Friday, September 11, 2009

An Englishman at S-21

The image of John Dewhirst after his capture and incarceration at Tuol Sleng
The only Englishman known to have been murdered at Tuol Sleng, aka S-21, in late 1978, John Dewhirst, is the focus of this article in The Daily Mail newspaper yesterday.

The Englishman butchered in Cambodia's killing fields: The terrifying tale of the British tourist who blundered into horror of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge - by Andrew Malone, The Daily Mail (UK)

At an old school building in Cambodia, the startled face of John Dewhirst stares down from the wall. A teacher from Newcastle, Dewhirst is the only British citizen with his official photograph on display. It's a distinction his sister, Hilary, will curse until the day she dies. Clean-shaven, his long hair neat for the cameras, Dewhirst's portrait is one of thousands pinned around the building. They were taken by the perpetrators of one of the darkest episodes in the history of the human race. Between 1975 and 1979, the school was renamed Tuol Sleng - Hill Of The Poisonous Trees. The sound of children playing and laughing was replaced by screams for mercy as horror stalked the classrooms and corridors.

The communist Khmer Rouge had seized control of Cambodia and transformed the school into a 're- education centre' to hold enemies of 'agrarian socialism' (a return to the Stone Age with peasants working by hand in the fields, and all modern aspects of life outlawed). Pol Pot, the French-educated Khmer Rouge leader, decreed a new Cambodian calendar to start again at Year Zero - a true beginning of the world in which all should live as they did at the dawn of time. Pot, who styled himself Brother Number One, ordered that the entire population should live off the land, with no medicine and starvation rations. Dissidents were eliminated. 'To keep you is no benefit - to destroy you no loss,' was his favoured mantra. After driving the entire Cambodian population out of towns and cities, the Khmer Rouge separated those who could read, write or wore glasses - anyone, in fact, who betrayed signs of being educated. They were taken to Tuol Sleng, where the classrooms were modified in anticipation of their arrival.

Desks and chairs were removed and replaced with iron bed frames, manacles and instruments of torture. In a chilling echo of the Nazi death camps, rooms were set aside for 'medical experiments'. With the borders sealed, inmates were sliced open and had organs removed with no anaesthetic. Some were drowned in tanks of water. Others were attached to intravenous pumps and every drop of blood was drained from their bodies to see how long they could survive. Electric shocks to the genitals were routine. The most difficult prisoners were skinned alive. Babies were held by the feet and swung headfirst against walls, smashing their skulls. Other inmates of Tuol Sleng, also known as S-21, were taken to an infamous place that later became known as the Killing Fields, a beautiful orchard just a few miles away on the outskirts of the capital city, Phnom Penh. There, prisoners were ordered to dig their own graves. Then, to save on bullets, they were bludgeoned to death with iron bars and chunks of wood. Up to 17,000 perished in Tuol Sleng; across Cambodia, almost two million - a quarter of the population - died. Brother Number One brushed aside his blood-lust, saying: 'He who protests is an enemy, he who opposes is a corpse.'

So how did a Briton, on a sailing trip around the Far East with friends, become caught up in this horror? Only now can the full, awful truth about what really happened to John Dewhirst and his companions finally be told. Like much that took place during the years of Cambodia's genocide, there is no happy ending to the story of the Geordie captured by Pol Pot. Indeed, his fate may have been even worse than his friends and family feared at the time. Recently, at the historic trial of the camp commandant, Kaing Guek Eav, disturbing testimony emerged that the 26-year-old and his companions were not executed swiftly, as previously thought. The special UN court in Cambodia heard harrowing claims that the Western sailors were taken outside and burned alive in the streets of the capital, having first endured months of torture and being forced to sign lengthy confessions about their true identities as American spies. Cheam Soeu, 52, a guard at Tuol Sleng, told how he saw fellow Khmer Rouge torturers lead one of the foreign men out on the street at night and force him to sit on the ground. A car tyre was put over him and set alight. 'I saw the charred torso and black burned legs [afterwards],' he said.

