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Torture Chief Unruffled in First Khmer Rouge Public Hearing

To listen to Sok Khemara & Heng Reaksmey Q&A, .

To listen to Mean Veasna's report, .

The prison chief known as Duch, under whose watch 16,000 Cambodians allegedly were tortured and executed, remained calm and detached in a quiet tribunal hearing and a long day of questioning Tuesday.

Tribunal judges must decide whether Duch should be released ahead of an atrocity crimes trial, scheduled for next year.

In the first public hearing of a former Khmer Rouge cadre, Duch appealed directly to the court to release him, claiming Cambodia's military courts held him illegally for eight years without trial.

"Respected court, I'm filing an appeal because I was detained without trial for 8 years, 6 months, and 10 days," Duch said to a five-judge hybrid panel that included two UN-appointed foreigners.

Duch, whose real name is Kaing Khek Iev, was transferred from the military courts to the tribunal in July and is being held on charges of crimes against humanity.

"It might be that Duch will be condemned to life imprisonment, leading to concerns that he will try to go on the run" if released, Pre-Trial Chamber Judge Hout Vuthy said during the hearing. "The detention is a method to ensure Duch's personal security."

Duch's lawyer, Kar Savuth, called Duch's lengthy detention a violation of national and international laws and standards.

But for Chum Mei, a survivor of Duch's Tuol Sleng prison, also known as S-21, Duch has had it easy so far.

"Duch's lawyer only talks about his client not committing any offense, so I feel bad," Chum Mei said. "The cell has a TV, an air conditioner, a radio, doctors. But for me, I slept among feces and urine."

For many Cambodians, this was the first time ever they'd seen, live, a top surviving member of the brutal regime. Tribunal architects had hoped that a hearing open to the public would help bring a sense of participation to Cambodians.

"The people are paying attention and monitoring" the hearing, said Seng Theary, executive director of the Center for Social Development.

Though the process took some time, it was worth it, as participants were a part of history, she said.

"The hearing started at 10 am, and it is now almost 1 pm," she said. "This shows justice takes time and attention. In the future, it is important for the people."

She thanked the tribunal for making the hearing public.

"The people will follow the details, and other people will also participate," she said.

Chum Mei said the former leaders of the Khmer Rouge could provide reconciliation by "asking for forgiveness."

"Then I will be satisfied," he said.