Monday, September 21, 2009

Testimony complete

Duch in the dock
We have reached an important stage in the Khmer Rouge Tribunal and in particular the trial of Comrade Duch, the former commandant of S-21 (Tuol Sleng). After five and a half months of witness testimony and evidence, the court will now move into its closing stages of final written submissions and closing arguments in November. We have seen 33 witnesses and 22 civil parties in the trial to-date, 351 allegations and 72 trial days in all. I attended just once on the day that David Chandler gave his expert testimony. It was clear to me that Duch was enjoying his moment in the spotlight, and though he has freely acknowledged his role as the head of S-21, he is not telling the whole truth and only reveals what he wants us to know. His defense has focused on the premise that he acted out of fear for his life and whilst that may've been partly true, his capability as head of the interrogation and extermination center tells a very different story. This man is responsible for at least 12,000 deaths, and probably many more, and deserves whatever the Tribunal can throw at him. His remorse is a sham and his guilt is clear, even though his former S-21 colleagues were less than forthcoming in their time on the stand. Nevertheless, the paper trail left by the Khmer Rouge and his own admissions, have sealed his fate.
A new book on the Tribunal will be launched by DC-Cam at Monument Books on Saturday 3 October (6pm). It's called On Trial: The Khmer Rouge Accountability Process and is a collection of essays by seven authors on what the trial represents. The authors, John D Ciorciari and Anne Heindel, are both legal advisors with DC-Cam and the 352-page book has a foreword by Youk Chhang, its director. John Ciorciarai has already published a 200-page book, The Khmer Rouge Tribunal, back in 2006. And we are still awaiting the release of Bou Meng's A Survivor from Khmer Rouge Prison S-21, written by Vannak Huy, which has been put on hold during the trial of Comrade Duch. Also in the works is a monograph history of Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum by Yin Nean, which should be out sometime next year.

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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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Thursday, September 3, 2009

A beloved brother

Rob Hamill
I missed this news article when it was published last week, following on from the appearance of Rob Hamill at the Khmer Rouge tribunal as a witness. Worth re-posting here I think. You can read more about the Hamill brothers in the blog of the documentary Brother Number One here.

Justice for a beloved brother - Mark Servian, Waikato Times, New Zealand 29/8/09

This month Waikato man Rob Hamill went to Cambodia to face his brother's killer in a Phnom Pehn courtroom, testifying against Khmer Rouge commander Comrade Duch. Hamilton writer Mark Servian was there as his media support, and reports on Hamill's harrowing journey.

Rob Hamill looked at the judge and said "Limeworks Loop Road, Te Pahu", and on the dusty outskirts of Phnom Pehn my vision stretched and the background seemed to retreat at the mention of that familiar hamlet in the far-away green foothills of Pirongia. Such mundane opening questions – "what is your address?" – to establish his identity. No inquiry to his character, to what he has achieved. For winning a Trans-Atlantic rowing race and breaking world records, or polling highest for the energy trust and fundraising for the hospice, all count for naught in the eyes of this Cambodian court. Here he is just another victim giving testimony, made of the same fragile human flesh that the accused there in the dock rendered and tore asunder so many times. But when asked to identify his family, Rob gives a clue to the man within – he names Kerry and John in the present tense. They ARE his brothers even now, though their deaths three decades ago is what has bought him here, face to face in this room with Comrade Duch (‘Doik’), the Khmer Rouge monster responsible, a mathematician whose victims add up to the tens of thousands.

We had received word that Rob was to testify a day earlier than expected while visiting the scene of those terrible crimes. Rachel his wife, Ivan his two-year-old son and I were visiting Tuol Sleng or S21, the former high school down a Phnom Pehn back street that should be as infamous as Auschwitz. In this place, about the size of Garden Place [or Wgtn’s Civic Square or half of Chch’s The Square], Kerry Hamill landed up in 1978 with fellow lost sailor John Dewhirst. Here they were tortured and abused for months before the final release of death, along with some 15,000 to 20,000 other men, women and children.

Today just inside the gate, Rachel starts crying, sobbing, for she has been living Kerry’s story for years and now she stands in the place that has loomed so large in her and Rob’s imagination. The guide asks where we’re from and we say "New Zealand", he says "I took a New Zealander whose brother was here around the other day", Rachel says, "he’s my husband". Rob visited Tuol Sleng a few days earlier and found it very hard to take. He says he arrived in Cambodia wanting to find some way in his heart to forgive Duch. But experiencing this torture factory first hand banished any chance of that. In Rob’s words, Duch "no longer belongs to the human species". For this man, who as a young student won national mathematics prizes, designed the deliberate considered processes of this torture factory. Duch alone gave the order to "smash" each and every one of his victims.

As we see and have these horrors described, Rachel’s sobbing stops. As she says later, and is as true for me, "you just feel numb after a while". We see tiny brick cells with bloodstains on the floor, balconies barb-wired to prevent escape by suicide, makeshift but efficient torture devices and tools, hundreds of photos of faces both before and after death. And actually worse of all, the paintings by Vann Nath, one of only seven survivors, that document what he witnessed. Rob later asserts that the inmates were treated like animals, but really, if animals are ever treated like this, it is called what it is - cruelty.

Initially ‘Angkar’, or the ‘Khmer Rouge’ as we in the West know them, only targeted the ‘new people’- the city dwellers, wearers of glasses, the intellectuals, but also factory workers and mechanics, anyone involved in the modern economy (the ‘old people’ were the rural subsistence-living ‘peasants’). But as Pol Pot’s paranoia increased, Angkar turned on their own and started torturing and killing their own ranks. The foreigners that Duch got his hands on served to prove that the enemies were at the gate, tortured into falsely confessing they were CIA or KGB agents. Kerry Hamill was killed just two or so months before the Vietnamese overthrew Pol Pot in January 1979. Before Rob’s arrival, Duch’s trial at the Extraordinary Court Chambers of Cambodia has already established that Kerry and other foreigners were burnt with tyres around their necks in order to destroy the evidence.

The debate in court has been over whether or not they were alive when this was done. A few weeks back, an ex-guard had testified that they were, but Duch maintains that he ordered that they be killed first and that no one would have disobeyed him. This is typical of how Duch has tried to run the courtroom from the dock, in a different manner but with the same intellectual arrogance that we saw from Clayton Weatherston back in New Zealand a few weeks ago. Duch converted to Christianity in the mid-90s and, unlike the other senior Khmer Rouge yet to be tried, has pleaded guilty to all charges – the court case is to decide his sentence and to cross-examine him in the French inquisitorial style. But having been arrested in 1999, he has had ten years to prepare his defence. So while he has often said sorry and asked forgiveness, his aloof behaviour in court does not match his words and he splits such horrible hairs – death by tyre or machete? – to qualify what he did. ‘I was only following orders, they would have done it to me’ is his defence. But Duch was a senior leader in the regime and, as Rob has often said, it was those in positions of power who could have stopped the madness.

Rob arrived in Cambodia the week before to prepare his testimony with Alain Werner, the Swiss lawyer representing some of the ‘civil parties’. They have redrafted it numerous times, and on this Monday Rob farewelled us to go and complete it for his scheduled appearance the next day. But mid-morning I get the call that he is likely to be on that afternoon, interrupting my, Rachel and Ivan’s numbing tour of Tuol Sleng. By the time we arrive at the crowded courthouse, thunder rumbling in the tropical sky, Rob is already in the courtroom and we are told that Ivan, being under sixteen, is not allowed in. So we take up position in the media room next door and watch proceedings via closed-circuit TV. Rob’s appearance starts with the mundane identity questions, and then he embarks on the sad tale of his brother and family. As he begins, at Rachel’s request, I call Rob’s sister who is looking after Ivan’s older brothers back in Te Pahu, handing her the phone when she answers – "Rob is on now," she says, signalling this moment none of them ever thought they would see.

