The Khmer Rouge’s chief jailer, who admitted overseeing the torture and killings of as many as 16,000 Cambodians while running the regime’s most notorious prison, has died. Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, was 77 and had been serving a life prison term for war crimes and crimes against humanity. He died at a hospital in Cambodia early Wednesday, said Neth Pheaktra, a spokesperson for the tribunal in Phnom Penh that handled the trials over the regime's crimes. Duch was admitted to Cambodian Soviet Friendship Hospital after developing difficulty breathing Monday at the Kandal provincial prison, said Chat Sineang, chief of the prison where Duch had been transferred from the tribunal's prison facility in 2013. He added that the body would be examined for a cause of death before being handed to his family, the AP reports.
Duch, whose trial took place in 2009, was the first senior Khmer Rouge figure to face the UN-backed tribunal that had been assembled to deliver justice for the regime’s brutal rule in the late 1970s, which is blamed for the deaths of 1.7 million people—a quarter of Cambodia’s population at the time. As commander of the top-secret Tuol Sleng prison code-named S-21, Duch was one of the few ex-Khmer Rouge who acknowledged even partial responsibility for his actions, and his trial included his own wrenchingly graphic testimony of how people were tortured at the prison. Men, women, and children seen as enemies of the regime or who disobeyed its orders were jailed and tormented there, and only a handful survived. The tribunal since Duch’s trial has convicted two top echelon Khmer Rouge leaders, while two other defendants died before their trials could be completed. The communist regime's top leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998 as a prisoner of his comrades in what had shrunk to a spent force of jungle-based guerrillas. (More from Duch's gruesome testimony here.)