Friday, March 26, 2010


A Dutch artist, Peter Klashorst, well known for painting and photographing young women, will have an exhibition of his work on show at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21) in Phnom Penh sometime this year, supported by UNESCO. I've seen both April and August mentioned, so I can't confirm either way at the moment. He visited the museum, took photos on his mobile phone and put his paintings on canvas the next day in Bangkok. He's now added more to the collection, which has no name as yet, with some of them already for sale on ebay. More when I hear it.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009


40 years is way too lenient for this harbinger of death
Is it me or does anyone else find the prosecution demands for a 40 year prison sentence for Comrade Duch as totally underwhelming and almost a slap in the face of the millions of Cambodians who have been patiently waiting, for 30 years, to see real justice served against the key perpetrators of the Khmer Rouge insanity. Okay, Duch is 67 and if he served the full 40 years, if the judges agree with the prosecution demands, he wouldn't see the light of day again but that's not really the point. This man presided over the deaths of at least 12,000 people, 99.9% of them were fellow Cambodians alongwith a handful of westerners who were also murdered. He made certain, with consumate precision, that many of them were interrogated and subjected to inhumane punishments before they were executed. Despite his protestations, he ran S-21 (Tuol Sleng) as his personal fiefdom and his word was law. This man is guilty, though butter wouldn't melt in his mouth, of managing and controlling one of the worst excesses of torture and murder in modern times. He has the blood of thousands on his hands. So I find the request from the prosecution for a 40-year term of imprisonment as missing the point for many Cambodians. It doesn't seem just or proportionate, and I think many people here will simply not understand why he won't be serving 12,000 life sentences (let alone facing a death sentence). I'm aware that in cases of this nature, the prosecution has to be realistic based on the sample evidence that can be presented in court, which is a fraction of what he's responsible for, but 40 years, with five years already taken off for being a good boy (and don't get me started on his ludicrous final statement), just doesn't cut the mustard with me, and many others.

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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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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

August highlights

A tourist looks at some of the photo images found in Secrets of S-21, to be screened at Meta House on 27th August
A quick look at the highlights as I view them, to be seen at Meta House in Phnom Penh this month. I'm involved in two film nights, starting this Saturday (8 August) when I present Aki Ra's Boys, the story of a young Cambodian landmine survivor Boreak, in a double-bill with Ian White's UXO in Laos. Then on Thursday 27th I will screen two documentaries from the 1990s, Secrets of S-21 and Cambodian Odyssey, both with photography as their main element. In between you can see Skye Fitzgerald's Bombhunters on Sunday 9th, the launch of the Vann Molyvann Project on Tuesday 18th and a look at evictions in Cambodia on Saturday 22nd. There's a lot more besides. One exhibition that you won't be seeing is the Miss Landmine Cambodia 2009 show which was due to open this coming Friday. The Cambodian government have pulled the plug on the competition being held here in Cambodia, including a photo exhibition of the 20 Khmer female contestants, though it will probably continue online.

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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 27, 2009

More than 30 years on

The date, 12 August, has been set for Rob Hamill's appearance as a civil party in the trial of Comrade Duch at the ECCC. New Zealander Hamill (pictured) is better known as an Olympic and Trans-Atlantic champion rower, but he's also the brother of Kerry Hamill, captured, tortured and murdered under Duch's supervision of S-21 in 1978. Nearly 31 years to the day of his brother's capture off the coast of Cambodia, Rob Hamill says of his opportunity to face Duch in court; “I expect to experience the widest possible range of emotions when I see Duch, a lot of nervous energy will be expended. Duch says he is sorry and wants forgiveness, but I want to find out whether he truly understands the impact of what he did and the damage he caused. I’m not sure that he does comprehend what he and the Khmer Rouge did to the people of Cambodia, let alone to the families of Kerry, John and Stuart.” His brother Kerry Hamill and Briton John Dewhirst were snatched from their storm-blown yacht, and fellow sailor Canadian Stuart Glass was killed, on 13 August 1978. Kerry and John were tortured for two months at S-21 and forced to falsely confess they were CIA spies, before they were killed and their bodies most likely burnt and buried 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 elder brother. Read more here.