The first picture he puts up on the screen is of the Hamill brothers in a dinghy when they were kids. In this sticky warm corner of South-East Asia, the dated image of young Kiwis is jarring, prompting the Western reporters in the room to jump up and snap shots of it. As Rob then tells what happened to two of the boys on that boat, Rachel quietly cries, Ivan asleep on her lap. After half-an-hour of this gruelling testimony, the court takes a break, and suddenly Alain rushes into the room, as if he has jumped out of the screen, his lawyerly robe flapping, a bundle of energy suddenly exploding in the quiet room. He’s been sent by Rob to find Rachel, concerned that she isn’t in the courtroom with him. We explain that Ivan isn’t allowed in – "sort it out" I snap, sending Alain flying back out the door, only to return moments later to report they won’t budge. Rachel reluctantly hands me Ivan, waking the two-year-old. As she disappears the toddler objects, throwing his legs around, but eventually calming down.

When Rob resumes he starts by acknowledging his wife to the court and thanks her for her support. When he then puts up a picture of Kerry on the screen, Ivan calls out ‘Daddy!’, mistaking the uncle he’ll never know for his father. Rob continues to tell how the actions of Duch and co affected his family. As Ivan occasionally calls for his mum, it strikes me that his upset at her absence is yet one more tiny ripple of Duch’s cruelty all those years ago. Around us, the international and local media watch riveted, Rob clearly making the most intense appearance in the months-long trial. When he says to Duch "there have been times when, to use your word, I have wanted to smash you", the Cambodians in the room, some listening to translation on headphones, gasp and laugh to each other, shaking their heads in disbelief. This reaction continues as he describes how in the past he has imagined Duch suffering the tortures he has visited on so many others. It is stirring and disturbing stuff, delivered by a man who is renowned for his bravery, strength and endurance, but who today shows an emotional vulnerability that is painful to watch. Towards the end of his appearance, Rob gets the chance to ask Duch where his brother’s ashes are. Duch stands stiffly, and calmly claims that he simply doesn’t remember Kerry, though he does recall his British companion John Dewhirst .

And then it is over, and Rachel reappears to reclaim Ivan and we are all shown into a side room to see Rob. There is happiness of a sort, interspersed with a sombre realisation that while the family has finally had a chance to speak their minds to Duch, many questions still remain. Ivan jumps around on the couch behind his parents, happy to have his dad back. Rob looks numb, speaking softly, smiling occasionally, a feeling of unreality pervading the room. Alain the lawyer appears and expresses his huge thanks and, his arms swinging around in an almost comically typical Gallic fashion, declares that Rob has just made the most decisive testimony of the trial.

With the crowds of the day gone, Rob steps out into the cool shadow of the building to talk to the media. He is composed, the emotion of the testimony subsided, his usual confident soap-box self to the fore again, the same as when I saw him speak at the opening of the Farmers Market at Claudelands a fortnight earlier. The media session over, Sambath Reach, the court official who has ushered us around, steps forward to speak to the small clutch of Westerners. He expresses his deep thanks to Rob "on behalf of all Cambodians" for saying things that have not previously been said in the court and for standing up to Duch in a way no one has yet dared. Like every local over forty we meet, he lost several family members to the Khmer Rouge. As he speaks, we know we are standing at a point in history.

Sambath then invites Rob over to the court’s Buddhist shrine nearby. In the warm angled tropical sun, the tall late afternoon storm clouds stacked in the distance, the Kiwi and the Khmer stand before the canopied golden warrior statue and make an offering for Kerry and all the other poor souls who fell into the hands of that dreadful beast. The pair quietly discuss the shrine’s story, the calm of the moment a blessed relief. Rob bows to the statue and thanks Sambath, squeezing his hand and meeting his eye one last time. And then he puts an arm around Rachel, picks up Ivan, and together the family walk off. Perhaps, just perhaps, the lost soul of a sailor from Whakatane, a beloved brother, can now finally rest in peace.

  • Rob's search for justice for Kerry is the subject of Brother Number One, a documentary by Pan Pacific Films to be released next year.
  • Mark Servian is a Hamilton writer, artist and activist.

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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, August 17, 2009

Aussies at S-21

Photographs of foreigners killed at S-21 that can be seen at the Tuol Sleng Museum
As a foreigner myself, I've always maintained an interest in the stories behind the handful of foreigners killed at S-21, or Tuol Sleng as we know it today. Rob Hamill, the brother of Kerry Hamill, a New Zealander who was killed there, will give testimony at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal this coming week about the effect of his brother's death. In the meantime, this story appeared in The Australian newspaper over the weekend, about two more of the foreigners killed at S-21 in the late 1970s.

Intrepid larrikins defied Pol Pot's killers - by Mark Dodd and Marianne Harris, The Australian
In late November 1978, in the Killing Fields of Cambodia, a 35-year-old Sydney pub and club worker Ronald Keith Dean signed a confession that he was an operative for the CIA. Three weeks later, another Australian, David Lloyd Scott, signed a similar statement detailing years of anti-communist activity and a long career with the premier US spy agency. Dean and Scott, two knockabout Aussies, who had embarked on a Southeast Asian yachting adventure and strayed into contested waters, thinking they were in Thailand, were, of course, nothing of the sort. Captured by the Khmer Rouge and undoubtedly terrified in Pol Pot's S-21 death camp, they produced a final act of defiance.

Now with the discovery of confessions which were buried in a Cambodian archive and testimonies to a war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh, the full details of their capture, interrogation and murder are emerging. Their forced confessions, which have emerged 30 years after their deaths, cast new light on the enduring mystery over their disappearance and have again thrown into stark relief the brutality and paranoia of the Pol Pot death machine.
They also tell a tale of bravery and creativity under the gravest pressure, with Scott spinning a yarn of how Muresk College in Western Australia was a CIA training farm that churned out "active probationary CIA agents". Scott, a former roadie with West Australian rock band Bakery, thumbed his nose at his captors, naming members of the band entourage, such as manager John Hopkins, as a CIA agent and saying he was recruited into the CIA by a "Mr Magoo". Dean also treated his torturers with contempt, spinning a fanciful tale of being recruited into the CIA in Prague.

But with their signatures on each page of the confessions and their thumbprints at the end of the documents, they were effectively signing their death warrants at the hands of Pol Pot's brutal regime. Documents obtained by The Weekend Australian show the two men were among about a dozen foreigners, including other yachtsmen, killed at the death camp. Confirmation of their deaths has also cast new light on Andrew Peacock's resignation as the Fraser government's foreign minister in 1981 over his unease at Australia's decision to recognise Pol Pot's regime under pressure from China.

Pol Pot's infamous extermination centre, through the entrance of which passed about 16,000 victims, lies off a quiet, dusty side street in the southern suburbs of Cambodia's bustling river port capital, Phnom Penh. Khmer know the old French lycee as Tuol Sleng, or Hill of Poisoned Trees. According to testimony to a UN-backed war crimes tribunal inquiring into the genocide in the Killing Fields, Dean or Scott died in horrific circumstances. "At least one of the yachtsmen may have been killed on Mao Tse Tung Boulevard ... In this instance on an unknown date in 1978, a witness indicated that he observed a Westerner being taken to this location and incinerated on a pile of automobile tyres. It was stated that this prisoner was alive when set alight."

