Tuol Sleng prison, also known as S-21 (Security Office 21), was the largest prison facility run by the Khmer Rouge when they were in power in the late 1970s. Located in a former high school in Phnom Penh, it was a highly secretive center where thousands of supposed enemies of the regime were tortured before being executed. Of the 15,000 prisoners admitted to Tuol Sleng prison only 14 are known to have survived.

Prisoners at S-21 were usually held for weeks and months for grueling interrogations before they were taken out for execution. Many of the prison's population included Khmer Rouge members who were arrested and killed in the regime's internal purges of its own ranks. Four fifths of all those admitted were former Khmer Rouge cadres who had either been accused of turning against the regime or had been purged by Pol Pot.

Typically, the victims were rank-and-file Khmer Rouge members who had been suspected of being disloyal in some way and were forced to say they had spied for a foreign government or worked for the CIA, even though many didn’t even know what the CIA was. Some were sent to Tuol Sleng for letting it slip that they missed families members that had been killed.

The prisoners admitted to Tuol Sleng were photographed and carefully documented. One document written by the chief of guards, which gave details about executed prisoners, had a note at the bottom that read, "Also killed 160 children today for a total of 178 enemies killed." Another document from the central leadership had instructions, "Kill them all."

Some victims gave oral histories. Interviewers were taught to ask neutral questions so that their questions had a minimal impact on the answers so their stories could be as clear as possible. Sous Thy, a clerk who recorded the names of people who were sent to Tuol Sleng prison later said, "I was just making lists."

According to testimoy at Duch’s trial there 196 institutions similar to Tuol Sleng. One of Duch’s lawyers, Kar Savuth, said:“Each prison had the same orders from Angkar,” referring to the Khmer Rouge leadership, “all conducted torture and execution.”

Museum of Genocidal Crime at Tuol Sleng Prison

What remains of Tuol Sleng Prison is now known as the Museum of Genocidal Crime at Tuol Sleng Prison. Located at Street 113 and Street 350 in southern Phnom Penh, it is a painful reminder of horrors that took place in the Phnom Penh during the Khmer Rouge occupation. Many people who have worked at Tuol Sleng insist that it is haunted by the ghost of people who were killed. Some who have spent the night there said that ghosts came by their cots in the middle of the night.

Visitors to Tuol Sleng can examine the shower-size cells, where the prisoners were kept and fed starvation rations; the barren and stained rooms used interrogate them; some of the instruments used to torture them; and the offices of the Khmer Rouge paper pushers who recorded their deaths. In the interrogation rooms you can see the metal shackles used to tie prisoners to their cots. Some had a small box the prisoners could use as a toilet. Dried blood can be seen in the cracks of the floor.

The most compelling rooms of the museum are covered with several thousand black-and-white photographs of the victims who were condemned to death. They include a 12-year-old boy with a chain around his neck, a mother with the arm of a child reaching upwards into the picture, young girls, old men, rich people, peasants and Westerners whose yacht accidently drifted into Cambodian waters. Looking at the pictures it is said is as close as you'll ever come to staring death in the face without dying yourself.

The museum also contains rare photographs of Pol Pot, a defaced bust of the Khmer Rouge leader and photographs from the emptying of Phnom Penh. In several rooms there are paintings that depict the methods of torture used on the prisoners: some had electric shocks administered to their tongues; some had their fingernails pulled out with clamps; and others had their heads plunged under water until they passed out.

In one room there used to be a 12-meter-square map of Cambodia made with 300 human skulls held together by wire. The skulls and bones were from victims dug up at the Choeng Ek Killing Field. A few years ago the map was dismantled in a Buddhist ceremony A Buddhist shrine now is situated at the site.

History of Tuol Sleng Prison

In 1975,Tuol Svay Prey High School was taken over by Pol Pot's security force and turned into a prison known as Security Prison 21 (S-21) It soon became the largest such center of detention and torture in the country. Over 17,000 people held at S-21 were taken to the extermination camp at Choeung Ek to be executed; detainees who die during torture were buried in mass graves in the prison grounds.

Like the Nazis, the Khmer Rough was meticulous in keeping records of their barbarism. Each prisoner who passed through S-21 was photographed, sometimes before and after being tortured. Documents and files with pictures and written confession were kept on most of the prisoners. After the prison was abandoned researchers uncovered documents with jotted-down notes like "Also killed 160 children today for a total of 178 enemies killed" on instructions to "Kill them all."

The museum displays include room after room in which such photographs of men, women and children cover the walls from floor to ceiling; virtually all the people pictured were later killed. You can tell in what year a picture was taken by the style of number board that appears on the prisoner's chest. Several foreigners from Australia, France and the USA were held here before being murdered. Their documents are on display.

The photographer who took the pictures, a member of the Khmer Rouge named Nhem Ein, told AP the prisoners were brought in blindfolded one at a time. When the blindfold was ripped off, they often asked, "Where Am I." Nhem Ein said he ignored them and told them "Look straight into the camera." "Those that arrived at the facility had no chance of living," he said. "I took pictures of the prisoners just after they had a number pinned on them. The photos were taken before they were interrogated or tortured."

On the list of ten “security regulations” are: No 3: “Don’t be a fool for you are a chap who dares to thwart the revolution; No. 6: “While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all”; and No 10: “If you disobey any point of my regulations you shall get either ten lashes or five shock of a electric discharge.” The regulations also said: “Answer exactly what you are asked. Never try to dodge a question. “Answer immediately without taking even a moment to answer.” “Do nothing. Sit still and wait for my orders. If there is no order, keep quiet. When I give a command obey immediately without a protest.”

As the Khmer 'revolution' reached ever-greater heights of insanity, it began devouring its own children. Generations of tortures and executioners and were in turn killed by those who took their places. During the first part of 1977, S-21 claimed an average of 100 victims a day. When Phnom Penh was liberated by the Vietnamese army in early 1979, they found only seven prisoners alive at S-21. Fourteen others had been tortured to death as Vietnamese forces were closing in on the city. Photographs of their decomposing corpses were found. Their graves are nearby in the courtyard.

