Guava trees. There were no prepared torturing tools, but there were electric wires kept for torturing with electric current,” they said.
However, the former interrogators claimed that only small sticks were used for torturing. “We dared not to use big sticks since we were afraid that they would die. If any prisoner died of torturing, we’d be punished.”
In Tuol sleng prison, there were between 14,000 and 20,000 prisoners, most of whom were Khmer Rouge soldiers and cadres who were accused of betraying the revolution and taken from all over the country. Among those prisoners, less than ten people were lucky enough to be able to survive.
Vann Nath, an artist, was left alive since Duch wanted him to paint the portrait of Brother number one Pol Pot. “When a prison guard arrived in front of my cell, he called out my name, and I raised my hand. He ordered another guard to take the chain of out me while other 24 prisoners were also freed for a moment since the 25 prisoners were chained together and I was at the base,” Vann Nath described.
Vann Nath said that prison guards had told him that anyone who was chained at the base would not be alive. However, since he was transported to Tuol Sleng prison, he was never maltreated. He once checked his document and saw that he had yet to be questioned. While he was thinking that sooner or later, he would be interrogated, Vietnamese troops arrived, so he was released. He said that during the torturing, prisoners’ backs were critically injured due to being beaten with sticks.
It is a great suffering hearing that no former Khmer Rouge leaders dared to take the responsibilities of the atrocities committed although there are enough evidence such as documents, witnesses, photos, and mass graves which can prove the existence of Tuol Sleng prison and Boeung Cheung Aek Killing Fields.
Former Khmer Rouge leaders have always denied that they knew about Tuol Sleng prison. When Pol Pot was still alive, he told Nate Thayer in 1997 that he was the one who had decided senior Khmer Rouge officials’ fates. However, Pol Pot denied the presence of Tuol Sleng prison [in his regime] and claimed that skulls at Boeung Cheung Aek Killing Fields were not Cambodians’.
The researchers pointed out that top Khmer Rouge leaders had experimented that the important factor which helped their movement to achieved many things and be victorious on April 17, 1975 was “confidentiality”.
Based on this motive, the Khmer Rouge still continued to lead the country in a shadowy and mysterious ways, though they had already controlled the whole country.
All the tragedies in CKP’s mysterious Tuol Sleng prison, which have been found related with Son Sen, who controlled and appointed Kaing Guek Eav, aka Duch, to direct this prison, were also known and ordered by Nuon Chea.
At present, former Tuol Sleng prison chief is being detained provisionally awaiting trials at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal for crimes against humanity.
Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, has selected two lawyers to defend him, Cambodian lawyer Kar Savuth and French lawyer Francois Roux. Roux said that he had already been sworn in as a part to start the legal procedure in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).
“I am happy that I can participate in justice finding in the Khmer Rouge Tribunal,” said Francois Roux.