Scott and Dean met in December 1977 after spending their lives a continent apart. Scott had brushed with fame as a roadie for the band Bakery, while Dean had worked in pubs and casinos and travelled through Britain, Zimbabwe, South Africa and the then Czechoslovakia. "I guess I just want to know what happened," said Jenny Morgan, a friend of Dean from his Sydney days. They took off on a carefree adventure and it went pear-shaped, and it just seems so unfair that nothing was ever done about it." Peter Walker, a former guitarist with Bakery, has been haunted by Scott's disappearance for three decades. He remembers Scott as a knockabout country bloke who was the band's ever-reliable roadie. "Dave was a very solid friend to the band and not forgotten by Hank (Davis, drummer) or John (Hopkins, the manager)," Walker told The Weekend Australian yesterday. "Dave was loyal and showed surprising enterprise and ability. His confession sadly demonstrates that behind the laconic farmer boy was a very creative mind."

Yesterday, Scott's sister-in-law, Pauline Scott, was reluctant to speak about the case after more than 30 years. "Let us hope and push the government in any way possible to actually make sure that these people who just carried out these atrocities are actually brought to justice," she said. Former West Australian agriculture minister Kim Chance grew up near the Scotts' farm and was in Scott's year at Wesley. Chance said when he read Scott's 1978 "confession", he knew his former school mate had not been defeated. "There was some real black humour in there," he said. "I knew it was meant to be seen as a funny document by those who knew him. I have been to Cambodia ... I just felt haunted by David the whole time I was there."

Dean and Scott met after Scott accepted an invitation from commercial diver and friend Kim Barnaby for a sailing holiday in Southeast Asia. The three men met in The Philippines and sailed to Brunei, where Barnaby left the yacht. Scott and Dean continued for the final leg of their voyage to Sattahip, a port in southeast Thailand. But two days away from their destination, they were arrested by a Khmer patrol boat. A war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh is starting to shed new light on the fate of the two men and and other Westerners, including four Americans, three Frenchmen, a Briton and a New Zealander. Held apart from the Cambodians, they were kept shackled by leg irons in a special section of Tuol Sleng reserved for "important prisoners". They were fed twice a day - a gruel of "banana stalk soup" or sometimes a little rice if they were lucky. Their toilet was an ammunition case and they were washed with a firehose. And they were tortured, beaten and given electric shocks to obtain the correct confession of offences.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

30 Years for a Trial

Phnom Savoeun (Battambang). 20/01/2008: Phnom Savoeun cave.
About 2000 people were killed here by the Khmer Rouge and thrown in the cave between 1975 and 1979. The pagoda was used as a prison. Today the building is used as a pagoda again. Photo courtesy of John Vink.
Photographer John Vink can be found at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal most days. A visit to his website will confirm that. So it's fitting that his next exhibition, starting 20 August and lasting thru til 6 September at the Chinese House on Sisowath Quay, is entitled, 30 Years for a Trial. There's a reception at 7pm on the 20th and the exhibition is set to include Vink's photographs of places, memories, and ongoings of the tribunal. Since moving here in 2000, Vink has concentrated on social and land issues all over Cambodia, focusing most recently on events at the ECCC. Visit his website here and make sure you visit the exhibition too.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Contrition, my arse

Things will be a bit slow on my blog if blogger's refusal to allow the posting of photos continues, as it has for the last day or so. In the meantime, over at the ECCC, Comrade Duch has been spouting off again, this time in response to a witness who broke down when describing the loss of her husband and children. Duch, who has a tendency to belittle and berate some witnesses, went to the other extreme this time, saying he deserved everything the court will throw at him, even death by stoning - if it was a Khmer tradition, which its not. I hope no-one is fooled by his apparent contrition. Duch is in his element in the court, as I witnessed for myself recently. It's his stage, and a massive stage at that, he knows he will be found guilty so he is enjoying the freedom it gives him and is toying with the court and the witnesses. I'm amazed that he gets the opportunity to comment upon everyone's testimony after the witness, judges, prosecutors, civil parties and defense lawyers have had their say, quite unlike any other court I've seen before. He claims remorse but I don't buy it at all. His comments to David Chandler, thanking him for his book on S-21, shows he is boastfully proud of the job he did there, ensuring the so-called enemies of his Khmer Rouge masters were processed in such a meticulous fashion. Let's not forget that evry vile thing that took place at S-21 was borne from Duch's desire to please those masters. I too hope the court will throw the book, the kitchen sink, and life imprisonment at Duch. He deserves all of it a thousand times over. How about we accede to his wishes and introduce stoning as a one-off just for him. I'm in favour.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Blogger makes me mad sometimes. Over the last few days its done it darndest to make posting as difficult as possible and then today its miraculously back to normal. No mention of the problem on the blogger forum. I suppose I should be thankful for small mercies that its back to normal but it gets very frustrating when you have something you are dying to post. For example there was a 3-day conference on Banteay Chhmar, one of my favourite temples, and the efforts being considered to file for World Heritage site status, which prompted me to post lots more pictures from my visit a few months ago. The blogger problem put an end to that, temporarily. The conference was held in Sisophon over the weekend just gone and over 100 experts, officials and scholars attended to discuss the future of Banteay Chhmar. Wish I had been invited. Anyways blogger is back (for how long is anyone's guess) and I'll post the pictures this week.
What else is on my program for this week? Well, I'll be at Olympic Stadium tomorrow afternoon for the two Cambodian Premier Leagues games that are due to be played. Also sometime very soon there should be a press conference to announce the Cambodian U-23 football squad that is being assembled by coach Scott O'Donell for the forthcoming SEA Games in Laos in December. I think they want to make a big splash about it in the press, especially as Metfone are now involved as major sponsors.
After my visit to the ECCC (Khmer Rouge trial) last week, more testimony is being heard this week from former S-21 guards and workers though the appearance of Rob Hamill, brother of one of the foreign victims at S-21, Kerry Hamill, has been rescheduled to next Tuesday, the 18th.
Finally, I've just had word that Khmer artist Khin You has passed away in Bangkok a couple of days ago, though I haven't had this verified as yet. The painter had his first exhibition in Phnom Penh a couple of months ago, having returned to the country in 2004 after many years abroad. You can read more about Khin You in this interview with Asia Life.

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Voices from the ECCC

David Chandler and myself at our first-ever meet exactly a month ago
Today was my first-ever visit to the ECCC, the Khmer Rouge Tribunal that has been dominating the news for many months here in Cambodia. I had to go today as David Chandler was giving expert testimony in the proceedings against Duch, the former commandant of S-21, or Tuol Sleng as it's become to be known. I, like so many people who watched Cambodia from afar for so long, had been brought up on a diet of Chandler master volumes detailing the many facets of Cambodian history. In particular, his book, Voices from S-21, was the first in-depth look at an institution that had fascinated me for years, particularly so after my first visit to Tuol Sleng in 1994. To seal the deal, I even got a name-check in the book. So there was no way I was going to miss out on David's testimony to the court. In all, the book's contents and his research came under intense scrutiny in four court sessions today, totalling fifteen minutes shy of 5 hours. There's so much to say about today, I don't really know where to start. How about at the beginning...