Pol Pot had personally given instructions that all evidence of the existence of Dewhirst and his friends was to be destroyed. In a message to his 'fellow brothers' in the Khmer Rouge, their leader stated: 'It's better to kill an innocent by mistake than spare an enemy by mistake.' Kaing Guek Eav, a former teacher, was in charge of Tuol Sleng. Also known as Duch, he is one of five former Khmer Rouge leaders to be tried for crimes against humanity. A cold-blooded killer, Duch used to 'mark' the confessions of his prisoners, sending the papers back to the cells with notes in the margins suggesting improvements to grammar and sentence structure. Every prisoner was forced to pose for photographs soon after capture. The Khmer Rouge leadership was determined to keep an accurate record of all the 'enemies of the revolution' - and even took photos of some of their victims being tortured. They included people caught speaking a foreign language, scavenging for food or crying for dead loved ones. Some Khmer Rouge loyalists were killed for failing to find enough 'counter-revolutionaries' to execute. Duch was a trusted confidant of Pol Pot, and has confirmed that the Westerners were doomed from the moment they were seized and taken to Tuol Sleng. 'I received an order from my superiors that the Westerners had to be smashed and burned to ashes,' he told the court. 'It was an absolute order from my superiors.' This is confirmed by secret Khmer Rouge documents. 'Every prisoner who arrived at S-21 was destined for execution. The policy at S-21 was that no prisoner could be released. Prisoners brought to S-21 by mistake were executed in order to ensure secrecy and security.'

Until the awful events of 1978, John Dewhirst had led an idyllic existence. Born in Newcastle, the family moved to Cumbria when John was 11. A sports enthusiast and climber, he relished outdoor life and spent his boyhood roaming the Cumbrian countryside. He was keen on shooting, fishing and canoeing - yet his older sister, Hilary, says he had a sensitive side, too. As he grew older, John developed a love of literature; he wrote poems and hoped to become a novelist. After finishing his A-levels, and much to the pride of his father, a retired headmaster and his mother, who ran an antiques shop, John won a place to study English at Loughborough University. After finishing his degree and his teacher training, he decided to explore the world - buying a one-way ticket to Tokyo, where he planned to work for a year teaching English, earning enough money to travel back overland to the UK. A popular, laid-back individual, John became good friends with other young westerners in Tokyo. New Zealander Kerry Hamill and Stuart Glass, a Canadian, were part of his circle of friends and the pair owned an old motorised junk called Foxy Lady. Seeking adventure, John quit his teaching post, along with his part-time job on the Japan Times newspaper, and joined Hamill and Glass on a trip sailing round the warm waters of the Gulf of Thailand. They planned to sell Foxy Lady in Singapore and travel on overland. Days were spent fishing and sunbathing, between steering the boat to its next destination. Nights were spent eating fish, drinking beer and looking at the stars. He kept in touch regularly with Hilary, writing her letters once a month. 'He was very happy and very interested in what he was experiencing of a new and different part of the world,' she says.

Then, in early 1978, disaster struck. The Foxy Lady drifted into Cambodian waters. A Khmer Rouge military launch steamed towards them. Stuart Glass, the skipper, was shot dead immediately. Dewhirst and Hamill were seized and taken by military truck to Phnom Penh. At the time, the full scale of the horror inside Cambodia had yet to reach the outside world. Hilary heard that her brother had been captured only after a telephone call from the Foreign Office. A charming and pleasant young man, she still thought John might be able to talk his way to freedom. It was not to be. Duch, the camp commander, was determined to follow his orders to the letter. He instructed his Khmer Rouge underlings to get to work. The torture lasted a month. John Dewhirst and Kerry Hamill endured unimaginable terror. Both wrote lengthy 'confessions'. Under duress, the Englishman admitted that he was a CIA agent on a secret mission to sabotage the Khmer Rouge regime. He claimed that his father had also been a CIA agent, using the cover of 'headmaster of Benton Road Secondary School', and that he had been trained in modern spying techniques at Loughborough. Headed 'Details of my course at the Annexe CIA college in Loughborough, England,' Dewhirst writes that he was taught how to use weapons as part of his induction into the U.S foreign intelligence agency. Mixing elements of his own life story with fiction to satisfy his captors, the Briton also claimed that there were other CIA colleges in the UK - Cardiff, Aberdeen, Portsmouth, Bristol, Leicester and Doncaster. He said his 'handler' was a man called 'Colonel Peter Johnson', and that his university bursar was a CIA major. The confession is signed and dated 5.7.1978. Dewhirst's thumbprint is alongside his signature. Like thousands of other victims in the former school building, which is now a memorial to the dead, the 'confession' was dictated to him by Duch and his interrogators.

