Sous Thy played an important role in the mass killings by the communist Khmer Rouge that for nearly four years turned Cambodia into one of the most terrifying places on earth: He was a clerk.
In meticulous, even radiant script, he recorded the names and personal histories of thousands of prisoners who were led blindfolded through his office to be tortured and killed at Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh.He was not a violent man, Sous Thy said in an interview at this village one hour's drive south of Phnom Penh. "I was just making lists."
Today, those lists, like the dedicated work of other loyal record-keepers, are being turned against the Khmer Rouge by a research team, financed primarily by the U.S. Congress, that is gathering evidence for possible trials of their leaders.
In addition, in tallying thousands of mass graves around the country, the researchers say the number of people killed between 1975 and 1979 could be double the figure of 1 million that is generally used, out of a population estimated at 7 million.
The Khmer Rouge were not only mass killers but also obsessive record-keepers. The torturers and executioners worked side by side with earnest clerks who labored over their penmanship.
With six months to go before their two-year project is completed, the researchers say they have established that the killings were centrally organized on orders of the Khmer Rouge leadership.
The $500,000 project, called the Cambodian Genocide Program and run by Yale University, is gathering material for possible trials of Khmer Rouge leaders, even though the international community has blocked other attempts to prosecute them.
Since the U.N.-sponsored elections in Cambodia in 1993, however, prospects have improved sharply for trials similar to those now under way involving killings in Rwanda and the Balkans.
The Khmer Rouge leaders, headed by Pol Pot, are believed to be in hiding in mountains near the border of Thailand, surrounded by a tough guerrilla army that has repulsed repeated offensives against them, and many people question whether they could ever be captured and brought to trial.
Even with the documentation being gathered now, some independent analysts doubt that Cambodia's current government leaders - some of whom were Khmer Rouge themselves - will want to reopen past wounds with a trial.
With or without a trial, the analysts say, the new research is uncovering and consolidating information that will be invaluable for historians and for future generations of Cambodians.
Indeed, so much material is being gathered that one of the biggest challenges is to read through it.
"Frankly, we are finding it difficult to cope with the volume of material that we have discovered," said Ben Kiernan, a Cambodia expert at Yale University who is directing the Genocide Program. "We did not expect to find such large caches. We don't have the funds even to catalogue it, let alone analyze it."
The program has come under fire from within the highly factionalized community of Cambodia scholars. Some question the selection of Kiernan to conduct it, because of his past support for the Khmer Rouge when they were in power, and some say the program should have been structured more as a prosecution than an academic investigation.
But most scholars agree that the research appears to be solid.