Tuol Sleng was made into a museum during the Vietnamese occupation in part to show how benign their rule was compared to that of the Khmer Rouge. The museums's director, Ing Pech, was one of the handful of inmates, out of 14,000 to 20,000 who entered, who survived. His life was spared because he possessed some mechanical skills that were useful to his captors. The photographs of the victims come from 7,000 negatives discovered by American photographers in the early 1990s in metal cases in an office on the prison's second floor. They were cracked, covered with dust and mold, but many were in good enough condition to be restored.

Background Behind Tuol Sleng Prison

In 1975 Pol Pot concluded an alliance with the party head of the Southwestern Zone, Ta Mok, who was a Khmer Issarak veteran and, like Pol Pot, was strongly anti-Vietnamese. During 1977 and 1978, Ta Mok provided the backing that enabled Pol Pot to liquidate the opposition within the KCP and to initiate new terrorism against the local population. In February 1977, Southwestern cadres went into the Eastern, Northern, and Western zones to purge local Khmer Rouge. Four months later, the same process was begun in the Northwestern Zone. The purges intensified following an abortive coup d'état in August. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

After the fall of the capital, Ta Mok's lieutenant, a former high school teacher who assumed the name Mit (Comrade) Deuch, became head of the secret police, and established the Tuol Sleng interrogation and detention center on the site of a former Phnom Penh high school. In the 1975 to 1976 period, Tuol Sleng's meticulous records show that 2,404 "antiparty elements" were tortured and executed. The terror escalated in 1977, when the number of victims rose to 6,330. In the first six months of 1978, records show that 5,765 people were killed; records for the latter half of that year have not been discovered. The victims who passed through Tuol Sleng from mid-1975 to January 1979 numbered about 20,000. Among those who met death in the infamous prison were Paris alumni Hu Nim and (presumably) Hou Yuon. Similar centers were set up throughout the country (Tuol Sleng's code designation, S-21, suggests that at least twenty other similar sites had been established). Molyda Szymusiak writes that a new wave of terror began in the Batdambang region after cadres arrived from the south. The Sala Som Niat, a school for political education was converted into an extermination center where local communists were tortured and executed. The pattern in these centers was much the same: victims were tortured, forced to write often absurd confessions, and then killed. A young British teacher, captured in a yacht off the Cambodian coast, confessed at Tuol Sleng that he had been recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States when he was twelve years old; he was subsequently murdered. Hu Nim was forced to confess that he had become a CIA agent in 1957. *

The Eastern Zone apparently remained largely unaffected by the purge until May 1978, when So Phim led a revolt that provoked massive retaliation by Pol Pot and his Southwestern henchmen. In the bloodiest purge of the entire 1975 to 1978 period, as many as 100,000 people in the Eastern Zone — labeled people with "Khmer bodies but Vietnamese minds" — were liquidated or were deported to face certain death in other parts of the country. Most of the victims were political cadres, "new people," and Vietnamese or part-Vietnamese residents. So Phim reportedly committed suicide as he faced capture. Some of his subordinates, including Heng Samrin, the leader of the PRK after 1979, fled to Vietnam. *

Torture and Cruelty at Tuol Sleng Prison

The dozen or so survivors of S-21 described how they were routinely beaten, received electric shocks, were waterboaded and had their toenails torn out. Some inmates were subjected to medical experiments, including “live autopsies” done without anesthesia and experiments with homemade medications, according to statements read at Duch’s trial in 2009. "There were autopsies carried out on live persons, there was medical experimentation, and people were bled to death: These were all crimes against humanity admitted by Duch," the prosecutors charged in the indictment. Many victims were accused of being enemies of the revolution and were forced through torture to nonfess to fanstastic crimes they could have never committed.

According to testimony given in March 2009 at the trial of the Kaing Guek Eav (Duch) at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times: “the prisoners brought to Tuol Sleng were presumed guilty. Even if they had been mistakenly arrested, they were killed to preserve the secrecy of the prison. Much of the prison’s work involved internal purges that consumed the Khmer Rouge regime, according to the indictment. Those who were arrested were not told the charges against them, but were forced to confess to crimes in coerced statements often hundreds of pages long. Many of the arrests were made on the basis of names given by prisoners under torture, and were followed by further arrests of the new prisoners’ family members and associates in a widening net — an attempt to root out supposed enemies. [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, March 30, 2009**]

“Witnesses quoted in the indictment said Duch instructed them in methods of torture that included beatings, electric shocks, putting plastic bags over prisoners’ heads and removing fingernails and toenails. Duch was quoted as saying he introduced three methods of interrogation: “cold,” “hot” and “chewing.” The cold method employed propaganda without the use of torture or insults. The hot method included “insults, beatings and other torture authorized by the regulations.” The chewing method consisted, in Duch’s quoted words, of “gentle explanations in order to establish confidence, followed by prayers to the interrogated person, continually inviting her or him to write” a confession. Another witness told investigators that torture could be used if “chewing” failed to bring results in two or three days. One quoted witness said Duch took part in an interrogation in which a woman was stripped to her underwear and beaten long into the night. The witness said Duch beat her until he tired, then had another torturer take over. **

“Interrogations followed a schedule: 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., and 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. But they could last long past midnight, the indictment said. They could go on for days and were considered complete only when a confession was obtained. The indictment quoted Duch as saying that he and his superiors were “skeptical of the veracity of the confessions,” which he said were used as “excuses to eliminate those who represented obstacles” to the regime. The indictment said untrained medical workers, sometimes including unsupervised children, worked to keep prisoners alive until they confessed. A film shot by conquering Vietnamese soldiers as they entered Tuol Sleng prison in January 1979 shows decapitated bodies. **

Tim Johnston wrote in the Washington Post: “Among the four forms of torture he officially condoned, they said, was pouring water up victims' noses. In grainy, 30-year-old pictures taken at Tuol Sleng, Duch stands among the black-clad guards he ordered to carry out "the policy of smashing enemies." "The term 'smash' was widely understood to mean 'kill,' " prosecutors told the court. They went on to say that if guards allowed a prisoner to die or to commit suicide before the regime had completed its torture, the guards could be branded traitors and find themselves on the receiving end of the electric clips attached to their ears and the fingernail extractors. [Source: Tim Johnston, Washington Post, March 31, 2009]

In his trial Duch said he presided over some of the torture and admitted that confession extracted under torture were rarely true. “I never believed the confessions I received told the truth. At most they were about 40 percent true.” In 1998 Duch told the Far Eastern Economic Review, "I knew from experience that if they were only tortured they wouldn't say anything. So torture had to be accompanied by psychological tactics; so I told them they would be released if they talked. This was a lie, but it worked."

