Khmer Rouge Chief Pleads for Forgiveness at Trial

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The man accused of being the Khmer Rouge's chief torturer put down his prepared speech, removed his eyeglasses and gazed at the courtroom audience as he pleaded for forgiveness from the country he helped terrorize three decades ago.

"At the beginning I only prayed to ask for forgiveness from my parents, but later I prayed to ask forgiveness from the whole nation," Kaing Guek Eav — better known as Duch — recounted on the second day of his trial before Cambodia's genocide tribunal.

The hundreds of spectators seated on the other side of a glass wall in the courtroom — including relatives of the regime's victims — listened intently to the gripping testimony.

Duch betrayed no emotion as he listened to allegations that his prisoners were beaten, electrocuted, smothered with plastic bags or had water poured into their noses, and that children were taken from parents and dropped to their deaths or that some prisoners were bled to death.

He got his first public opportunity to speak after prosecutors gave opening arguments Tuesday.

Duch said he tried to avoid becoming commander of Tuol Sleng, but once in the job, he feared for his family's lives if he did not carry out his duty to extract confessions from supposed enemies of the regime.

Nevertheless, he took responsibility "for crimes committed at S-21, especially the tortures and executions of the people there." He said he wanted "to express my deep regretfulness and my heartfelt sorrow" for all the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge.

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