It took 45 minutes on the back of a moto to reach the ECCC entrance some 16kms outside of Phnom Penh along Route 4. I arrived at the same time as coaches ferrying villagers from Siem Reap drew up in the car park. Security was very tight, hence no photos from the day, and taking my place in the public gallery, the court began at 9am on the dot. Soon after every seat in the gallery was occupied. My first view of the defendant Duch, through the glass divide, was of him leafing through Voices from S-21, small in stature, looking every inch the studious schoolteacher, flanked by two security guards. He looked confident and at home in the courtroom and his playful interactions with his lawyers at the breaks rubber-stamped that. David Chandler (DC) was called in and sat with his back to the gallery but with his face superimposed on four large tv screens, as well as a pc on the desk directly in front of him. He provided a few brief details about himself and then his research, which began in the early 1990s, then full-time on the book from 1994 until he handed it to the publishers in 1998. He'd studied microfilm archives, the S-21 archives and also at DC-Cam as well as interviewing Vann Nath twice, a couple of S-21 guards including Him Huy and the photographer Nhem En. I had to suppress a wry smile that DC had come over from Australia to testify, whilst Nhem En, who lives in Anlong Veng, couldn't attend the trial this week and had his testimony read out instead.
David Chandler giving testimony today. Photo courtesy of Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia
Initial questions came from the judges and included topics such as a response to DC's book by Duch, S-21 as a Total Institution and an Anteroom to Death, the purpose of the s-21 archive and a query over Vann Nath's paintings compared to DC's list of torture techniques. After a break, it was the turn of the co-prosecutors to fire questions at DC, who admitted he was jealous of Duch's handwriting and his neat calligraphy. He also felt from his research, having never met Duch personally, that he was "a conscientious, efficient and dedicated person. It was in his favour to produce as good a product as possible." S-21 was unprecedented in Cambodia, its main business was interrogations and "everyone knew what they were doing, they didn't lose sleep about it or lessen their enthusiasm." A 1.5 hour lunch was taken at 12 noon. All the food was gone by the time I reached it, so I went hungry. I also clocked Rithy Panh, the filmmaker in the press room. On resumption, the civil party lawyers had their turn, with one concentrating on sexual crimes at S-21 and another reading copious passages from Voices. Both the co-prosecutors and the civil parties bemoaned their lack of time to question the witness, even though they both got time extensions. Another break and then Duch's lawyers took over, though it was noticeable that the public gallery had thinned considerably, down to about sixty people, the majority of which were foreigners.

In response to questions from the defense, DC said he was "extremely moved and impressed by Duch's admission of guilt" after Francois Roux reminded everyone that Duch has already pleaded guilty, though it was pretty clear to me that if they can pin the majority of the blame elsewhere they will. Son Sen looks the best candidate, especially as he's dead. Roux kept referring to the French edition of Voices, which DC bitterly complained about, calling his work 'the meat in a Francophile sandwich,' after the publisher made changes about which he was very unhappy. Duch then had an opportunity to address the court and spent 10 minutes offering his sincere respect and appreciation to DC for his observations regarding his work and DC's search for the truth, and his gratitude for writing about S-21, which he called "1 flower in a garden of 100 flowers in the DK government." There was no direct conversation between Duch and DC. The court adjourned at 4.15pm and I managed a quick hello to DC before making my way out and back home. An enthralling day, to see the court in action at last (and yes, it's incredibly slow, but what do you expect when everything has to be translated into Khmer, English and French), to see DC in the same room as Duch, to watch Duch at such close quarters entirely comfortable with his lot - which just seems so wrong - and to witness so many Khmer citizens coming to see for themselves that justice is finally being sought.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Retreat from Humanity

This is timely as I hope to get along to the ECCC on Thursday to hear expert testimony in the Khmer Rouge trial of former S-21 chief Duch from leading historian David Chandler. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago about the plethora of self-published books available from about Cambodia. One such book is Jayne Dunsmuir's Retreat from Humanity: Cambodian Death Camp S-21. It's a 64-page photo essay book showing some of her S-21 pictures alongwith accompanying text on the nature of torture, excerpts from interviews with former prisoners and guards and information on the trial of KR leaders. Jayne published it at the beginning of 2008 and is keen to get it sold at Tuol Sleng with profits going to the museum. She's sending me a copy of her book to see if that's possible. Jayne also won an honourable mention in the International Photography Awards in 2008 with a series of 5 portraits of Cambodian people - 2 of which are printed at the end of the book. Find out more about the book here.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Perpetrators squawk

The testimony from Khmer Rouge cadre like Him Huy, who last week admitted to transporting thousands of prisoners from Tuol Sleng to their deaths at Choeung Ek, will continue this week. Him (pictured) will be back in the witness box today, as he relates more details in the case against the S-21 chief Comrade Duch, who is clearly still able to exert a degree of influence over some of the witnesses. Him has already confessed to killing one individual in his testimony last week, though other testimony to DC-Cam investigators in the past, suggests Him was responsible for a lot more deaths. However, minimising their role in the Khmer Rouge slaughter has been a factor for all of the former KR who've appeared at the ECCC to-date. Even Duch, who has admitted responsibility for his actions, has been choosing his words carefully and claiming he ordered his subordinates to carry out instructions from above, but didn't actually get involved in the nitty gritty of what went on in the interrogation rooms at S-21. Who is he trying to kid? I don't have a list of future witnesses though I would expect people like Nhem En, who was the chief photographer of prisoners as they arrived at S-21, and interrogator Prak Khan to be called to testify. Nhem En is hardly ever out of the news, whether he's trying to sell Pol Pot's sandals, his own cameras or begging for money for his Anlong Veng museum. Prak Khan has a much lower profile though documents from S-21 clearly show his involvement in the torture that took place and he also showed up in Rithy Panh's film about S-21, when he confessed he thought of the prisoners as 'animals.' After the dismal failure of Mam Nay as a witness last week, let's hope that this week we'll hear more accurate testimony about the inner workings of S-21 and the activities of Comrade Duch. There's paper talk today about another request being sent by investigators at the tribunal to the King Father, Norodom Sihanouk. I can't imagine that he will agree to appear at the trials, though he has begun to serialize his memoirs of his imprisonment by the KR on his official website (in French).

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Cruel Him takes the stand

After the complete waste of 2 days that took up the testimony of the former S-21 chief interrogator Mam Nay, who was too busy covering his own back to tell the truth, in the witness box today we have Him Huy (pictured), who has been much more candid about his involvement in countless newspaper and television interviews in the past. Okay, so he rearranges his story to suit the occasion - a while ago he said he killed thousands, more recently he said he killed five people - but at least we might now begin to hear some crucial details for the first time from a perpetrator witness. Him Huy, now 54, was a senior guard at S-21, and went onto hold the rank of administration chief before S-21 came to its end. He took prisoners to their deaths at Choeung Ek, he's admitted that many times and some prisoners knew him as 'cruel Him'. We shall see how his testimony pans out over the next day or two. One thing is for sure, he will tell us that he had to do it, and do it well, or else he too would've been killed by the S-21 machine, which is, by and large, how it worked at the prison. As for Mam Nay, I thought he would be on a second list of 'cadre most responsible for serious crimes' and liable for arrest and though the ECCC have given him immunity from prosecution under their mandate, he is someone who would not be out of place in the dock alongside his friend and mentor, Comrade Duch.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Who is the real Mam Nay?