John's parents both died before he was captured. At home in Cumbria, 31 years on, Hilary Dewhirst did not attend Duch's trial - at which he initially pleaded guilty. Instead, Rob Hamill, the brother of John's sailing companion Kerry, spoke for both of them, having been handed a note from Hilary to present to the court about her feelings. Facing Duch for the first time, Hamill spoke of wanting to make his brother's killer suffer. 'I've imagined you shackled, starved and clubbed. I have imagined you being nearly drowned and having your throat cut.' But he added: 'It was you who should bear the burden, you to suffer, not the families of the people you killed. From this day forward, I feel nothing towards you. 'To me, what you did removed you from the ranks of being human.' That is a view shared by Hilary. Now a solicitor in Cumbria, she has not uttered John's name in more than three decades. 'I have experienced death and grief. This is different. It's everlasting,' she tells me. 'I can accept death completely. It's what happened to my brother that I can't accept. The fact that the torture was so extreme, lasting not half a day, but months, makes it an inhuman act. It takes the humanity of the person. The person my brother had been, was taken away during that torture. For a human being to do that to another human being - that's not a human act. I don't know how my brother died. I have heard reports of people bleeding to death and having their heads smashed from behind beside mass graves. I don' t know if knowing what really happened can make me feel any worse. If I feel like this after 31 years, a whole country must feel the same.' But she also hopes that some good will come from the trial of her brother's killers. 'What happened in Cambodia isn't generally known to today's generation,' she says. 'It should be part of history lessons. People should remember what happened there.'

The Khmer Rouge was finally driven from power in 1979 after neighbouring Vietnam invaded. What was discovered there shocked the world: the death rate was far higher than during the Nazi holocaust. Pol Pot remained a free man, however, living with the rump of his Khmer Rouge cadres near the border with Thailand until his death in 1998. 'We need to understand the person [Duch] standing there,' adds Hilary. 'He's supposed to be full of remorse. It's an opportunity for him to be held accountable. But, personally, I can't see how it can possibly make any difference.' Yet the trial will help ensure that what happened to John Dawson Dewhirst - proud Englishman, sports fanatic and man of letters - will never be forgotten, along with two million others slaughtered in Cambodia's Killing Fields.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Emotions run high

I am relieved that I didn't attend the Khmer Rouge Tribunal yesterday afterall. I had certainly contemplated it as Rob Hamill, the Olympic rower from New Zealand was giving his personal testimony about the effect of the death of his brother Kerry at S-21, which was under the control of Duch, the man in the dock. Just reading about the testimony in today's newspapers got me pretty emotional, so I'm sure being there would've been acutely more powerful and affecting. Rob Hamill fought to control his emotions during the testimony according to news reports as he described in detail how the death of his brother had affected his family and what Hamill himself wanted to do in retribution against Duch. Kerry Hamill and his fellow adventurers had been captured by the KR navy when their boat Foxy Lady strayed into territorial waters on 13 August 1978. Stuart Glass was killed immediately, while Kerry Hamill and Brit John Dewhirst (pictured) were taken to S-21. The last confession of Kerry Hamill is dated 13 October 1978, less than three months before the KR regime crumbled in the face of the Vietnamese invasion. Yesterday, Rob Hamill told Duch; "at times I have wanted to smash you, to use your words, in the same way that you smashed so many others. At times I have imagined you shackled, starved, whipped and clubbed viciously. I have imagined your scrotum electrified, being forced to eat your own faeces, being nearly drowned and having your throat cut. I have wanted that to be your experience, your reality." His 13-page statement lasted just under an hour and he was allowed to direct six questions to Duch, though the answers he got back were non-specific and 'nondescript'. A documentary film, Brother Number One, is being made that follows Rob's journey to Cambodia to find out the truth about what happened to his elder brother. To read Rob Hamill's statement, click here.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

More than 30 years on

The date, 12 August, has been set for Rob Hamill's appearance as a civil party in the trial of Comrade Duch at the ECCC. New Zealander Hamill (pictured) is better known as an Olympic and Trans-Atlantic champion rower, but he's also the brother of Kerry Hamill, captured, tortured and murdered under Duch's supervision of S-21 in 1978. Nearly 31 years to the day of his brother's capture off the coast of Cambodia, Rob Hamill says of his opportunity to face Duch in court; “I expect to experience the widest possible range of emotions when I see Duch, a lot of nervous energy will be expended. Duch says he is sorry and wants forgiveness, but I want to find out whether he truly understands the impact of what he did and the damage he caused. I’m not sure that he does comprehend what he and the Khmer Rouge did to the people of Cambodia, let alone to the families of Kerry, John and Stuart.” His brother Kerry Hamill and Briton John Dewhirst were snatched from their storm-blown yacht, and fellow sailor Canadian Stuart Glass was killed, on 13 August 1978. Kerry and John were tortured for two months at S-21 and forced to falsely confess they were CIA spies, before they were killed and their bodies most likely burnt and buried at Tuol Sleng. A film, Brother Number One, is being made that follows Rob's journey to Cambodia to find out the truth of what happened to his elder brother. Read more here.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

