By Seth Mydans, New York Times, 14 July 2009
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — “Where were you tortured and when?”
For the past two weeks, judges and lawyers in the trial of a Khmer Rouge prison chief have probed for details about the suffering of victims of a regime that caused the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people between 1975 and 1979.
As personal stories of terror and brutality fill the courtroom for the first time, even the defendant, Kaing Guek Eav, or Duch, has at times dropped his hard mask and broken down in tears.
“I send my respects to the soul of your wife,” he told one witness, Bou Meng, whose wife died in the prison and whom Duch (pronounced DOIK) had come to know when he pulled him from a row of shackled prisoners and put him to work as a painter.
Bou Meng put his face in his hands. Duch, his lips quivering, turned his back on the courtroom, and both men wept.
Duch, 66, is the first of five central figures from the Khmer Rouge regime to be tried here in a United Nations-backed tribunal. He faces charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes as commandant of Tuol Sleng prison, where at least 14,000 people were tortured and sent to their deaths.
Duch has taken responsibility for the torture and killings at the camp, and he expressed “heartfelt sorrow” when he took the stand. But he has also placed himself within a chain of command where disobedience often meant death.