Mam Nay, alias Comrade Chan, giving his version of the truth at the ECCC today
Who is the real Mam Nay? According to evidence collected from S-21 and other sources and amassed by the team at DC-Cam and other historians over the last thirty years, he was the chief interrogator, and one of the most terrifying cadre at the S-21 detention center, known to everyone today as Tuol Sleng. At the time of his tenure, as one of prison chief Duch's trusted lieutenants, he went under the alias of Comrade Chan. But today Mam Nay seems to have suffered a complete memory loss of his position, his role, his involvement in the torture and death of countless victims at S-21, where around 20,000 people went in and never came out alive. Today, during five hours of questioning, Mam Nay gave the same response to dozens of questions: "I had no knowledge of that." He denied holding any position of responsibility at the prison. He told the court he was merely a low-level interrogator who questioned less important detainees: "I did not use torture in my interrogation. I believed I would not get a true confession." However, of the victims he did question, he showed no remorse: "None of them was innocent - those people committed offences, either minor or serious. This was the reason for their arrest. How serious or how minor, I don't know. I was just a plain and simple interrogating cadre." Wearing purple fingerless gloves and a traditional chequered krama, Mam Nay said he remembered very little about S-21 and that he could not recall drafting prison documents shown to the court, which appeared to be signed by him. In fact he said he had trouble even remembering the names of his children after a recent accident at home: "I fell onto the ground and fell unconscious for a while. Since then, I seem to forget a lot." How convenient for a man who penned many interrogation reports that came from the S-21 archives, left behind by the Khmer Rouge staff as they fled the prison in the face of the approaching Vietnamese in January 1979. In his earlier life, Mam Nay had been a teacher, later the principal at a college in Kompong Thom province and very active in politics. He was very tall for a Cambodian, he suffered from severe eczema and when he was jailed at Prey Sar by the Sihanouk regime for his activism, he shared a cell with Duch, where the two became friends. Maybe he has forgotten all of that too. His testimony will continue tomorrow, but frankly it won't be worth the paper it's written on.
This picture hangs at S-21. On the far left is the tall upright figure of Comrade Chan (Mam Nay). The man without a cap is Comrade Duch, the S-21 chief, with his wife, Chhim Sophal (alias Rom) in front of him. The picture was taken by S-21's chief photographer Nhem En in 1976.
Some more photos from S-21. Prisoners were photographed by Nhem En on arrival, and others were pictured after their death, as shown here.

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Hiding to nothing

The chief interrogator, Mam Nay, a man with more blood on his hands, literally, than Comrade Duch, his former boss at S-21, made a very brief appearance in the witness box at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday. Whilst defense lawyers pointed out that the witness might well incriminate himself whilst giving evidence, the prosecutor gave an assurance that Mam Nay (pictured, CNN) would not be prosecuted in the ECCC. However, that didn't negate a possible prosecution in a Cambodian court at a later date, so the judges adjourned prematurely so the witness could seek legal advice. Why this wasn't done beforehand is beyond me but is another example of delays and time wastage at the ECCC. The evidence collected by DC-Cam over the last decade suggests that Mam Nay will be a key witness in the case against the former S-21 chief Duch, but if he corroborates that evidence, then Mam Nay will be admitting to interrogation, torture and the death in custody of S-21 inmates. It's part of the bigger question that has been debated for decades, if you prosecute only the leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime then the underlings who followed orders and carried out the killings go free. In the case of Mam Nay, the documentary evidence found at S-21 details his role in the torture and killings, moreso than many killers in other locations. Essentially, he's on a hiding to nothing if he tells the truth. Mam Nay, now 76, was known by the alias Chan during his time as Duch's number 2 at S-21. He carried out interrogations of the senior cadre incarcerated at Tuol Sleng such as former KR minister Hu Nim, and according to Duch, also interrogated Western prisoners. Like Duch he had been a teacher in Kompong Thom province and imprisoned by the Sihanouk regime before he re-joined the KR in the early '70s and linked up again with Duch at S-21. In the late 1990s, after the defection of the Pailin-based KR to the government in 1996, Mam Nay became a policeman in Battambang province, though when Duch was arrested in 1999 he went underground, resurfacing in Pailin a few years later.
One witness who did complete her evidence yesterday was Nam Mon, an alleged survivor of two secret detention facilities run by Duch. She testified that she saw Duch beat two of her uncles to death, the first evidence presented to the trial that Duch killed someone with his own hands. As to be expected, Duch dismissed the evidence that Nam Mon had worked as a medic at S-21 as 'far from reality.'
Update: In his evidence today, Mam Nay claimed he never tortured anyone, and was just responsible for 'asking questions of lowly cadre and Vietnamese prisoners.' He's obviously decided to downplay his role at S-21 completely to save his own skin and is unlikely to say anything that will incriminate himself, and therefore much of what he says can be taken with a large pinch of salt. He's not on trial so I'm not sure whether prosecutors' will be allowed to submit evidence that disputes his version of events. He's the first of the S-21 perpetrator witnesses to give evidence though I wouldn't exactly call him a creditable and reliable witness, though some will say who can blame him as he seeks to avoid future prosecution or even revenge attacks.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

No more football

I was going to have a few days without mentioning football at the behest of my readers who get turned off by my coverage, but seeing that have ripped off my recent article in the Phnom Penh Post about Cambodia's new football coach, Scott O'Donell and his backroom team, and given me no credit at all, makes my blood boil - well, that's an exaggeration, it's a little more than lukewarm. Their report is a little stale as it's been a couple of weeks since my 1 July article in the Post but still, a name credit would've been appropriate. I've fired off an email to their editor. I wouldn't dream of using anyone else's work without at the very least giving them a namecheck. And if you find an occasion when I have, please let me know, and I'll hang my head in shame.
There should be some interesting coverage of the Khmer Rouge tribunal this week, when at least two former members of staff at S-21 are expected to give evidence. They will include prison guard Him Houy and the former deputy chief to Duch at S-21 Mam Nay (alias Chan, pictured right; pic CNN), who must've been close to being indicted himself. He served as chief interrogator at Tuol Sleng before the Vietnamese arrived and has since been living in the Pailin region. In an interview he gave to l’Express in 2002, he declared that he had no regrets for his actions. KR expert Stephen Heder said of Mam Nay; 'His signature is on scores of documents detailing the torture of political opponents. He is implicated in hands-on torture and execution and would almost certainly be convicted in any international tribunal.' A list of 34 prospective witnesses are due to appear before the end of August, including eminent historian David Chandler, who is scheduled to be an expert witness early next month.
Finally, in a study of the global hotel industry, the French came out on top, or is that bottom, as the world's worst tourists. The Froggies were least open to new languages, ranked last for generosity and readiness to tip, and next to last for their overall attitude. I will say no more. The best of the bunch were Japanese tourists, though I'm sure the Brits must've been a close second [wink].

