A senior interrogator at the most notorious Khmer Rouge prison told a genocide tribunal yesterday that even he feared the regime would one day turn on him and order his execution.
He testified at the trial of Kaing Guek Eav — better known as Duch — who headed the S-21 prison in Phnom Penh. Up to 16,000 people were tortured under Duch’s command and later taken away to be killed during the Khmer Rouge’s 1975 to 1979 rule.
Mam Nai, 76, told the court that he was overcome by fear when Duch stripped him of his main duties after prisoners said he had visited their homes — socializing prohibited by the regime.
Mam Nai said that regardless of their loyalty or rank, Khmer Rouge officials could be arrested and executed on suspicion of being traitors. Mam Nai himself was allegedly responsible for interrogating and torturing high-ranking members of the Communist Party of Kampuchea accused of plotting against the regime.
An estimated 1.7 million Cambodians died of hunger, disease or were executed during the Khmer Rouge reign of terror.
“When Duch told me I was implicated and later removed me from my interrogation task, I was so worried that probably Duch no longer trusted me and he would find some kind of pretext to arrest me,” Mam Nai said.
On Tuesday, he denied using torture to extract confessions from S-21 prisoners — a stark contrast to Duch’s earlier recitation of the grisly techniques routinely used.
Confronted by prosecutors yesterday with his own logbook, which contained numerous references to torture, he denied any knowledge that inmates were abused.
“Personally, I was never instructed on how torture was used,” Mam Nai said. “And I have no idea what other kinds of practices were applied by other interrogators.”
When prosecutor William Smith asked whether he was seeking to block from his mind the “horrible criminality” of his past actions, Mam Nai said: “I have never had such [an] idea. I am testifying based on the activities I have done.”
He repeatedly fended off questions about conditions at Tuol Sleng, saying he could not remember or wished to remain silent.
Meanwhile, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) yesterday demanded Cambodia’s rulers end a spate of legal action against critics, which it called the government’s “harshest crackdown in years” on free speech.
HRW alleged Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government aimed to silence political opposition and critics with a recent “campaign of harassment, threats, and unwarranted legal action.”
Authorities have lodged at least nine criminal defamation and disinformation complaints against journalists, lawmakers, lawyers and government critics since April.