Working at Tuol Sleng Prison

Lach Mien, a slight, deeply tanned farmer with a broad nose and full lips in 2006, worked at Tuol Sleng prison. "We were under their command," he said of the Khmer Rouge. "If I refused to obey, I would be killed..."It's not a job to be proud of. But I did it because I was afraid."[Source: Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post, March 10, 2006]

Mien told the Washington Post he was 17 when a Khmer Rouge district commander selected him to join the army. He was dispatched straight to the battlefield. In 1978, Lach Mien was promoted and sent to work at Tuol Sleng. He first worked typing up interrogation reports. Then he became an interrogator.

After being shown prison cells with shackles and iron spikes lying on a mattress and a braided rope whip he said, "I had this in my room....If the prisoner refused to answer the question, I used it." His job, he said, was to force people to confess to being agents of the CIA, the KGB or Vietnam. If they refused, he would call in the torturer. "I'd hear the sounds of the beating," he said. The torturer used tree branches or electric jolts on a bare back, he said.

As he walked through the courtyard, near the gallows where prisoners had been lifted upside down and dipped in jars of filthy water, he met Chum Mey, one of only five known living survivors of Tuol Sleng. "Who are you?" asked Chum Mey, now 75. "I was a prisoner. That was my room: 04," he said, pointing to a room on the second floor. "I was an interrogator," Lach Mien replied softly. Chum Mey was taken aback. "Did you know Mr. Seng? He was my interrogator." "He was my team leader," Lach Mien said, avoiding Chum Mey's eyes.

"Did you know Mr. Hor?" Chum Mey continued, his brow knit in agitation. "He was the chief of the torture unit," Lach Mien replied. "He tortured those who refused to confess." Hor had broken Chum Mey's fingers and torn out his toenails. Lach Mien told Chum Mey that he felt compelled to do as he was ordered or be killed himself. There was a moment of tension, but Chum Mey, eager to see the rest of the prison, moved on. Later, Chum Mey said he felt a flash of anger when he learned of Lach Mien's identity. But he wants to let the law handle the guilty, he said. "He did not commit this crime by his own decision."

Prak Khan: Tuol Sleng Interrogator

Osman Ysa of the Documentation Center of Cambodia wrote: “Fifty-three confessions of Tuol Sleng prisoners held at the Documentation Center of Cambodia contain the signature of Prak Khan. Fifty-one documents bear statements by Prak Khan demonstrating his position as “interrogator”, while the remaining two indicate “re-writer”. All confessions hold exact dates of interrogation. In 1976, Prak Khan interrogated five people. In 1977, he interrogated ten inmates and re-wrote a prisoner’s confession. In 1978, Prak Khan interrogated 35 prisoners and re-wrote a prisoner’s confession. In early 1979, before he fled to Thailand, Prak Khan interrogated another inmate. [Source: Prak Khan and interrogation at S-21, Documentation Center of Cambodia by Osman Ysa ]

“The 51 people brought to S-21 for Prak Khan’s interrogation were arrested in different places and at different times. Twenty-three of them were Khmer Rouge high-ranking cadre working in various units, ministries and offices; fifteen were taken from military ranks; eleven were secretaries of districts and regions; and the other two were accused of espionage. The fifty-one people were of different national- ities: forty-two were Khmer, five were Phnong ethnicity, two were Chinese, one was Muslim, and one was Vietnamese. Among the 53 confessions, two show that Prak Khan started his interrogation work on September 3, 1976 and finished on January 4, 1979. These dates are possibly valid, albeit they must be cross-checked against the two-page-long history of Prak Khan himself. The history reads: “In July 1976, I entered S-21”. In addition, there are three other confession documents of significance as they were examined by high-ranking leaders of Democratic Kampuchea. The three confession documents are: 1) Thou Hai, sawmill A-5, state-run industry, with a note reading: “To Comrade Mok”, secretary of Southwest Zone and member of Standing Committee of the Communist Party of Kampuchea in charge of the General Staff; 2) Em Min, member of Baray District, Region 42, Kampong Thom, with a note “To Comrade Pauk”, secretary of Northern Zone and member of Central Committee and Standing Committee of the Communist Party of Kampuchea; 3) confession document of a prisoner named Eng Meng Heang alias Chhon, chief of Power Committee Th-28, on which is a note: “Important. Quickly send it for examination by the ministry so that no-good elements can be swept cleanly away before we go to grasp the Ministry of Commerce.”

“On each confession document, Prak Khan made a brief note about traitorous activities of the confessor. For example, on one he came to the conclusion that the individual’s “activities and partisans’ activities were not completely honest. Some high ranking individuals are still hidden. Systematic account of his partisans from beginning to end are not clear, for example he did not mention much about the plots of those whose names appear above.” Four confessions had been written by Prak Khan for the prisoners. That Prak Khan was involved in torture with the aim of extracting confessions from inmates is proved by his note: “For these people I could question them based on principles from the beginning to end. I didn’t need to beat them”. A “list of Santebal S-21”, used for political education also evidences his use of torture: “Interrogation is an insistent issue for those who want to learn the enemy’s secrets, who try to use tricks so that they can hide their traitorous activities and their ring leaders. This is a duty of defending the country with absolute and boiling class struggle. Torture is a measure to be taken to suppress the enemy and force them to confess.” Similarly, an interrogator of Muslim ethnicity in S-21 named “Sim Meil alias Man’ also used to beat inmates for confession, which resulted in the deaths of at least four people.