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Thursday, July 9, 2009

He clicked, they died

Nhem En, a portrait by Doug Niven
Tuol Sleng, or S-21, to give its official title, remains the predominant focus of the Khmer Rouge trials taking place at the ECCC just outside Phnom Penh. The witnesses, in the case against the former S-21 chief Duch, this week have been in the main, civil parties rather than oath-swearing tribunal witnesses, and their testimony has been less than watertight under questioning by the court's judges and lawyers. We haven't seen the chief photographer at S-21, Nhem En, take the stand yet but I'm sure it must happen sooner or later. You may recall that a short film, 'The Conscience of Nhem En', was up for an Oscar recently and was shown for the first time on HBO in the States last night. He is not a person to whom you immediatley warm. If ever. His interviews have displayed a coldness for his actions as a member of the Khmer Rouge and a penchant for self-publicity and financial gain doesn't sit well with most people. In my archives, I found this article about Nhem En, by Philip Jacobson for the Sunday Telegraph Magazine in February 1998, which is worth repeating here.
The photographer of death - by Philip Jacobson (Sunday Telegraph Magazine)
Soon after the Khmer Rouge seized power in Cambodia's civil war in 1975, the Pol Pot regime plucked one of its fanatical young guerrillas from the ranks and sent him to China to learn how to take photographs. Six months later, Nhem En, then aged 16, returned to Phnom Penh where he reported to prison compound S-21 in an outlying suburb of the capital. On his first day there, En learned what the job of chief photographer at the Tuol Sleng compound would entail: photographing those marked down for death. Like the Nazis before them, the leaders of the revolution that plunged Cambodia back into 'Year Zero' were obsessed with preserving a record of the hideous crimes committed in its name. Two decades later, not long after a pair of American journalists came across a vast cache of his negatives, En himself stumbled out of the jungle to surrender. Philip Jacobson reports on the photographer who documented genocide.
Over the course of 30 months, Nhem En produced some 10,000 full-face 'mugshots' for attachment to the dossiers of the columns of men, women and children that wound through his makeshift studio. Under orders never to respond to their anxious questions, he would snap them against a white-washed wall with an identification number pinned to their chests before guards hustled them away. En had no illusions about the fate that awaited his subjects: the S-21 prison compound was already known to those living nearby as a place 'where people go in but never come out'. Virtually everyone held there could expect to be tortured savagely to extract confessions or phantasmagoric crimes against the revolution: in their agony, illiterate peasants would admit to being spymasters for foreign powers. After that, prisoners were taken to a killing field 10 miles away and clubbed to death or suffocated with plastic bags, bullets being too valuable for traitors. By the time an invading Vietnamese army overthrew Pol Pot in January 1979, more than 14,000 people had been 'processed' through S-21, leaving just seven survivors to testify to the horror. The Vietnamese did not find En but they found 6,000 of his abandoned negatives. The grainy prints these negatives yielded were exhibited in what became the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide, where Cambodians would occasionally recognise a face staring out at them.
In the early Nineties, two young American photojournalists working in Cambodia, Doug Niven and Chris Riley, stumbled across the same cache of 6cm by 6cm negatives that had been left to decay in rusty filing cabinets. Brushing away dust and mildew, they were transfixed by the images they saw. 'We looked at each other and said, "Hey, this is amazing, we have to do something with this stuff," ' Riley recalls. On their own initiative, they launched an ambitious project to raise funds to clean and catalogue this unique material and produce high-quality pints from it. The level quality of the work suggested a trained eye behind the camera. 'Some survivors vaguely remembered a guy who took pictures - quite a decent man, it seems, who would slip prisoners water when the guards weren't looking,' says Riley. But when work began on the archive, the identity of the photographer in the charnel house was still a mystery. It was not until 1995 that a stocky, dark-skinned Khmer Rouge fighter clutching a battered camera and a kalashnikov rifle emerged from the jungle in northern Cambodia to surrender to government forces. It turned out that when the Vietnamese had invaded, Nhem En had fled with other prison staff to join resistance units in the remote countryside and had remained there for almost 20 years. Now 39, he had finally wearied of war and hardship. His reappearance would open a fresh chapter in the terrible history of S-21.
Last November, an enterprising Associated Press reporter in Phnom Penh persuaded En to talk on the record about his experiences at Tuol Sleng, hesitantly at first, then in grim but compulsive detail. "Those who arrived at the faculty had no chance of living,' he told Robin McDowell, recalling the sea of faces 'filled with fear and deep sadness' that had passed before his camera. En said he often shot hundreds of photographs every day, whilst his five apprentices toiled in a primitive darkroom to turn out the stream of prints. 'I knew I was taking pictures of innocent people,' En acknowledged, 'but I knew also that if I said anything, I would be killed. The Tuol Sleng killing machine operated around the clock, En added, recalling 'constant cries and screams' as shifts of torturers worked on their victims. When officials who had been purged from the Khmer Rouge government arrived, Pol Pot required copies of En's photographs of them - both before and after execution - as proof that they had been disposed of. En himself survived a brush with 'Comrade Number 1' after he was ordered to process film taken during the Cambodian leader's visit to China in 1977. When one print came out with spots on Pol Pot's eyes, En was detained and accused of insulting the revolution: somehow he convinced his interrogators that faulty film was to blame, conceivably saving himself from being returned to S-21 for liquidation. One day, En recognised through the lens his own cousin, Chhan - accused of being a CIA agent - 'but I kept silent, even after he was taken away'. In October last year, En returned to Tuol Sleng for the first time, to see if Chhan's picture was there. He said he could not find it and left the museum 'feeling very, very sad'.
The knowledge of what happened at S-21 makes a visit to the complex of scruffy three-storey buildings set around the old school playground a wrenching experience. A profound sense of evil pervades the musty cell blocks: in a former interrogation room, a bedframe to which prisoners were strapped during torture remains in place, the floor around it deeply stained. The impact of En's stark black-and-white pictures is even more devastating, burning the faces of the mute and anonymous dead into the mind's eye. Flaws in the negatives have etched black spots like bullet holes into some of the portraits or splashed them with what looks like blood. Many of those photographed by En seem already to have retreated into themselves, resigned and expressionless: a black-clad woman stares into the camera as if it were the barrel of a gun, while the tiny, ghostly hand of a child grips her sleeve. A youth stands with hands tied behind his back, seemingly untroubled by the safety-pin that fastens the number 17 into the flesh of his bare chest. Two men are manacled together in one of En's shots: only at second glance do you see they have locked hands in a desperate embrace. Yet others among En's subjects appear calm and relaxed, like the boy draped in a gaily patterned scarf who smiles as if the picture was intended for a mother or sweetheart. A teenage girl in a clinging crocheted blouse looks almost coquettish, a handsome, silver-haired man shoots a look of pure contempt at the lens.
Professor David Chandler, the distinquished historian of Cambodia, says that in viewing these images that were never intended to be seen we enter a world where everybody is condemned to death. In his introduction to a book of En's pictures, The Killing Fields, Chandler concludes that this 'may also bring us face to face... with what the psychiatrist Carl Jung called our shadow selves. We are inside S-21 [where] we become interrogators, prisoners and passers-by'. Niven and Riley say they always intended the Tuol Sleng archives to serve as a monument to victims of the genocide and 'give them a louder voice today'. All the money the pictures earn is ploughed back into the project. Albums of contact sheets displaying every cleaned-up portrait were provided to the museum. While a BBC team was making a television documentary there two years ago, a woman identified her missing husband in one of them. It is perfectly legitimate to be repulsed by the pictures, Riley observes. "I still find it hard to look at them myself.' He also understands critics of the travelling exhibition of a selection of 100 prints who question whether what one called 'souls on the point of departure' can be described as art. 'But Doug and I believe these faces represent something radically different from written accounts of the killing fields, speaking a kind of visual language, if you like. We don't want people who see them to feel like voyeurs but like witnesses to the catastrophe that overwhelmed Cambodia.'
The coda to the story of the Tuol Sleng pictures comes from Doug Niven, who has had several long conversations with En after contacting him in January last year (Niven speaks serviceable Khmer). En told him that he joined the Khmer Rouge at the age of 10: as the son of a dirt-poor bean farmer whose wife died young, he had impeccable proletarian credentials for a revolutionary movement founded on a visceral hatred of the bourgeoise. "En said he began as a supply porter, but was soon absorbed into a combat unit and saw a lot of hard fighting before the Khmer Rouge victory,' Niven recalls. He was not at all comfortable with questions about his zealous and obedient service in S-21, Niven adds. 'As far as I'm aware, En has never shown any remorse for what he was doing at Tuol Sleng, which I find pretty disturbing. On the other hand, I'm certain he understands that his role in the genocide is quite likely to come up for examination one day, and that makes him very wary.' After fleeing Tuol Sleng in 1979, En had become a soldier once more, but he was subsequently assigned to take photographs (using two cameras found on a battlefield) for the crudely printed 'newsletters' circulated in zones still under Khmer Rouge control. En told Niven that by then he had lost all faith in the revolution and wanted to live under democracy, but he could not explain convincingly why he continued to serve Pol Pot for so long.
'En strikes me as a born survivor, a lot smarter and more focused than any of the other defectors I've met,' says Niven. "There's a kind of inner toughness about guys who've been hard-core Khmer Rouge for as long as him.' On a trip to En's village, where his wife was about to give birth, Niven discoveref that he had abandoned a different wife and six children when he decided to change sides - 'that didn't seem to bother him too much.' When En saw the beautifully produced book of his photographs from Tuol Sleng, says Niven, 'you could see him figuring out if there was going to be anything in this for him'. His new life was hard, he told Niven, describing how the present Cambodian government had trained him to recruit other defectors in a distant province where he lived in an old wooden house with a tin roof and a battery-powered television set. En said he was keen to move back into photography and since then he has tried his hand, with little success, covering the fighting that still plagues Cambodia. His latest idea, Nevin reports, is to go into the wedding picture business.
A stylised version of one of Nhem En's mugshots of a young girl destined to die