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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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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, April 28, 2009

Fake regulations

The S-21 interrogation regulations in 1994, in Khmer and English
An interesting but not surprising admission from Comrade Duch at the ongoing Khmer Rouge Tribunal yesterday was that the rules of interrogation that have been posted at Tuol Sleng, or S-21 to give it its official name, and read by thousands of visitors over the years, are, in his words, a fabrication. In testimony about his role at S-21, Duch said that the 10 security regulations, which were originally on the wall of Block A when I first visited Tuol Sleng in 1994 and are now on a billboard in front of the building, were "fabricated by the Vietnamese when they came in." It was the Vietnamese liberators who helped set up the genocide museum about a year after the Khmer Rouge were expelled from the capital. Duch also testified that his daily interrogation reports to Son Sen and Nuon Chea were also circulated around the Khmer Rouge's Standing Committee, effectively implicating the other defendants who are now on trial. On dissenting voice against Duch and the fabricated rules is former S-21 guard Him Huy, who said; "During the KR regime, all guards were obliged to know all disciplines, and the 10 disciplines at S-21 were written by Duch." The rules included; 'While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all,' and 'If you disobey any point of my regulations you shall get either ten lashes or five shocks of electric discharge.'
The S-21 regulations as they are today at Tuol Sleng, in Khmer, French and English

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Friday, April 24, 2009

London calling

One of the victims of the Khmer Rouge at S-21
London will soon host an exhibition of photographs and a series of events that will focus on S-21, aka Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, in Phnom Penh. A screening of his famous documentary Year Zero and a Q&A with journalist John Pilger has been lined-up and in June, a new play under the title S-27 will be performed for the first time. The photographic exhibition, called Facing Death: Portraits of Cambodia's Killing Fields, will be held at the Photofusion Gallery in Electric Lane, London SW9 from 1 May until 26 June and will be composed of one hundred ID portraits loaned from The Photo Archive Group, a Los Angeles based non-profit organisation founded by photojournalists Chris Riley and Doug Niven who discovered, cleaned, catalogued and saved the negatives found at S-21. These extraordinary images, of people arriving at S-21 and who would never be allowed to leave, will be shown in the UK for the first time. The John Pilger screening and Q&A will take place at the same venue on Saturday 30 May at 3pm with a £10 entrance fee. The brand new play, inspired by the work of the Khmer Rouge photographer Nhem En, who was the man responsible for most of the S-21 face images, S-27 was the inaugural winner of Amnesty International’s Protect The Human Playwriting Competition. The play is by Sarah Grochala and is about a woman who takes photographs of people before they’re executed and how her encounters with the victims of the regime under which she lives change her life. It begins on 9 June and will run until 4 July at the Finborough Theatre, SW10. If you are in the UK, make sure you get along and visit the exhibition, join JP or get your ticket to watch the play.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

British victim at S-21

The case of 26-year-old British teacher John Dewhirst was in the news again today with a report in The Times newspaper and another by the BBC. Dewhirst (pictured) was in the wrong place at the wrong time when he was captured by a Khmer Rouge naval patrol, tortured at Tuol Sleng and executed just weeks before the Khmer Rouge regime was toppled by the invading Vietnamese army in 1979. He was the only known Briton to have been jailed in S-21 and with the trial of the prison's chief Duch underway in Phnom Penh, the stories appeared today. Also read other articles on John Dewhirst here. Dewhirst's fellow crew member Kerry Hamill also perished and filmmaker Annie Goldson is to make a documentary, Brother Number One, for New Zealand television charting the search for the truth about what happened to Hamill by his younger brother, champion rower and Olympian Rob Hamill.

Khmer Rouge Trial: the British victim John Dewhirst - by Anne Barrowclough, The Times

s hundreds of Cambodians crowded into a courtroom yesterday to see the chief torturer of the Khmer Rouge finally brought to trial, a country lawyer in Britain quietly got on with her work. Only those closest to her know how, 30 years ago, Comrade Duch destroyed Hilary Holland’s family. In 1978 Ms Holland’s brother, John Dewhirst, 26, was captured by the Khmer Rouge and tortured and killed at Tuol Sleng. He was the only Briton among 17,000 Cambodians to die at the regime’s infamous prison. Three decades on, as Cambodia watches the first trials of the Khmer Rouge’s murderous leaders, his fate continues to haunt his sister. “The horrific circumstances and the manner of how John was killed still makes it so difficult to cope with,” Ms Holland told The Times from her home in Cumbria.

The young Newcastle teacher had been sailing through the Gulf of Thailand with two friends in July 1978 when their vessel was intercepted by a Khmer Rouge patrol boat. The skipper, Stuart Glass, a Canadian, was killed instantly. Mr Dewhirst and the other crew member, Kerry Hamil, a New Zealander, were sent to Tuol Sleng, a school turned into a torture centre presided over by the brutal Kang Kek Ieu – better known as Duch. There, like thousands of others, they were tortured until they “confessed” to being CIA agents. Then they were taken to Cheong Ek, a pretty orchard on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, and bludgeoned to death with an iron bar.

