PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — The prison chief being tried for running a Khmer Rouge torture center apologized but said he was only following orders and couldn't stop the abuse and the thousands of killings there, as prosecutors sought a 40-year prison sentence.
Defense attorneys in Cambodia's first genocide tribunal continued their closing arguments Thursday. Kaing Guek Eav, 67, is charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes, murder and torture, which carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Some survivors and other victims of the Khmer Rouge attending the U.N.-backed trial said a 40-year prison term, which would likely lock up Kaing Guek Eav for life, would not be harsh enough.
"I cannot accept this sentence request because it is too little," Chum Mey, 78, one of a handful of survivors from the S-21 prison run three decades ago by Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, said Wednesday. "He should get 70 or 80 years. ... He should be punished by hanging, but Cambodian law doesn't allow it."
Judges are to decide the verdict and sentence by early next year.
About 16,000 men, women and children suspected of disloyalty were tortured at the S-21 prison in Phnom Penh before being taken away for execution. In total, some 1.7 million Cambodians died due to the radical communist policies of the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime and their French-educated leader, the late Pol Pot. Four other senior leaders are in custody, and expected to face trial in the next year.
Duch (pronounced DOIK) has denied personally killing or torturing the S-21 prisoners, and testified that he acted with reluctance on orders from his superiors, fearing for the safety of his family and himself.
Addressing the court Wednesday, Duch once again apologized to the dead, their families, survivors of the regime and to all Cambodians – something he has done repeatedly since the trial began in March.
He said he was "deeply remorseful and profoundly affected by the destruction on such a mind-boggling scale."
But he also emphasized that he was not alone in carrying out torture and killings, which also took place at 196 prisons across the country, and insisted there was little he could do to prevent the horror at S-21.
"I could do nothing to help," he said. "Pol Pot regarded these people as thorns in his eyes."
One of his lawyers, Kar Savuth, said his client was not a senior Khmer Rouge leader responsible for the group's policies and therefore should not be prosecuted.
Australian co-prosecutor William Smith earlier acknowledged Duch's admissions of guilt and the fact that he has given evidence against other Khmer Rouge leaders, but said he still must be held accountable.
"The crimes committed by the accused at S-21 are rarely matched in modern history in terms of their combined barbarity, scope, duration, premeditation and their callousness," he said. "Not just the victims and their families but the whole of humanity demand a just and proportionate response to these crimes and this court must speak on behalf of that humanity."