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Mixed bag

Flags flying above Preah Vihear - the pride of a nation
A mixed bag of 'stuff' this morning. Tonight I will poke my head into Java Arts Cafe again for the Khmer Abroad, talk and slideshow by photographer Stephane Janin, who used to host the Popil Gallery in Phnom Penh and now lives in Washington, US, documenting the lives of the Khmer diaspora. You can get a good feel for his work by visiting his blog. On Monday, a new art exhibition will open at Reyum featuring the paintings of local artists Khun Sovanrith and Ven Savat. The Reyum Gallery near the National Museum provides a great opportunity for Khmer artists to expose their work to a wider public. Later this afternoon, the Olympic Stadium will play host to the 1-year anniversary celebrations for the award of World Heritage status to the temple of Preah Vihear. The place will be awash with the cream of the country's elite as well as top names like crooner Preap Savath and many more. Long rambling speeches, music, patriotic songs, dance, speeches from military leaders, fireworks, more speeches, expect the lot. It's on tv so I won't be there. Oh, and at 11am this morning, the PM has called for bell-ringing, drum-beating and banner-hanging to herald the actual time of the listing. And I'm told there will be traditional dancing at Preah Vihear too, well at Sraem, some 20kms away. An interesting snippet emerged yesterday when two Thai tourists were refused entry to Preah Vihear. In fact, Thai tourists have been banned from the temple until the conflict has been resolved, on the pretext that they might be spies. Finally, the Khmer Rouge trials took a backwards step yesterday when civil party witness Ly Hor gave a less-than-convincing display about his time at S-21. So much so that Duch claimed the man was already dead and challenged the witness testimony. Ly Hor said he was held at Tuol Sleng for one month but was sketchy in his recollection of his time there. It also called into some minor doubt the evidence provided by DC-Cam, whose officers have worked tirelessly for more than a decade to uncover the truth about the Khmer Rouge and presented much of the evidence for the tribunal.

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Friday, July 3, 2009

Blogging on the blink

Leaving no-one in any doubt about the ownership of Preah Vihear
I'm getting increasingly frustrated with Blogger. At the moment I can only add a blog post to my own blog if I sign in as a guest blogger - how crazy is that. So here I am, guest blogging on my own blog. And even then it took about fifteen ninutes to get into the posting template. So we may find that my posting rate goes awry until I can get my access fixed.
In the meantime, the Khmer Rouge Tribunal continues to role on and this week has been perhaps the most interesting so far because of the witness roll-call. It's been survivor week to put it bluntly, with Vann Nath, Chum Mey and Bou Meng appearing on the first three days - all of whom survived their time in Tuol Sleng whilst adults by virtue of their individual skills as painters or mechanics. On Thursday it was the turn of Norng Chan Phal, who was just eight years old when S-21 was discovered by the arriving Vietnamese. He gave evidence about his final days and the disappearance of his mother which Duch dismissed as he declared all children at S-21 were killed. Newly-acquired film footage taken by the Vietnamese, which was handed over to DC-Cam in recent months, and which included Norng Chan Phal and his younger brother, was rejected by the judges as inadmissable at this time. Next week, another five survivors of Tuol Sleng are expected to give evidence in the trial of the former chief of S-21, though their names are not released beforehand for personal safety reasons. Amongst them are likely to be former prison guards at the torture center, such as Him Houy. Elsewhere there's been lots more sabre-rattling over Preah Vihear as we approach the 1-year anniversary of the award of the World Heritage status to the temple. A big celebration is planned for the Olympic Stadium on 7 July and will no doubt rub the Thais up the wrong way again. And if Cambodian demands for the removal of the Thai soldiers stationed at the pagoda on the summit aren't met, expect more fireworks. This is not a situation that is going to go away anytime soon. Both sides are well dug-in for the duration and without outside arbitration, I don't see any end in sight of the stalemate.
The 131 kilometre road that joins Siem Reap to Anlong Veng will be officially opened tomorrow by PM Hun Sen. National Road 67 is its name and with the continuation road from Anlong Veng to Preah Vihear also taking shape as I type, soon the journey to Preah Vihear will be almost a breeze of about 4 hours maximum. Interesting to hear that in the first six months of this year, the total number of tourists visiting Preah Vihear was just over 34,000. Of those, foreign tourist numbers were down 83% on last year, to 5,050 - which is a lot more than I thought it would be. When I was there a couple of months ago, my brother and I were definitely the only foreigners there on that day. Mind you it was the day when 100 heavily-armed Thai soldiers tried to cross the border, so only an idiot would've been at the temple on that day [wink].

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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

At last, the chance to speak

Vann Nath peers through the bars of S-21
I still haven't got out to the Khmer Rouge Trials at Kambol though this week would've been a particularly interesting time to go as the witnesses giving evidence are survivors from S-21 like Vann Nath, Chum Mey and most likely one or two of the prison guards as well. Vann Nath gave his evidence yesterday, some 30 years after his incarceration at Tuol Sleng for exactly 1 year. He survived because of his skills as a painter and his paintings have become inextricably linked with Tuol Sleng, where they hang on the walls of the former torture center. I've met Vann Nath a few times, including a filming session on the upper floor of Building B at S-21 and whilst he was a total professional when giving the interview on camera (which he has done so many times over the years), off camera he was quiet and melancholic. Today it was Chum Mey's turn to tell his story to the Tribunal judges of the torture he suffered during his imprisonment. You can often see Chum Mey at S-21, telling his story to visitors and re-enacting his incarceration in one of the brick-walled cells, it's a part of his life that he cannot forget even if he wanted to, so for his sake, and for Vann Nath, I really hope that their giving evidence and the outcome of the trial will allow some of their demons to rest. It's time some of the burden to tell the world about S-21 was lifted from the shoulders of these two men. I expect one of the prison guards, Him Houy, regarded as too lowly to be up for prosecution, to give his evidence later this week too.
A couple of disappointing briefs from the KR Tribunal: 15 people have been removed from the list of testimony witnesses to save time, the judges have announced and these include journalist Nic Dunlop, the man who discovered Comrade Duch, the man currently in the dock, living under an assumed name ten years ago. The judges also dismissed possible questions to Vann Nath on film footage of Tuol Sleng shot by the Vietnamese soon after they entered the city in 1979 - the judges ruled it was unclear whether the footage was genuine or propaganda produced by Hanoi, as defence lawyers have claimed.
Vann Nath looking at a self-portrait painting of himself that hangs at S-21
A quiet moment for Vann Nath during film shooting at S-21 in March 2008