Back in Britain, Ms Holland was concerned at her younger brother’s unusual silence but it was not until she switched on the news one evening that she learnt he had become a victim of a regime she had hardly heard of. Soon after, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office told her that he had been captured and imprisoned by the Khmer Rouge and was almost certainly dead. The pain of that moment has never left her. “It was indescribable,” she said. “I don’t think I have got the words to explain how I felt. I used to think that if you could die from emotions like this, I would have died. I have experienced death – the death of my husband when I had two young children – but this is completely different.”

Yesterday Duch identified himself quietly before the charges against him were read out to a UNbacked war crimes tribunal: crimes against humanity, war crimes, premeditated murder and torture. He is the first of five former leaders of the Khmer Rouge to be brought to trial. The others were members of Pol Pot’s inner circle: Nuom Chea, or “Brother Number Two”, who was in charge of security; Ieng Sary, the former foreign minister, and his wife Ieng Thirith; and Khieu Samphan, the former head of state. Nearly two million Cambodians died between 1975 and 1979 as Pol Pot pursued his vision of an agrarian Utopia. Tuol Sleng, also known as S21, was the most notorious jail: of 17,000 people sent there, only 15 survived. According to the thick file of charges read to the court: “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.”
On the orders of Duch, a former maths teacher, victims were plunged headfirst into tanks of water, often drowning; they were given electric shocks to their genitals and eardrums. Some were hooked up to intravenous pumps and literally bled dry.

It was a cruel fate that delivered Mr Dewhirst into Duch’s hands. A care-free, adventurous young man, he had taken a break from his teaching job in Japan to go sailing with Mr Glass and Mr Hamil on their motorised junk Foxy Lady. It drifted into Cambodian waters and, to the paranoid Khmer Rouge, their presence had no innocent explanation. Even after she heard of his incarceration in S-21, his sister hoped that his friendly nature would help him to survive. “I thought if anyone could develop a personal relationship with his jailers it would be him,” she said. “I thought he would charm his way out of there.”

In fact, nothing could have saved him – although the meticulous Duch, who catalogued details of all his prisoners, described him as a polite young man. Before he died, Mr Dewhirst was forced to write a detailed confession saying that he had been trained as a CIA spy. The confession, in Cambodian and English, entitled “Details of my course at the Annexe CIA college in Loughborough, England”, claims that he was recruited into the CIA by his father and from 1972-76 was taught agency techniques, including weapons-handling, at his teacher training college in Leicestershire. A mixture of the dull and the ludicrous, it claims that Loughborough was one of six CIA colleges in Britain. Others, John wrote, were in Cardiff, Aberdeen, Portsmouth, Bristol and Doncaster. His college, he said, was run by “retired Colonel Peter Johnson” while the bursar was a CIA major. Among many bizarre “admissions” was a claim that his father was a CIA agent whose cover was “headmaster of Benton Road Secondary School”. The confession is signed and dated 5/7/1978. Mr Dewhirst’s thumbprint lies alongside his signature. As with thousands of inmates at S-21, it was probably dictated to him by his interrogators on Duch’s orders.

Duch’s trial is of great significance to Cambodia, with its former leaders going unpunished for 30 years. It is expected to be a catharsis for the victims, who still do not understand why their families were taken from them. Ms Holland also wants answers. She wants the Khmer Rouge leaders to admit their guilt and explain why they destroyed so many lives. “There must be a public accountability,” she said. “I would like it to be seen that they understand what they did.” It is too painful for Ms Holland to attend Duch’s trial but she is relieved that, after all this time, the leaders will finally be brought to justice. “It’s of such historical importance,” she said. “No one is going to undo the horrors but bringing these people to account is important. I don’t care what happens to them but I would like them to tell the truth, to explain their motivation."

Duch, 66, who was arrested in 1999 after being tracked down by a journalist, is alone among the defendants in expressing remorse and has agreed to cooperate with the tribunal. At a procedural hearing last month, he made it clear through his lawyer that he would use his trial to apologise to his victims, although he does not expect “immediate” forgiveness. His French lawyer, Francois Roux, said yesterday: “After ten years of prison, at last the day is coming where he can in public respond to the questions.” But Duch can expect no forgiveness from Ms Holland. “People like Duch, who ordered the atrocities, were the worst,” she said.

How the Khmer Rouge claimed a British victim - by Jonathan Greenwood (BBC)

Hilary Holland is unimpressed with the news that the Khmer Rouge leader who ordered her brother's execution 30 years ago has admitted responsibility for his crimes. Kaing Guek Eav - also known as Comrade Duch - expressed "regretfulness and heartfelt sorrow" for his actions at a long-awaited UN-backed tribunal in Cambodia. "I'm not a vindictive person" she says, "but personally it won't make me feel any different. What happened to my brother can't be undone. There has to be accountability, there has to be truth. But sorry is not enough. There's nothing he could say that would make me feel better about what happened."

