Duch trial ends with a twist

09 December 2009 by Thierry Cruvellier

“Do I infer that the accused is seeking an acquittal?” asked Judge Cartwright.
“I did say that. Release means an acquittal,” responded Cambodian defence counsel Kar Savuth.

These were the final words in the trial of Kaing Guek Eav, a.k.a. Duch, the former head of the Khmer Rouge detention and torture centre S-21. They signalled the implosion of Duch’s defence team after an eight month trial during which it had appeared to be the most well-prepared and cohesive party by far. 

At the last possible moment, during closing arguments last month, the Cambodian co-counsel asked for his client to be released, arguing that the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) lacked jurisdiction to try Duch since he had never been a senior leader of the Khmer Rouge regime.

This was a complete reversal from what had been the defence line for more than two years under French co-counsel François Roux. Under Roux’s guidance, Duch had pleaded guilty, apologized to his victims and said that he would accept the harshest sentence for his crimes.

But he is now asking to be acquitted, openly siding with his Cambodian lawyer against his French one. In a final twist, the defence team effectively destroyed itself, without any help from the prosecution.

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