Prisoners tortured and starved, Khmer Rouge tribunal hears (Lead)

March 30th, 2009 - 7:43 pm ICT by IANS  

Phnom Penh, March 30 (DPA) Detainees in the Khmer Rouge’s most notorious prison were tortured and starved and used for medical experiments, according to a pre-trial investigation whose results were read out Monday as Cambodia’s UN-backed genocide tribunal began the most crucial stage of the long-awaited trial of the regime’s former chief torturer.
In the tribunal’s first trial, Kaing Guek Eav, known by his revolutionary name Duch, faces charges of crimes against humanity, premeditated murder, torture and breeches of the Geneva Conventions, allegedly committed more than three decades ago when he was chairman of the Tuol Sleng torture facility, also known as S-21.

“Several witnesses said Duch was feared by everyone at S-21,” said the findings of the investigation, which led to Duch’s indictment. “Duch said that the role of S-21 was not to determine whether detainees were traitors as their guilt was already established by the fact that they had been arrested and sent to S-21.”

Duch has previously admitted guilt for crimes committed at the Phnom Penh prison, which was established shortly after the Khmer Rouge came to power and was aimed at “smashing” enemies of the regime. At least 12,000 men, women and children were tortured there and sent to be murdered in the Khmer Rouge’s “Killing Fields” during the ultra-communists’ 1975-79 rule.

The findings said prisoners were routinely tortured, shackled in tiny cells for almost 24 hours a day, were not permitted to speak unless being interrogated, received barely any food and were “forced to urinate in jerry cans and defecate in ammunition boxes”.

“Evidence suggests that S-21 personnel performed medical experimentation on prisoners,” the findings said.

Duch, 66, dressed in a white shirt and grey trousers, sat quietly in the dock during the session, occasionally taking notes.

Prosecutors and defence lawyers were scheduled to deliver their opening addresses during Monday’s session, which began the first substantial hearing of Duch’s trial, but presiding judge Nil Nonn granted an adjournment until Tuesday morning on a request by national co-prosecutor Chea Leang, who wanted enough time to deliver the prosecution’s full two-hour opening statement.

Nil Nonn opened the hearing just after 10 a.m. (0300 GMT) and asked Duch a series of brief questions to verify his identity.

The judge then ordered the court’s registrar to read out the findings of the pre-trial investigation for the first time.

Duch, a former mathematics teacher and born-again Christian, is one of five former Khmer Rouge leader facing trial for their roles in the deaths of up to 2 million people - or a quarter of Cambodia’s population at the time - through execution, overwork or starvation.

The first stage of the trial began in February and the current hearing has been scheduled to run for at least 40 days.

Tuol Sleng survivors, witnesses and experts have been called to testify during the hearing.

Duch faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

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