not all who wander are lost.

Friday, February 11, 2011

S21 and the Killing Fields.

I spent most of yesterday crying. Crying for the pain and suffering of the Khmer people, and tears for the lack of justice that those responsible have received. "Duch" was Pol Pot's right hand man, in charge of S21. It has been THIRTY YEARS and he has just recently been taken to court, and only given a 35 year sentence. He's an older man now, and surely he won't live out his 35 years - but....THIRTY FIVE years, for the torture and killing of thousands?! It's an insult. And still, many involved have yet to be prosecuted. Yesterday I was reading about Duch, and he'd ordered that if one person was a "traitor", then the whole family was to be killed - especially the infants and young children, so that there was no chance of revenge down the line. But he didn't just kill the children, it's How he and his men did it - by beating them against a tree and throwing them into a ditch. This was such a short time ago - modern does something like this happen? And not only that, but how does it CONTINUE to happen TODAY? In Africa mass genocide is happening as we live and breathe. What motivates someone to such a thing? How do people become involved in a movement like this? In a world that is amass with GOOD people, how do the few BAD get to be so POWERFUL? What would I do in a situation where it was kill or be killed? Would my instinct to survive trump by morals of right and wrong?

I spent the rest of the afternoon, processing all that I'd seen. There was an internal dialogue going on all day, and into the night. Though we can't go back and Right the Wrongs - we can atleast show our respect by educating ourselves about the suffering and oppression that the Khmer people have overcome....

(photos will be added to this entry once I'm at a better internet connection...)

S21 and the Killing Fields: {taken from}

The day in the prison began at 4:30 a.m. when prisoners were ordered to strip for inspection. The guards checked to see if the shackles were loose or if the prisoners had hidden objects they could use to commit suicide. Over the years, several prisoners managed to kill themselves, so the guards were very careful in checking the shackles and cells. The prisoners received four small spoonfuls of rice porridge and watery soup of leaves twice a day. Drinking water without asking the guards for permission resulted in serious beatings. The inmates were hosed down every four days.

The prison had very strict regulations, and severe beatings were inflicted upon any prisoner who tried to disobey. Almost every action had to be approved by one of the prison's guards. They were sometimes forced to eat human feces and drink human urine. The unhygienic living conditions in the prison caused skin diseases, lice, rashes, ringworm and other ailments. The prison's medical staffs were untrained and offered treatment only to sustain prisoners’ lives after they had been injured during interrogation. When prisoners were taken from one place to another for interrogation, their faces were covered. Guards and prisoners were not allowed to converse. Moreover, within the prison, people who were in different groups were not allowed to have contact with one another.

Most prisoners at S-21 were held there for two to three months. However, several high-ranking Khmer Rouge cadres were held longer. Within two or three days after they were brought to S-21, all prisoners were taken for interrogation. The torture system at Tuol Sleng was designed to make prisoners confess to whatever crimes they were charged with by their captors. Prisoners were routinely beaten and tortured with electric shocks, searing hot metal instruments and hanging, as well as through the use of various other devices. Some prisoners were cut with knives or suffocated with plastic bags. Other methods for generating confessions included pulling out fingernails while pouring alcohol on the wounds, holding prisoners’ heads under water, and the use of the waterboarding technique (see picture). Females were sometimes raped by the interrogators, even though sexual abuse was against Democratic Kampuchea (DK) policy. The perpetrators who were found out were executed. Although many prisoners died from this kind of abuse, killing them outright was discouraged, since the Khmer Rouge needed their confessions. The "Medical Unit" at Tuol Sleng, however, did kill at least 100 prisoners by bleeding them to death.

In their confessions, the prisoners were asked to describe their personal background. If they were party members, they had to say when they joined the revolution and describe their work assignments in DK. Then the prisoners would relate their supposed treasonous activities in chronological order. The third section of the confession text described prisoners’ thwarted conspiracies and supposed treasonous conversations. At the end, the confessions would list a string of traitors who were the prisoners’ friends, colleagues, or acquaintances. Some lists contained over a hundred names. People whose names were in the confession list were often called in for interrogation.

Typical confessions ran into thousands of words in which the prisoner would interweave true events in their lives with imaginary accounts of their espionage activities for the CIA, the KGB, or Vietnam. The confession of Hu Nim ended with the words "I am not a human being, I'm an animal". A young Englishman named John Dawson Dewhirst who was arrested in August 1978 claimed to have joined the CIA at age 12 upon his father receiving a substantial bribe from a work colleague, also an agent. Physical torture was combined with sleep deprivation and deliberate neglect of the prisoners. The torture implements are on display in the museum. It is believed that the vast majority of prisoners were innocent of the charges against them and that the torture produced false confessions.

For the first year of S-21’s existence, corpses were buried near the prison. However, by the end of 1979, cadres ran out of burial spaces, the prisoner and their family were taken to the Choeung Ek (THE KILLING FIELDS) extermination centre, fifteen kilometers from Phnom Penh. There, they were killed by being battered with iron bars, pickaxes, machetes and many other makeshift weapons owing to the scarcity, and subsequent price of ammunition. After the prisoners were executed, the soldiers who had accompanied them from S-21 buried them in graves that held as few as 6 and as many as 450 bodies.

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