“Khan never mentioned anything about any political sessions or strategy indoctrinations. He did recount; “I worked as security guard in the compound of S-21 for five or six months. I suffered an infection from my old, poorly-healed wound received during the fighting with Lon Nol soldiers. I then suffered half-body beriberi, could not see clearly with one eye, and could not breath properly with both lungs. Angkar took me to be hospitalized in Ketomelea Hospital and Monivong Hospital, where I was treated by Chinese doctors. I did not leave the hospital until the arrival of Vietnamese troops in 1979.” Prak Khan insisted repeatedly: “I worked as security guard of S-21 for only five or six month and then sometime in 1977 I was hospitalized.” When showed a prisoner’s confession, Khan uttered with surprise, “Oh, I can remember now. Some prisoners’ scripts were very elegant, but some other’s were not. I was asked to rewrite the confessions, while for others they used a typewriter. Then I just put my name as interrogator and sent it to others. That’s it.” However, the script in the confession documents are not the same as his.

“When asked whether there were any Muslim ethnicity working at Tuol Sleng, he replied, “I knew Man (Sim Mel alias Man), who was a Muslim. The contemptible Man beat prisoners to death, which resulted in his own arrest and death as he could not get the complete responses from the beaten prisoners.” Based on the ‘list of smashing’, Man was smashed on April 30, 1978. Prak Khan said, “I left S-21 in 1977, so I did not know any more.” However, Khan learned about the date of Man’s execution on April 30, 1978. “I also was in S-21 when I heard Man was killed,” asserted Khan.

The two-paged biography of Prak Khan held in the archive of the Documentation Center of Cambodia helped me to find Prak Khan. Many arguments concerning the Khmer Rouge interrogators’ characteristics seem to be no difference. It was almost unbelievable to meet the former Khmer Rouge interrogator. He is rather polite and as friendly as other people. Prak Khan gave me a warm welcome. He invited me to go upstairs and sit on a nice red carpet. After introducing myself, I showed him his recorded history and read it in front of him. He admitted that it was true and that he had written it himself when he first assumed his position at S-21. Prak Khan detailed his experiences at the prison. However, he denied his position as an “interrogator”, despite the document. He recounted, “Before April 17, 1975, I worked in artillery unit 138 of Division 12 (later known as Division 703) headed by Ta Nat. After Phnom Penh was captured, the divisional forces had no more duty to attack enemies. So, they had to do rice farming. First, I grew rice in the vicinity of Kra Beou River, Kra Att Ach Kok, maybe in Kandal Stung District. Then Angkar took me to remove houses along Boeng Tum Pun Dam. In the rainy season of 1975, Angkar brought me to Prey Sar (S-12 Kh or Office 24) for rice farming. There I did not do anything contrary to their principles. One year later, I was transferred to S-21.”

Prak Khan’s wife sitting next to him stated, “I have never known what he did in Pol Pot’s time as we got married after 1979. Since then he has never told me about this.” Prak Khan has never admitted his wrongdoing directly, but he expressed his remorse; “I have experienced bitterness. Since then I have never committed such evil activities. I do acts of merit. At that time their rule required me to do so. Now I realize my mistakes. I will never commit such acts again. I know it is a big thing, so big that I cannot say even a word. Now I hate guns so much. I will not accept it although some people may give me.” Currently, Prak Khan is 44. He is head of a big household with five children. The whole family lives in a remote village in Takeo province. He does both business and farming. The family is now living at an average standard. Prak Khan and his wife are very friendly and villagers are fond of them. No one has learned of the bitter history of Prak Khan or his past. In conclusion, Prak Khan affirmed, “One day I will be a witness in case that a tribunal is held. There is nothing to be afraid of, as it is true. I will say what I have seen.”

Westerners at Tuol Sleng Prison

Victims at Tuol Slen were often tortured before they were killed. Electric shocks were administered to prisoner’s tongues; fingernails and toenails were pulled out with clamps; fingers were broken; heads were held under water. Those earmarked for execution were placed on lists with the words “Smash, Smash” written by their names. Victims that were killed were often cudgeled over the head or had their throats cut to save bullets.

About a dozen Westerners were killed at Tuol Sleng. James Clark, an American, was killed in 1978 after enduring a month of electric shock torture. He wrote a forced confession saying that he was spy for the C.I.A. and Cambodia was "the most successful communist country." Clarke and another American were captured by a Khmer Rouge patrol boat after their yacht accidently drifted in Cambodian waters. The other Westerners included two other Americans, two Australians, a Briton, a New Zealander and three Frenchmen. An Indian, a Laotian and several Thais and Vietnamese were also killed.

Most of the condemned prisoners held at Tuol Sleng prison were not killed there. They were taken to Choeung Ek execution camp 10 miles outside of Phnom Penh, where they were forced to dig their own graves and shot or bludgeoned to death. At least 20,000 people are buried here among the rice fields, sugar palms, and marshes. Choeung Ek was a true Killing Field.

In addition to Tuol Seng Prison, there were 169 other prisons and death camps scattered around Cambodia. An inmate at one of these places recounted in “Children of Cambodia’s Killing Fields”, “We heard the mean voice of a lady. In her hand she held a bowl of rice soup for my friend. Instead of giving it to her to eat, that witch poured the rice soup on the girl’s hair. The rice soup dripped through her hair, and she tried to reach it with her tongue while the witch laughed. Then I saw the girl’s body shake, her mouth open and he eyes staring at me. She died calling my name.”

Kaung Kek Ieu (Duch) Commandant at Tuol Sleng Prison

Kaung Kek Ieu, known by the revolutionary name Duch (pronounced “Doik”), was the head of the Khmer Rouge secret police and the commandant of Tuol Sleng prison. A former math whiz, he was schoolteacher and deputy principal at a a provincial college before he joined the Khmer Rouge.