Duch stands accused of torture, crimes against humanity and premeditated murder on a massive scale. It is alleged that he oversaw the deaths of more than 10,000 people. The Khmer Rouge killed up to two million people in less than four years. Ms Holland's brother, John Dewhirst, was among the victims. In 1978, the 26-year-old teacher was captured, tortured and killed at the notorious Tuol Sleng prison. He was the only Briton among 17,000 Cambodians to die there. Taking a holiday from his job as a teacher, he had been sailing through the Gulf of Thailand with two friends, when their boat strayed into Cambodian waters. When it was intercepted by a Khmer Rouge patrol boat, one of the party, Canadian Stuart Glass was killed immediately.

John and the other crew member, New Zealander Kerry Hamil were taken to the now infamous Tuol Sleng prison, also known as S-21. There they were tortured until they confessed to being CIA agents, before being executed. John's sister Ms Holland, now a solicitor based in Cumbria, learned of his fate by listening to the news. Eventually the Foreign and Commonwealth office confirmed he had been captured by the Khmer Rouge, and that he was probably dead. More than 30 years on, she is still traumatised by what happened. Fighting back the tears she says: "I'm a strong person. I've had knocks over the years - I experienced the death of my husband at a young age. I imagine the effect it's had on me is similar to all those people in Cambodia - it's permanent. Where there's an ordinary death - you miss the person who was in your life, and it hurts but the pain reduces over the years. Time's a great healer. But this doesn't get any less." She recognises the impact that the brutal reign of the Khmer Rouge must have had on the Cambodian national psyche: "There must be a whole country of traumatised people - because of how they were killed and tortured."

The horrors of what happened inside S-21 are almost unimaginable. Prisoners were tortured until they wrote detailed confessions - explaining how they'd been disloyal to the regime. Then they were taken to the "killing fields" at Choeung Ek, a few kilometres outside Phnom Penh. There they were executed, often bludgeoned to death with iron bars on the orders of Duch. Victims were frequently made to dig their own graves. Duch, who was meticulous in recording those who passed through S-21 described John as a polite young man - but that didn't save him.

His confession - signed and dated the 5th of July 1978 - is entitled "Details of my course at the Annexe CIA college in Loughborough England." Among the bizarre claims is that Loughborough was one of six CIA colleges in the UK. Hilary Holland says she had no idea how John was killed until recently. She decided not to attend the trial in person. "It would be too hard, and it wouldn't achieve anything," she says. But she recognises its importance: "If this trial can in any way help any of those people - then it should happen. It's of such historical importance and it's a matter of public record. The more information that can be made available, then the better historically speaking and it might stop these things happening again."

Another story ran a couple of days ago in the New Zealand press about the fate of Kerry Hamill.
NZ family seek justice at UN trial - by The Press (New Zealand)

It is 31 years since Kiwi Kerry Hamill was tortured and killed in a Cambodian school-turned-prison. On Monday, his brother, rowing great Rob Hamill, expects to see the first flickers of accountability as one of the largest criminal hearings of modern times opens. Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, ran the most notorious torture centre during the Khmer Rouge's reign of terror. It was where Hamill was killed, along with two friends and thousands of Cambodians. Eav faces charges of crimes against humanity before the United Nations-backed Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, which has New Zealand judge and former governor-general Dame Silvia Cartwright among its five members. "It's more accountability and to see that some sort of justice has been done. It's been over 30 years now and it's about time," Rob Hamill said.

Kerry Hamill, then 27, and friends were sailing from Singapore to Bangkok when their yacht strayed into Cambodian waters. Along with his mates, Canadian Stuart Glass and Briton John Dewhirst, Hamill was arrested, detained, tortured and killed at Security Prison 21 (S21), formerly the Tuol Svay Prey High School. As many as 1.7 million Cambodians perished in the Khmer Rouge reign of terror, 14,000 of them "class enemies" of the Communist regime executed at the S21 torture centre and prison, along with Hamill. After his 1978 capture, Hamill was forced to write a 4000-word "confession" that claimed his father was a colonel in the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) who had recruited him into the agency. Under torture, he described in detail CIA plans to subvert the Khmer Rouge regime. Then he and Dewhirst were killed. Glass had been shot earlier. Women, children and babies were also killed. Few inmates at the former school survived.