British victim at S-21

The case of 26-year-old British teacher John Dewhirst was in the news again today with a report in The Times newspaper and another by the BBC. Dewhirst (pictured) was in the wrong place at the wrong time when he was captured by a Khmer Rouge naval patrol, tortured at Tuol Sleng and executed just weeks before the Khmer Rouge regime was toppled by the invading Vietnamese army in 1979. He was the only known Briton to have been jailed in S-21 and with the trial of the prison's chief Duch underway in Phnom Penh, the stories appeared today. Also read other articles on John Dewhirst here. Dewhirst's fellow crew member Kerry Hamill also perished and filmmaker Annie Goldson is to make a documentary, Brother Number One, for New Zealand television charting the search for the truth about what happened to Hamill by his younger brother, champion rower and Olympian Rob Hamill.

Khmer Rouge Trial: the British victim John Dewhirst - by Anne Barrowclough, The Times

s hundreds of Cambodians crowded into a courtroom yesterday to see the chief torturer of the Khmer Rouge finally brought to trial, a country lawyer in Britain quietly got on with her work. Only those closest to her know how, 30 years ago, Comrade Duch destroyed Hilary Holland’s family. In 1978 Ms Holland’s brother, John Dewhirst, 26, was captured by the Khmer Rouge and tortured and killed at Tuol Sleng. He was the only Briton among 17,000 Cambodians to die at the regime’s infamous prison. Three decades on, as Cambodia watches the first trials of the Khmer Rouge’s murderous leaders, his fate continues to haunt his sister. “The horrific circumstances and the manner of how John was killed still makes it so difficult to cope with,” Ms Holland told The Times from her home in Cumbria.

The young Newcastle teacher had been sailing through the Gulf of Thailand with two friends in July 1978 when their vessel was intercepted by a Khmer Rouge patrol boat. The skipper, Stuart Glass, a Canadian, was killed instantly. Mr Dewhirst and the other crew member, Kerry Hamil, a New Zealander, were sent to Tuol Sleng, a school turned into a torture centre presided over by the brutal Kang Kek Ieu – better known as Duch. There, like thousands of others, they were tortured until they “confessed” to being CIA agents. Then they were taken to Cheong Ek, a pretty orchard on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, and bludgeoned to death with an iron bar.

Back in Britain, Ms Holland was concerned at her younger brother’s unusual silence but it was not until she switched on the news one evening that she learnt he had become a victim of a regime she had hardly heard of. Soon after, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office told her that he had been captured and imprisoned by the Khmer Rouge and was almost certainly dead. The pain of that moment has never left her. “It was indescribable,” she said. “I don’t think I have got the words to explain how I felt. I used to think that if you could die from emotions like this, I would have died. I have experienced death – the death of my husband when I had two young children – but this is completely different.”

Yesterday Duch identified himself quietly before the charges against him were read out to a UNbacked war crimes tribunal: crimes against humanity, war crimes, premeditated murder and torture. He is the first of five former leaders of the Khmer Rouge to be brought to trial. The others were members of Pol Pot’s inner circle: Nuom Chea, or “Brother Number Two”, who was in charge of security; Ieng Sary, the former foreign minister, and his wife Ieng Thirith; and Khieu Samphan, the former head of state. Nearly two million Cambodians died between 1975 and 1979 as Pol Pot pursued his vision of an agrarian Utopia. Tuol Sleng, also known as S21, was the most notorious jail: of 17,000 people sent there, only 15 survived. According to the thick file of charges read to the court: “Every prisoner who arrived at S-21 was destined for execution. The policy at S-21 was that no prisoner could be released. Prisoners brought to S-21 by mistake were executed in order to ensure secrecy and security.”
On the orders of Duch, a former maths teacher, victims were plunged headfirst into tanks of water, often drowning; they were given electric shocks to their genitals and eardrums. Some were hooked up to intravenous pumps and literally bled dry.

It was a cruel fate that delivered Mr Dewhirst into Duch’s hands. A care-free, adventurous young man, he had taken a break from his teaching job in Japan to go sailing with Mr Glass and Mr Hamil on their motorised junk Foxy Lady. It drifted into Cambodian waters and, to the paranoid Khmer Rouge, their presence had no innocent explanation. Even after she heard of his incarceration in S-21, his sister hoped that his friendly nature would help him to survive. “I thought if anyone could develop a personal relationship with his jailers it would be him,” she said. “I thought he would charm his way out of there.”