Duch was regarded as an efficient administrator and executioner in the Khmer Rouge’s “command-and-control killing machine." "He is meticulous, conscientious, control-oriented, attentive to detail and seeks recognition from his superiors," according to a psychological examination released by the UN-backed court. Those who worked under him at the prison testified that Duch was universally feared by the staff. Most who worked there were uneducated teenage boys, whom Duch said could be easily indoctrinated because they were "like a blank piece of paper". [Source: By Patrick Falby, AFP, July 26, 2010 #]

Duch was born in 1942 in central Cambodia and jailed for his leftist sympathies and opposition the government in the 1960s, By 1970 he had fled to the jungle to join the Khmer Rouge. He is said to have run a prison camp for the Khmer Rouge in the jungle—where alleged enemies were held and executed— before the group came to power in 1975. #

Patrick Falby of AFP wrote: Duch is remembered as a sincere teacher devoted to helping the poor, before he became a Khmer Rouge cadre in 1970. The decision to join the communist guerrilla movement was influenced by one of his high school instructors, who also enlisted but would later be executed at Tuol Sleng as a suspected traitor. "I joined the revolution in order to transform society, to oppose the government, to oppose torture," Duch said during his trial. "I sacrificed everything for the revolution, sincerely and absolutely." #

“Inside the rebel-controlled zones, he chose Duch as his revolutionary name because it was used by a model student in a schoolbook from his youth. He then oversaw a series of jungle prisons before being made head of Tuol Sleng after the regime seized the capital in 1975. What began as only a few dozen prisoners turned into a daily torrent of condemned coming through Tuol Sleng, or S-21, as the regime purged itself of its "enemies". Ever meticulous, Duch built up a huge archive of photos, confessions and other documents with which prosecutors traced the final horrible months of thousands of inmates' lives. #

“Duch later became a born-again Christian. After Khmer Rouge was ousted from Phnom Penh, he disappeared for almost two decades. He lived under various names in the Khmer Rouge strongold in northwestern Cambodia. He converted ti Christianity unde the influence of missionaries and returned to his job as a school teacher and worked in a remote village. A chance discovery by British photojournalist Nic Dunlop led to his arrest in May 1999. He later said, “I am so sorry...The people who were held were good people...There were many men who were innocent....I have had great difficulty in my life thinking that the people who died did nothing wrong.” #

“Following the Khmer Rouge's fall from power, he maintained posts within the communist movement as it battled Vietnam-backed troops. He also reportedly worked in the 1980s for Radio China and later taught English and maths in at least one refugee camp. After his wife was murdered in 1995, Duch turned to Christianity. He was arrested after Irish photojournalist Nic Dunlop uncovered him working for a Christian aid agency in western Cambodia under a false name. Before that, many had long assumed he was dead following his disappearance after Vietnamese troops ousted the Khmer Rouge in 1979. "I told Nic Dunlop, 'Christ brought you to meet me'," Duch told his trial. "I said, 'Before I used to serve human beings, but now I serve God'."

Book: “The Lost Executioner” by Nic Dunlop featured Duch speaking openly about the atrocities committed at Tuol Sleng.

Photographer at Tuol Sleng Prison

Nhem Ein was the photographer at Tuol Sleng. He took 10,000 pictures and survived because he never spoiled a picture. In 1977, he was asked to process the film of a Pol Pot trip to China. Some of the negatives were damaged and he was interrogated and sent to a prison camp. He was able to gain his release by convincing his captures that the film was damaged before he got it.

Nhem Ein later said the prisoners were brought one at a time, their blindfold was ripped of their face and Nhem Ein told them "Look straight into the camera." "Those that arrived at the facility had no chance of living," he told AP. "I took pictures of the prisoners just after they had a number pinned on them. The photos taken before they were interrogated or tortured...One day, I saw the face of a close relative through my camera. I kept silent even after he was taken to be interrogated and killed."

Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times: “He had a job to do, and he did it supremely well, under threat of death, within earshot of screams of torture: methodically photographing Khmer Rouge prisoners and producing a haunting collection of mug shots that has become the visual symbol of Cambodia’s mass killings. Before killing the prisoners, the Khmer Rouge photographed, tortured and extracted written confessions from their victims. “I’m just a photographer; I don’t know anything,” he said he told the newly arrived prisoners as he removed their blindfolds and adjusted the angles of their heads. But he knew, as they did not, that every one of them would be killed. “I had my job, and I had to take care of my job,” he said in a recent interview. “Each of us had our own responsibilities. I wasn’t allowed to speak with prisoners.” [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, October 26, 2007 ~]

“In the interview, Mr. Nhem En spoke with pride of living up to the exacting standards of a boss who was a master of negative reinforcement. “It was really hard, my job,” he said. “I had to clean, develop and dry the pictures on my own and take them to Duch by my own hand. I couldn’t make a mistake. If one of the pictures was lost I would be killed.” But he said: “Duch liked me because I’m clean and I’m organized. He gave me a Rolex watch.” ~

“Mr. Nhem En’s career in the Khmer Rouge began in 1970 at age 9 when he was recruited as a village boy to be a drummer in a touring revolutionary band. When he was 16, he said, he was sent to China for a seven-month course in photography. He became the chief of six photographers at Tuol Slen. He was a craftsman, and some of his portraits, carefully posed and lighted, have found their way into art galleries in the United States. Hundreds of them hang in rows on the walls of Tuol Sleng, which is now a museum, their fixed stares tempting a visitor to search for meaning here on the cusp of death. In fact, they are staring at Mr. Nhem En. ~

“The job was a daily grind, he said: up at 6:30 a.m., a quick communal meal of bread or rice and something sweet, and at his post by 7 a.m. to wait for prisoners to arrive. His telephone would ring to announce them: sometimes one, sometimes a group, sometimes truckloads of them, he said. “They came in blindfolded, and I had to untie the cloth,” he said. “I was alone in the room, so I am the one they saw. They would say, ‘Why was I brought here? What am I accused of? What did I do wrong?’”But Mr. Nhem En ignored them. “‘Look straight ahead. Don’t lean your head to the left or the right.’ That’s all I said,” he recalled. “I had to say that so the picture would turn out well. Then they were taken to the interrogation center. The duty of the photographer was just to take the picture.” ~

“After the Khmer Rouge was ousted by a Vietnamese invasion in 1979, Mr. Nhem En said he traded his Rolex watch for 20 tins of milled rice. Since then he has adapted and prospered and is now a deputy mayor of the former Khmer Rouge stronghold Anlong Veng. He has switched from an opposition party to the party of Prime Minister Hun Sen, and today he wears a wristwatch that bears twin portraits of the prime minister and his wife, Bun Rany. ~

