Torture, a Collage: The Testimony of Prak Khan, S-21 Interrogator
Villain: (The Civil Parties)
With this chapter, the book moves from the midpoint of the trial to the closing arguments. The civil parties went first, with lawyers summarizing the testimony of a number of survivors and indirect victims during the trial. Of particular importance was the testimony of the four living survivors of S-21, Vann Nath, Bou Meng, Chum Mey, and Norng Chanphal, all of whom testified during one week at the midpoint of the trial. As the civil parties’ lawyers reminded the court during the closings, these men’s testimony, especially that of Vann Nath, undercut some of Duch’s key claims, including his claims that he rarely visited the prison and did not hear the screams of prisoners, even though he acknowledged visiting the prisoner artisan workshop on occasion. Bou Meng also testified that Duch once ordered another prisoner and Bou Meng to fight. Drawing on these narratives and the stories of indirect victims whose relatives had been killed at S-21, the civil party lawyers made it clear that they thought that Duch, even though he had spoken quite frequently, was not telling the full truth, only what there was already documentary evidence proving.
This chapter provides an overview of the prosecution’s arguments about Duch, whom they characterized as a zealot who fervently carried out orders. As opposed to being a cog in the machine, they argued, he displayed initiative. His handwriting, they reminded the court, was all over the documentary evidence. While this chapter, in keeping with the book’s ethnodramatic style, highlights the testimony of the prosecution, it also explores the production of juridical truth, which is calibrated to accord with a legal frame that matches evidence to components of the law, thereby suggesting criminality and a black-and-white decision of guilt. Behind the scenes, there is a flow of information, much of it on electronic databases, that drives the process.
Before Duch’s lawyers presented their closing arguments, he delivered his own argument about his innocence, presented as a documentary “proof,” perhaps in keeping with his background as a mathematician. His lawyers then picked up on their argument that he had been a cog in the machine and a scapegoat, since, they said, he had not been a top leader. One of his lawyers, François Roux, also argued that the prosecution had missed an opportunity with history by seeking to portray Duch as a monster even though he sought to claim his humanity and hoped for dialogue and forgiveness, a claim many of the civil parties did not seem to believe. A critical divide emerged in the defense at this time, however, as Duch’s Cambodian lawyer seemed to argue for release, while his French lawyer argued for mitigation of the sentence. This produced a minor uproar at the end of the closings, with the civil parties and prosecution demanding that Duch’s defense make clear what he was arguing. After back-and-forth, Duch sided with his Cambodian lawyer, who told the court that Duch wanted to be acquitted. This undercut a key assumption for many observers of the trial—that Duch was cooperating in the hope of getting a reduced sentence. Suddenly everything had changed.
The Accused: (Trial Chamber Judgment)
This chapter examines the culminating act in the trial: the pronouncement of the verdict. Building on chapter 8, this chapter examines how a verdict is produced using a particular calibration/articulation of “fact” within the “thick frame” of law, a frame that, as the larger argument of this book suggests, edits out much. Illustrating the redactic, the chapter discusses some of the controversies that emerged immediately after the verdict (Duch was found guilty), including controversies over the potentially short length of his sentence and the denial of the applications that some of the civil parties who had been participating throughout the trial had submitted. The chapter also includes a discussion of the spatial matrix and symbolism of the court, including notions of “the dock” and “the well” and their connection to juridical power. Here, as before, the articulation-redaction dynamic echoes the dynamic that took place at S-21 and is more broadly part of our everyday ways of thinking (the banality of everyday thought).