In fact, nothing could have saved him – although the meticulous Duch, who catalogued details of all his prisoners, described him as a polite young man. Before he died, Mr Dewhirst was forced to write a detailed confession saying that he had been trained as a CIA spy. The confession, in Cambodian and English, entitled “Details of my course at the Annexe CIA college in Loughborough, England”, claims that he was recruited into the CIA by his father and from 1972-76 was taught agency techniques, including weapons-handling, at his teacher training college in Leicestershire. A mixture of the dull and the ludicrous, it claims that Loughborough was one of six CIA colleges in Britain. Others, John wrote, were in Cardiff, Aberdeen, Portsmouth, Bristol and Doncaster. His college, he said, was run by “retired Colonel Peter Johnson” while the bursar was a CIA major. Among many bizarre “admissions” was a claim that his father was a CIA agent whose cover was “headmaster of Benton Road Secondary School”. The confession is signed and dated 5/7/1978. Mr Dewhirst’s thumbprint lies alongside his signature. As with thousands of inmates at S-21, it was probably dictated to him by his interrogators on Duch’s orders.

Duch’s trial is of great significance to Cambodia, with its former leaders going unpunished for 30 years. It is expected to be a catharsis for the victims, who still do not understand why their families were taken from them. Ms Holland also wants answers. She wants the Khmer Rouge leaders to admit their guilt and explain why they destroyed so many lives. “There must be a public accountability,” she said. “I would like it to be seen that they understand what they did.” It is too painful for Ms Holland to attend Duch’s trial but she is relieved that, after all this time, the leaders will finally be brought to justice. “It’s of such historical importance,” she said. “No one is going to undo the horrors but bringing these people to account is important. I don’t care what happens to them but I would like them to tell the truth, to explain their motivation."

Duch, 66, who was arrested in 1999 after being tracked down by a journalist, is alone among the defendants in expressing remorse and has agreed to cooperate with the tribunal. At a procedural hearing last month, he made it clear through his lawyer that he would use his trial to apologise to his victims, although he does not expect “immediate” forgiveness. His French lawyer, Francois Roux, said yesterday: “After ten years of prison, at last the day is coming where he can in public respond to the questions.” But Duch can expect no forgiveness from Ms Holland. “People like Duch, who ordered the atrocities, were the worst,” she said.

How the Khmer Rouge claimed a British victim - by Jonathan Greenwood (BBC)

Hilary Holland is unimpressed with the news that the Khmer Rouge leader who ordered her brother's execution 30 years ago has admitted responsibility for his crimes. Kaing Guek Eav - also known as Comrade Duch - expressed "regretfulness and heartfelt sorrow" for his actions at a long-awaited UN-backed tribunal in Cambodia. "I'm not a vindictive person" she says, "but personally it won't make me feel any different. What happened to my brother can't be undone. There has to be accountability, there has to be truth. But sorry is not enough. There's nothing he could say that would make me feel better about what happened."

Duch stands accused of torture, crimes against humanity and premeditated murder on a massive scale. It is alleged that he oversaw the deaths of more than 10,000 people. The Khmer Rouge killed up to two million people in less than four years. Ms Holland's brother, John Dewhirst, was among the victims. In 1978, the 26-year-old teacher was captured, tortured and killed at the notorious Tuol Sleng prison. He was the only Briton among 17,000 Cambodians to die there. Taking a holiday from his job as a teacher, he had been sailing through the Gulf of Thailand with two friends, when their boat strayed into Cambodian waters. When it was intercepted by a Khmer Rouge patrol boat, one of the party, Canadian Stuart Glass was killed immediately.

John and the other crew member, New Zealander Kerry Hamil were taken to the now infamous Tuol Sleng prison, also known as S-21. There they were tortured until they confessed to being CIA agents, before being executed. John's sister Ms Holland, now a solicitor based in Cumbria, learned of his fate by listening to the news. Eventually the Foreign and Commonwealth office confirmed he had been captured by the Khmer Rouge, and that he was probably dead. More than 30 years on, she is still traumatised by what happened. Fighting back the tears she says: "I'm a strong person. I've had knocks over the years - I experienced the death of my husband at a young age. I imagine the effect it's had on me is similar to all those people in Cambodia - it's permanent. Where there's an ordinary death - you miss the person who was in your life, and it hurts but the pain reduces over the years. Time's a great healer. But this doesn't get any less." She recognises the impact that the brutal reign of the Khmer Rouge must have had on the Cambodian national psyche: "There must be a whole country of traumatised people - because of how they were killed and tortured."