Him Huy: Tuol Sleng Executioner

Reporting from Anlong Sah, Cambodia, Nick Meo wrote in The Globe and Mail: “Amid the coconut groves, bamboo stilt houses and paddy fields of this Cambodian village, a wiry middle-aged rice farmer and father of nine is preparing to recount his career as a Khmer Rouge executioner. Since the fall of the brutal regime, Him Huy, 52, has lived quietly, much like the estimated 30,000 other former low- and mid-level Khmer Rouge cadres. His neighbours already know what he did. Most have seen his photograph alongside black and white portraits of thousands of victims in the Tuol Sleng genocide museum, the school building in the capital that became Cambodia's most notorious interrogation centre. [Source: Nick Meo, The Globe and Mail, July 10, 2006]

“When he was recruited into a predominantly teenage guerrilla army in 1973, Mr. Huy was a homesick 17-year-old village boy, he says, and insists that after its victory he was brainwashed with Maoist propaganda, then forced to inflict pain and execute enemies of the regime. Mr. Huy says he is a victim of the regime's evil as much as anyone else. "I was forced to be part of that clique."

And that gives some hope to at least one of the seven surviving inmates from the thousands tortured in Tuol Sleng. Chum Mey, now 76, was a lorry driver when he was accused of being a CIA spy in November of 1978. He remembers the Khmer Rouge cadres as swaggering teenagers with AK-47s who enjoyed projecting an aura of fear. Although Mr. Huy had left the prison by the time Mr. Mey was sent there, he has met the former executioner several times in recent years, arguing with him last week during a radio station phone-in, and believes he should be on trial. "The prison guards were not victims," he said. "While I was waiting to die, they were waiting to kill."

Chum Mey: Tou Sleng Survivor

Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times: “Chum Mey, a mechanic, was spared because he the torturers needed him to repair machines, including the typewriters used to record the confessions — very often false — that they extracted from prisoners like himself. He endured torture that continued for days, and said, “At that time I wished I could die rather than survive.” Like many other Khmer Rouge victims, he says he has no idea why he was selected for arrest or why they were tortured to admit to unknown crimes. He lost his wife and children in the Khmer Rouge years. [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, May 16, 2009]

Zoe Murphy of the BBC News wrote: In 2009, from behind bullet-proof glass in a Phnom Penh courtroom, Chum Mey finally told his story to the world. He was a leading witness in the first trial of a senior Khmer Rouge figure, Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Comrade Duch. [Source: Zoe Murphy, BBC News, July 26, 2010]

In 1975, Chum Mey - originally from Prey Veng province - was working in Phnom Penh as a mechanic. He was married with three young children. On 17 April 1975 the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh. "When they entered everybody including myself raised a white flag to congratulate them; everybody cheered," Chum Mey told the war crimes tribunal. Just hours later, Khmer Rouge representatives went door-to-door telling people to evacuate to the countryside. Chum Mey said those who did not co-operate were shot dead. He gathered his wife and children and joined the exodus. His two-year-old son fell ill and died during the journey. Chum Mey was forced to bury him in a shallow grave and move on.

Later, he was sent back to the capital by the Khmer Rouge to repair sewing machines for a co-operative manufacturing the new revolutionary uniform, black pyjamas. On October 28, 1978 he and other workers were told they were being sent to fix vehicles for an offensive against Vietnam. In reality, Chum Mey was about to enter the darkest period of his life, as he was taken to Tuol Sleng. There he was imprisoned in a brick cell about two metres by one metre wide, blind-folded and shackled to the floor.

For 12 days and nights, Chum Mey says he was tortured, as his interrogators tried to make him confess to spying for the US and Russia. "If you refuse to confess I'll beat you to death. You must tell the truth then I won't kill you. If not I must kill you," he quoted his tormentors as saying. He was whipped repeatedly about the body with a switch of bamboo sticks. When he held up his hands to try to shield himself his fingers were broken. His toenails were pulled out with pliers while his legs were shackled. When he still refused to confess, the nails were twisted and pulled off his other foot. Finally, Chum Mey said he was subjected to electric shocks several times with a wire from a 220-volt wall socket. On each occasion he passed out. When he came round, he was asked again to confess. Eventually he said he confessed to anything so that the torture would be over.

In his confession Chum Mey wrote that he was working for the CIA and had recruited dozens of agents in Cambodia. He gave the names of dozens of acquaintances, innocent men and women who, it is presumed, were later arrested, tortured and murdered. "People who had been arrested and killed previously had implicated me, and I implicated others. So did other people. "It was just like rear waves pushing the front waves forward. So people would die one after another, after another, after another," he said in a BBC interview in 2002.

Chum Mey believes he was allowed to live because he was of use to the regime, fixing sewing machines in the prison workshop. At night he was chained to a long iron bar with 40 other prisoners. He says they were forced to live in silence. "When I wept I could not make any noise. I wept a lot and I had no more tears to weep, I was only waiting for the day that I would be killed," he later told the war crimes trial.

On 7 January 1979, Vietnamese troops captured Phnom Penh from the Khmer Rouge, and the prison staff fled. Chum Mey was marched at gunpoint by prison guards into the provinces, where he had a chance meeting with his wife, and held for the first time his fourth child - a boy, just two months old. For two days they travelled together to an isolated area with a group of other prisoners. They were then ordered to walk into a paddy field, where their captors opened fire on them. The soldiers shot dead his wife and baby. Chum Mey escaped alone and hid in a forest. Justice "I cry every night. Every time I hear people talk about the Khmer Rouge it reminds me of my wife and children," Chum Mey told the public gallery at Duch's trial.

Most days Chum Mey can be found at the former prison, which is now a genocide museum, housing the photographs and written confessions of many of the victims. "I come every day to tell the world the truth about the Tuol Sleng prison... so that none of these crimes are ever repeated anywhere in the world."

Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times: “Mr. Chum Mey, retired now from his work as a mechanic, spends much of his time wandering among the portraits, telling and retelling his story to tourists, as if one of the victims on the walls had come to life. An eager and passionate storyteller, he will show a visitor how he was shoved, blindfolded, into his cell during 12 days of torture, and he will drop to the floor inside a small brick cubicle where he was held in chains. “As you can see, this was my condition,” he said recently as he sat on the hard concrete floor, holding up a metal ammunition box that was used as a toilet. “It upsets me to see Duch sitting in the courtroom talking with his lawyers as if he were a guest of the court.” [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, May 16, 2009]

Bou Meng: Tou Sleng Survivor

Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times: Bou Men survived because he was a painter and was singled out from a row of shackled prisoners to produce portraits of the Khmer Rouge chief, Pol Pot. “Every night I looked out at the moon,” Mr. Bou Meng recalled. “I heard people crying and sighing around the building. I heard people calling out, ‘Mother, help me! Mother, help me!’ ”It was at night that prisoners were trucked out to a killing field, and every night, he said, he feared that his moment had come. “But by midnight or 1 a.m. I realized that I would live another day.” [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, May 16, 2009]

AFP reported: “Bou Meng, 68, one of only a handful of people to live through the communist regime's Tuol Sleng jail, stopped several times to compose himself as he told the UN-backed tribunal that blood from his many lashes flowed to the floor. "(My torturer) asked me to count the lashes. And when I got to 10 lashes he said, 'How can you get to 10 lashes? You've only had one lash,'" Bou Meng said, taking out a handkerchief to wipe his eyes. "Everytime they beat me up, they asked me questions. When did I join the CIA and who introduced me to the CIA network?... I did not know what a CIA agent or network was, so how could I respond?" he added. [Source: AFP, June 30, 2009]

Bou Meng said under the regime he had worked at a technical school, was forced to the limit of his physical abilities building dams and canals, and finally planted vegetables before he and his wife were taken in 1977 to Tuol Sleng. "My wife and I put our hands behind our backs, and then they cut our hands. Then my wife cried and said, 'What did we do wrong? We are both orphans,'" Bou Meng told the court. The couple were then blindfolded with black cloth, Bou Meng said, and he realised they were being sent to prison as they were taken to be photographed. "That (Tuol Sleng photo) is the only photograph I have of my wife with me today," Bou Meng said.

Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times: During the first few years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, Mr. Bou Meng returned to work in an office at Tuol Sleng... Now he uses it as a rest stop, spending the night there on a cot when he visits the capital, Phnom Penh, from the countryside, where he paints Buddhist murals in temples. Mr. Bou Meng does not wander like his friend among the Tuol Sleng pictures, but he does keep one in his wallet: a snapshot-size reproduction of the prison portrait of his wife. “Sometimes when I sit at home I look at the picture and everything seems fresh,” he said. “I think of the suffering she endured, and I wonder how long she stayed alive.” [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, May 16, 2009]

“Mr. Bou Meng has since remarried twice, but he remains shackled to his memories. “I know I should forget her,” he said, “but I can’t.” She visits him, he said, in visions that are something more than dreams, looking just as she did when he last saw her — still 28 years old, leaving Mr. Bou Meng to live on and grow old without her. Sometimes she appears with the spirits of others who were killed, he said. They stand together, a crowd of ghosts in black, and she tells him, “Only you, Bou Meng, can find justice for us.”

Mr. Bou Meng said he hoped that testifying against Duch and seeing him convicted would free him from the restless ghosts and let him live what is left of his life in peace. “I don’t want to be a victim,” he said. “I want to be like everybody else, a normal person.” But he said he knew that this might be asking too much of life. “Maybe not completely normal,” Mr. Bou Meng said. “But at least 50 percent.”

Chum Mey Testifies at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal

Describing testimony in trial of prison chief Duch, Patrick Falby of AFP wrote: “A survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime's main jail told how torturers ripped out his toenails and gave him electric shocks to make him confess to being a Soviet and US agent. Chum Mey described to Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes tribunal how he wept every day for the wife and children he lost under the 1975-1979 communist movement and the horrors he endured at Tuol Sleng prison. [Source: Patrick Falby, AFP, June 30, 2009]

The 79-year-old former mechanic was giving evidence at the trial of prison chief Duch, who is accused of overseeing the torture and extermination of 15,000 people who passed through the facility. "Because I kept telling them I didn't know about the KGB and the CIA, they used pliers to twist my toenails. The nail was completely detached from my toe, they pulled it out," Chum Mey said. He then stood in the centre of the courtroom and removed his sandals to show that his toenails had grown back deformed. The former inmate detailed how he buried his two-year-old son who died of illness as the Khmer Rouge emptied the capital Phnom Penh in 1975, and talked of his two daughters who disappeared under the regime.

Chum Mey said he was working at a sewing machine factory when he was brought to Tuol Sleng in 1978, while his pregnant wife was held in a nearby "re-education centre". They were reunited — along with their then-two-month-old baby — in 1979 but he lost them again when they disappeared without trace the same year. "I cry every night. Every time I hear people talk about the Khmer Rouge, it reminds me of my wife and kids. I am like a mentally ill person now," he said, weeping.

During his time at Tuol Sleng, Chum Mey said he was repeatedly tortured on suspicion of espionage. "While I was walking inside (after arriving) I said (to a guard), 'Brother, please look after my family.' Then the person kicked me to the ground," Chum Mey said, adding the man swore at him and told him he would be "smashed". Chum Mey told judges he was photographed, stripped, handcuffed and yanked by his earlobes to face interrogators. "They asked me to tell them the truth — how many of us joined the KGB and CIA," Chum Mey said. "I'm still longing to know the reason why I was accused of being CIA and KGB because I knew nothing about them."

He described how interrogators beat him for 12 days and nights as he pleaded for his life. He shuddered in pain after they pulled out his toenails, he said, and heard "some sort of sound" after they subjected him to electric shocks. The agony finally ended when he falsely confessed to being a CIA and KGB agent, Chum Mey said, and his life was then spared because he was put to use repairing sewing machines and a water pump.

Asked by his lawyer whether he had any questions for Duch, Chum Mey asked whether all so-called CIA agents in Cambodia had been "smashed" or whether some remained. Duch answered that CIA was a broad term for people suspected of working against the Khmer Rouge. "The real CIA and the CIA perceived by the (Khmer Rouge) were different. They only identified you as someone opposing them — that's why you were identified as CIA," Duch said.

