PHNOM PENH // In the final day of statements at a UN-backed war crimes tribunal yesterday, the Khmer Rouge's former prison chief, Kaing Guek Eav, asked to be released, saying he was not a high-ranking member of the regime. A panel of Cambodian and international judges will now deliberate the sentence for the man who ordered the torture and killing of as many as 17,000 people while he was in charge of the S-21 prison.
Prosecution lawyers have asked the court to sentence the 67-year-old to 40 years in prison, arguing that Mr Kaing, commonly known by his nom de guerre, "Duch", was a key intelligence operative in the regime who was devoted to his gruesome work. Defence lawyers this week asked for leniency, noting that Duch is the only suspect among the five former Khmer Rouge leaders who have been arrested to admit his guilt. They have also claimed Duch was made a scapegoat, pointing out that S-21 was only one of a network of similar prisons.
Duch himself has repeatedly begged forgiveness from his victims. But he also argued that he and his family would have been killed had he not followed orders. Regardless of the verdict, the trial has generated much needed "community discussion", said Panhavuth Long of the Open Society Justice Initiative. He said people travelled to Phnom Penh from all over the country to watch the proceedings and closely followed it in the media. He said such interest was a factor in integrating Khmer Rouge history into high school curriculums for the first time.