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Out of left field

I've just been hit by a rocket. Not really but the same sort of effect. My series editor at ThingsAsian Press, the adorable Kim Fay, for the unique guidebook I'm editing, To Cambodia With Love has just asked that I send her everything by this weekend. That's the whole book, in its finished state, or as near to it as possible. It's certainly the wake-up call I need to stop dallying around and get the book completed. I won't make this weekend but it'll be with the series editors at the beginning of next month and that will speed up the guidebook's arrival in bookshops/on Amazon/on the streets of Phnom Penh (in beautifully photocopied format no doubt) considerably. More news as I get it.
I am taking my lunch late this afternoon, so I get the opportunity to watch the midweek Cambodian Premier League matches at Olympic Stadium and both games are, on paper, well worth the effort and discomfort of sitting in the main stand, sweating profusely. Match reports later.
The main news coming out from the Khmer Rouge Tribunal today is that the chief international prosecutor, Robert Petit has announced he will quit the trials on 1 September, citing personal reasons. Petit has been with the ECCC for three years and has worked in four war crimes tribunals in the last twenty years. His knowledge and experience has been a vital driving force to the ongoing trials. It was Petit who was keen to get more suspects in the dock to join the five currently awaiting prosecution, though his desires didn't exactly curry favour with the Cambodian authorities. We are still awaiting a final decision on this. His departure, even before the Duch trial is complete, will create a void in the process until a suitable replacement is appointed.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Brother Number One

The only foreigner likely to take the stand to confront Comrade Duch at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal later this year will be Rob Hamill (pictured), an Olympic and Trans-Atlantic champion rower, whose brother Kerry was murdered by the Khmer Rouge 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 beloved elder brother.

In the mid-70s, Kerry bought a yacht, Foxy Lady, and was running a charter business out of Darwin around South East Asia with a Canadian friend, Stuart Glass. Along with a Brit John Dewhirst, they were sailing towards Bangkok when they hit a storm. Mistakenly entering Cambodian waters, Foxy Lady was seized on Koh Tang, Stuart Glass shot and killed, while the other two men were taken to the notorious Tuol Sleng prison, overseen by Duch. The two friends were killed in the final days of the Khmer Rouge stranglehold on Phnom Penh before the Vietnamese invasion at the beginning of 1979.

Rob Hamill will travel to Cambodia to retrace the steps taken by his brother and John Dewhirst, speaking to eyewitnesses, perpetrators and survivors. Rob’s journey will culminate in his giving a Victim’s Statement before the Extraordinary Chambers of the Court of Cambodia. The film will also explore the history of Cambodia in an attempt to comprehend the enormity of the genocide that occurred in Khmer Rouge years. Directing the film is award-winning Annie Goldson and filming has already taken place in the US and England. Historians Elizabeth Becker, Ben Kiernan and Peter Maguire alongwith John Dewhirst's sister Hilary have been interviewed. You can keep up to date with the documentary at their blog.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

M-99 exposed

Nic Dunlop ponders another question at tonight's session
Nic Dunlop's Q&A session at Meta House tonight began with a recent filmed report he completed for Al Jazeera News when he delved into the history of one of the prisons that preceded S-21, hoping to find a connection to Comrade Duch, currently on trial here in Phnom Penh. It was Dunlop who unmasked Duch in the remote town of Samlot in 1999 and who, alongwith Nate Thayer, brought it to worldwide attention that the former chief of S-21 was alive and well and had converted to christianity. This led onto Duch's arrest by the government and his trial a decade later, and also to Dunlop's fine book, The Lost Executioner. This time Dunlop's investigations took him to the site of a prison known as M-99, located in the wilderness of Kompong Speu province and long forgotten by anyone, except those who had lost loved ones at the prison. His interviews revealed never-before heard testimony from survivors and emphasized the sad fact that few in the countryside knew that the Khmer Rouge Tribunals were even taking place. After the film, Dunlop took questions from the floor of tonight's packed-out session, that included Al Rockoff and Henri Locard, that ranged from who decides who will be tried by the Tribunal to did anything in Duch's past foretell his role as a mass murderer? It was clear from the audience's interest that more nights like this at Meta House would go down well. To find out more from Nic Dunlop, click here.

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Looking forward

In just over an hour I'll be at Meta House listening to Nic Dunlop, the journalist who tracked down the S-21 commandant Comrade Duch to a small town in Cambodia's northwestern boondocks, and who is now the man at the center of the country's first Khmer Rouge Tribunal, which has been continuing this week. Dunlop exposed the full story of Duch in his excellent book The Lost Executioner and tonight's short film and Q&A will give Phnom Penhites the opportunity to find out more from the man himself. Tomorrow night, Francois Ponchaud is continuing his lectures in English at the Catholic Communications office on St 242 on the history of Cambodia, with his focus this week on the Lon Nol Regime and the years 1970-75 (start 6.30pm). The third event of interest for me this week will be a performance by the Sovanna Phum team on Friday and Saturday of Roussey Dek, a mixed creation of Shadow puppetry, dance, circus and live traditional Khmer orchestra, that first premiered in London of all places in 2003. It's pure Khmer and sounds like a winner to me. Performances begin at 7.30pm at the Sovanna Phum Theatre on St 360.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Dunlop on Duch

The freelance journalist who tracked down and exposed Comrade Duch, then wrote about his investigations in the excellent book, The Lost Executioner, and who I first heard about for his work on the 1994 book War of the Mines, Nic Dunlop (pictured), will be holding court at Meta House on Tuesday 19th May at 7pm. Dubbed a 'grown-up Harry Potter' by one fellow journo, Dunlop's expose on the man who oversaw thousands of interrogations and executions at Tuol Sleng is a fine book, well worth reading and will no doubt be covered as part of the Q&A that will take place at Meta House after a short documentary screening on the night. Bangkok-based, his current work is a photo-led project on Burma's dictatorship, though with the Duch trial taking place in Phnom Penh right now, you can appreciate he is more interested than most.
Link: website.

To refresh memories, here's my review of The Lost Executioner: A Story of the Khmer Rouge:
Nic Dunlop's first-rate detective story on the trail of Pol Pot's chief executioner, the notorious Comrade Duch, is a fascinating journey into Cambodia's recent bloody history. Through a series of testimonies by Duch's family members and people who knew him, Dunlop builds up a compelling picture of this former teacher turned mass murderer, whilst also giving us a running commentary on the development of the Khmer Rouge organisation through the eyes of former cadre such as Sokheang, now a human rights investigator though formerly a Khmer Rouge sympathiser.
The Lost Executioner is Dunlop's first book; he's primarily a photographer who became obsessed with S-21, known to many as Tuol Sleng, and its commandant, Comrade Duch. He even kept a photo of Duch in his pocket. By an astonishing stroke of luck, Dunlop met the man responsible for the deaths of more than 20,000 people, in Samlaut, a small town in northwest Cambodia in 1999 and exposed him with the help of Nate Thayer and the Far Eastern Economic Review, leading to his arrest and detention, awaiting trial. Dunlop's subsequent investigations and interviews now provide us with a great wealth of detail about Duch's life before, during and after the Khmer Rouge reign of terror though ultimately the reason for Duch's transformation into a brutal killer remains an unexplained puzzle. In a perverse twist, Duch converted to Christianity, had worked for an American charity, was living under a new identity and had returned to teaching before his unmasking. The book is written in an easy to follow though powerful narrative and I recommend The Lost Executioner to anyone seeking to delve into the morass that is Cambodia's recent past. It's a remarkable and revealing story. [pic Chor Sokunthea]

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