Earlier, fellow survivor Van Nath described how starving prisoners ate insects and said he was only spared because he painted pictures of Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, who died in 1998. Earlier in his trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity, the 66-year-old Duch begged forgiveness from the victims after accepting responsibility for running the jail. He has stated he did not believe most confessions extracted under torture, but rejects prosecutors' claims that he had a central role in the Khmer Rouge's rule and says he never personally executed anyone.

Vann Nath: Artist at Tuol Sleng Prison

Tom Fawthrop wrote in The Guardian: “After his escape from S21, the prison hell of the Khmer Rouge in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, the painter Vann Nath became the most celebrated survivor, and an important witness, of one of history's darkest chapters. His graphic depictions of the horrendous torture at S21, painted in the years after his release, became evidence in the conviction of the prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, by the UN-backed Khmer Rouge genocide tribunal that sat in Phnom Penh from 2007 onwards. [Source: Tom Fawthrop, The Guardian, September 5, 2011]

In January 1978, Vann — who has died aged 65 in 2011— was detained by the Khmer Rouge as an "enemy of the state". He was taken to S21, also known as Tuol Sleng, the headquarters of the Santebal (state security). This was the interrogation, intelligence and torture centre of the Khmer Rouge. The documentary archives from S21 reveal that Vann's name was on the execution list, signed by Duch, in 1978. At the last minute, Duch, who orchestrated the confessions and torture of the inmates, scribbled a note: "Spare the painter." The last-minute reprieve came about because they needed someone to paint a portrait of their supreme leader, Pol Pot. Vann was among the seven or eight prisoners who narrowly escaped death by dint of their special skills and usefulness to the regime.

Vann was born into a poor family who could not afford to send him to school. He had two brothers and a sister, and grew up in Battambang province, western Cambodia. His interest in art was sparked by the elaborate paintings that adorn the walls of Cambodia's Buddhist temples. He left home to serve as a Buddhist monk from the age of 17 to 21. He then enrolled at a painting school. Before 1975, when the Khmer Rouge took power, his life as a painter of landscapes and cinema posters in Battambang was unexceptional and apolitical. He was working in a rice field when he was arrested in 1978. The Khmer Rouge took him to Wat Kandal, a temple used as a detention centre, and told him that he had violated the regime's moral code. Huge numbers of artists and other professionals perished during the Pot Pot regime.

In 1979, Vietnamese troops liberated Phnom Penh, and the Khmer Rouge fled the city. In the ensuing confusion, Vann and the few other survivors were able to escape. Commissioned by the new government's ministry of information and culture, in the 1980s Vann vividly captured on canvas the horrendous torture and excruciating suffering he experienced along with his fellow inmates. These starkly vivid paintings still adorn the walls of the museum.

In 1998, Vann's story, A Cambodian Prison Portrait: One Year in the Khmer Rouge's S21, was published. He appeared in the film S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine (2003), in which he confronted his former jailers in a tensely dramatic reconstruction of life inside Pol Pot's torture chamber. He interrogated the prison guards with a calm dignity in his search for answers, explanations and truth. This riveting film, directed by the Cambodian film-maker Rithy Panh, received the François Chalais prize at Cannes in 2003.

Vann has been widely recognised for his work. He received the Hellman/Hammett award for persecuted writers twice. He was artist in residence at Providence College, Rhode Island, during the Spirit of Cambodia art exhibition in 2002, and during a US book tour in 2003 he was made an honorary citizen of Lowell, Massachusetts. Surely his finest moment came as a key witness in the courtroom in the historic encounter between Vann and his former jailer, Duch. For the victims of the "killing fields", it had been an agonisingly long wait for justice. Vann declared in 2009, when the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Phnom Penh commenced: "I have waited 30 years for this. I never imagined that I would be able to sit in this courtroom today to describe my plight, my experience. I hope by the end that justice can be tangible, can be seen by everybody."

Records Reveal More Survivors at S-21 Than Previously Thought

In 2008, Associated Press reported: “Newly analyzed documents indicate that as many as 177 prisoners were released from a notorious Khmer Rouge torture center where it was previously believed that there were only 14 survivors, Cambodian researchers said. However, at least 100 of those found to have been released from S-21 prison were Khmer Rouge soldiers taken to the facility and released after only three days. It was not immediately clear why they were detained there. [Source: Ker Munthit, AP, August 29, 2008]

But a prison record The Associated Press obtained from the Documentation Center of Cambodia, an independent group researching the Khmer Rouge crimes, shows the names of 100 former Khmer Rouge soldiers aged 17 to 38 who were brought to the prison on Nov. 23, 1977, and released three days later. The record did not give the reason for their arrest or release. Youk Chhang, director of the center, said his group's findings proved that the long-held belief that no one had ever been released from S-21 and that only 14 had survived their time there was inaccurate. "Research shows that people were released, so for public knowledge, it's important for the Cambodians, for the (Khmer Rouge) survivors to understand that," he said.

Youk Chhang He said the enormous scale of the Khmer Rouge killings and other atrocities may have made it easy for historians, scholars and the public at large to overlook the records. "That's why this detail didn't come out," he said late Thursday. "But to understand the whole history, you have to look at both sides of what happened." "This is confirmed by testimony that prisoners brought to S-21 by mistake were executed in order to ensure secrecy and security," they said in their indictment.

The judges said more than 12,380 prisoners were executed or died from inhumane treatment at the prison, a number lower than the 16,000 previously estimated by genocide researchers. "The facility served primarily as an anteroom to death," David Chandler, an American scholar, wrote in his book "Voices from S-21." He, too, said no one had been released from the prison.

Youk Chhang said his group found other records that indicate another 77 inmates had been released from S-21. He said the records have been around for the past 30 years but had been largely overlooked by the public and scholars. Dara P. Vanthan, the group's senior researcher, said his team determined that one of the inmates on the list is still alive but he has yet to meet with him. "Many other families did not even know their loved ones were released and today still do not know where they are, dead or alive," he said. AP

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Documentation Center of Cambodia, d.dccam.org, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourism of Cambodia, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

Last updated May 2014

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