Nuon Chea Defense Mounts ‘Orwellian’ Argument, Prosecution Says

It was “raining lies” in the Khmer Rouge tribunal courtroom when the Nuon Chea defense gave its closing statement this week, and its claims that interrogations in the regime’s prisons did not amount to torture were “Orwellian,” the prosecution said in its rebuttal on Thursday.

Using one final morning to argue its case, the prosecution responded to some of the claims made by the defense teams for Khmer Rouge second-in-command Nuon Chea and head of state Khieu Samphan, who are on trial for crimes against humanity and genocide.

Nuon Chea speaks at the Khmer Rouge tribunal last year in a still image from the court’s video feed. (ECCC)

Assistant prosecutor Dale Lysak saved almost all his wrath for the Nuon Chea defense, accusing his lawyers of peddling deliberate untruths.

“I’m sure you’re familiar with the old saying about propaganda, that if you repeat a lie often enough people may start believing it,” he said.

“I can only speak for myself, your honors, but for me it felt like it was raining lies in this courtroom for two days.”

He scoffed at the claim that the regime had “clear rules” on interrogations, as well as the claim that methods employed in security centers did not amount to torture. Nuon Chea’s national defense lawyer Liv Sovanna has argued that the Khmer translation of the word “torture” had many meanings, including parents disciplining their children.

“Most amazingly, they tried to argue to you that the word torture doesn’t really mean torture,” Mr. Lysak said.

“Who was peddling narratives in this courtroom? This was an Orwellian narrative. Black is white, 2+2=5, torture is not really torture,” he said.

“Tell that to Chum Mey, whose toenails were ripped from his feet and his finger broken as he tried to defend himself from repeated strikes with sticks. Tell that to Bou Meng, who was electrified near his genitals,” he added, in reference to surviving prisoners of Phnom Penh’s notorious S-21 detention center, who sell their harrowing autobiographies inside what is now the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

International co-prosecutor Nicholas Koumjian also focused on torture within the regime’s most famous prison, accusing Nuon Chea of sanctioning violent interrogations to justify purges of perceived traitors.

“Why did the Khmer Rouge torture? It wasn’t to get a confession to take to court because there was no court; they were going to kill everybody anyway,” he said.

“Why did they torture and make such an effort to obtain these confessions? For political reasons. To try to justify their murderous regime—for exactly the same reason Nuon Chea is presenting it now,” he said.

“Nuon Chea should not be allowed to again try to profit from the blood of those who were tortured at S-21 and other security centers.”

Mr. Lysak said the claim by the Nuon Chea defense that it did not have time to address S-21 in its closing statement was an excuse.

“Their silence on S-21 and the child prisoners, your honors, spoke volumes,” Mr. Lysak said, adding that the defense could be planning to use its own rebuttal, set for today, to raise the issue. The prosecution would not be allowed a further response.

“Perhaps tomorrow they will try to talk about S-21 so that no one has an opportunity to respond. If so, shame on them,” he said.

“But so be it. Nothing they can say changes the evidence that proves their client’s guilt.”

Both defendants are scheduled to speak in court today.

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