The horrors of what happened inside S-21 are almost unimaginable. Prisoners were tortured until they wrote detailed confessions - explaining how they'd been disloyal to the regime. Then they were taken to the "killing fields" at Choeung Ek, a few kilometres outside Phnom Penh. There they were executed, often bludgeoned to death with iron bars on the orders of Duch. Victims were frequently made to dig their own graves. Duch, who was meticulous in recording those who passed through S-21 described John as a polite young man - but that didn't save him.

His confession - signed and dated the 5th of July 1978 - is entitled "Details of my course at the Annexe CIA college in Loughborough England." Among the bizarre claims is that Loughborough was one of six CIA colleges in the UK. Hilary Holland says she had no idea how John was killed until recently. She decided not to attend the trial in person. "It would be too hard, and it wouldn't achieve anything," she says. But she recognises its importance: "If this trial can in any way help any of those people - then it should happen. It's of such historical importance and it's a matter of public record. The more information that can be made available, then the better historically speaking and it might stop these things happening again."

Another story ran a couple of days ago in the New Zealand press about the fate of Kerry Hamill.
NZ family seek justice at UN trial - by The Press (New Zealand)

It is 31 years since Kiwi Kerry Hamill was tortured and killed in a Cambodian school-turned-prison. On Monday, his brother, rowing great Rob Hamill, expects to see the first flickers of accountability as one of the largest criminal hearings of modern times opens. Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, ran the most notorious torture centre during the Khmer Rouge's reign of terror. It was where Hamill was killed, along with two friends and thousands of Cambodians. Eav faces charges of crimes against humanity before the United Nations-backed Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, which has New Zealand judge and former governor-general Dame Silvia Cartwright among its five members. "It's more accountability and to see that some sort of justice has been done. It's been over 30 years now and it's about time," Rob Hamill said.

Kerry Hamill, then 27, and friends were sailing from Singapore to Bangkok when their yacht strayed into Cambodian waters. Along with his mates, Canadian Stuart Glass and Briton John Dewhirst, Hamill was arrested, detained, tortured and killed at Security Prison 21 (S21), formerly the Tuol Svay Prey High School. As many as 1.7 million Cambodians perished in the Khmer Rouge reign of terror, 14,000 of them "class enemies" of the Communist regime executed at the S21 torture centre and prison, along with Hamill. After his 1978 capture, Hamill was forced to write a 4000-word "confession" that claimed his father was a colonel in the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) who had recruited him into the agency. Under torture, he described in detail CIA plans to subvert the Khmer Rouge regime. Then he and Dewhirst were killed. Glass had been shot earlier. Women, children and babies were also killed. Few inmates at the former school survived.

From August 1975, four months after the Khmer Rouge won the civil war, classrooms were converted into tiny prison and torture chambers, and windows were covered with iron bars and barbed wire. Rob Hamill said Eav, 66, a former teacher, had caused "terrible pain". He spoke of "the complete loss and grief that was felt and the impact it had on our family. I often think about how things could have been better. Not that things are terrible, but you know having Kerry in our lives would have [been better]."

He provided the court with a statement, but the expense and timing made it impossible to attend the historic trial. "I am feeling a compelling sort of need to be out there now," Hamill said. Christchurch Cambodian Association president Rasy Sao said Cambodians viewed the trials with some scepticism because of Prime Minister Hun Sen's past involvement with the Khmer Rouge. "At this moment, the government in Cambodia does some things not very right. There is quite a lot of corruption," Sao said. "If they do it [a trial] for someone, they should do it for themselves." Sao said he visited his home country twice a year and had to stay quiet while he was there. "If I say something wrong, maybe they will kill me straight away."

Cartwright said whatever political problems there might be in Cambodia, there was no problem with the judiciary. "I have no hint of any corruption of any description amongst my Cambodian judge colleagues," she said. Cartwright has been living in Phnom Penh and preparing for the trials since last July. Once the trials begin, Cartwright will be allocated areas to focus on. "I might be asked to focus on how S21 or [the school] was actually established, or I might be asked to focus on methods of torture or focus on how many people died or something like that, and it will be my job to be totally on top of the evidence. The evidence goes to hundreds of thousands of pages," she said.

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