From August 1975, four months after the Khmer Rouge won the civil war, classrooms were converted into tiny prison and torture chambers, and windows were covered with iron bars and barbed wire. Rob Hamill said Eav, 66, a former teacher, had caused "terrible pain". He spoke of "the complete loss and grief that was felt and the impact it had on our family. I often think about how things could have been better. Not that things are terrible, but you know having Kerry in our lives would have [been better]."

He provided the court with a statement, but the expense and timing made it impossible to attend the historic trial. "I am feeling a compelling sort of need to be out there now," Hamill said. Christchurch Cambodian Association president Rasy Sao said Cambodians viewed the trials with some scepticism because of Prime Minister Hun Sen's past involvement with the Khmer Rouge. "At this moment, the government in Cambodia does some things not very right. There is quite a lot of corruption," Sao said. "If they do it [a trial] for someone, they should do it for themselves." Sao said he visited his home country twice a year and had to stay quiet while he was there. "If I say something wrong, maybe they will kill me straight away."

Cartwright said whatever political problems there might be in Cambodia, there was no problem with the judiciary. "I have no hint of any corruption of any description amongst my Cambodian judge colleagues," she said. Cartwright has been living in Phnom Penh and preparing for the trials since last July. Once the trials begin, Cartwright will be allocated areas to focus on. "I might be asked to focus on how S21 or [the school] was actually established, or I might be asked to focus on methods of torture or focus on how many people died or something like that, and it will be my job to be totally on top of the evidence. The evidence goes to hundreds of thousands of pages," she said.

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Saturday, January 31, 2009

An Oscar for Nhem En?

Nhem En and some of the photos he took at Tuol Sleng in the late '70s
A 26-minute documentary about the man who took the photographs of the prisoners as they were marched blindfolded into Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh by their Khmer Rouge captors before being interrogated and then murdered, will be up for an Oscar later next month at the Academy Awards. Steven Okazaki's (pictured right) haunting story, The Conscience of Nhem En, looks behind the photos you see on the walls of S-21 at the man who was behind the camera and interviews three of the few survivors to have made it out of that hell hole. The absence of any feelings of remorse by Nhem En is chilling. ''I was only one screw of the machine. I did nothing wrong except taking photos at the superior's order,'' he claims. It will be the director's fourth Oscar nomination - he won best short in 1990 - for this short documentary, which he filmed in January of last year. It is his third film in a series of short personal documentaries, Three Journeys, which includes the Mushroom Club, a look at Hiroshima sixty years after the atomic bombing, and Hunting Tigers, a quirky look at Tokyo pop culture. Then Nhem En was a sixteen year old following orders, today he's deputy governor in Anlong Veng and has announced plans to build his own museum in the town, filled with his photographs and other KR memorablia. To find out more about the director, click here.
S-21 survivor Chum Mey is interviewed for the documentary

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Friday, December 26, 2008

History revealed

An entrance to Tuol Sleng in January 1979 (copyright Tuol Sleng Museum)
It's been mooted for many years that potentially important evidence concerning the Khmer Rouge was whisked off to Vietnam during the occupation of Cambodia in the 1980s and that some of that evidence could be crucial to the Khmer Rouge Tribunal currently being held in Phnom Penh. Whether that's conjecture or the truth, it's at least encouraging that the Vietnamese authorities have at long last consented to give up 20 documentary films from the Khmer Rouge period which they are handing to DC Cam this week. Youk Chhang, the Executive Director at DC Cam - who are the main repository for all items pertaining to the Khmer Rouge period - is off to Vietnam to collect the films which are believed to contain general views of the country in the late 70s as well as footage from the Tuol Sleng (S-21) prison at the time it was liberated by the invading Vietnamese forces - 7 January 1979. We have seen some glimpses of footage from around that time on other documentaries like John Pilger's Year Zero and the East German documentary Kampuchea: Death & Rebirth but if it's the original footage of the Vietnamese cameramen as they witnessed Tuol Sleng for the first time then it will be invaluable. Chhang revealed that the Vietnamese authorities have provided photographs and documents in the past but it sounds like they've been doing a spring clean of their archives and have found some more. Wouldn't it be great if they could do a full stock-take and dust off everything they have in their secretive vaults that would assist the Tribunal.
It was a Vietnamese colonel, Mam Lai, who turned the former S-21 prison into a musuem in 1979 and had been the person responsible for the stupa of skulls at Choeung Ek. Lai, the former curator of the American War Crimes museum in Saigon, added the most controversial exhibit at Tuol Sleng - a map of the country constructed out of human skulls - as the Vietnamese deliberately demonized the Khmer Rouge and personalized the "Pol Pot-Ieng Sary genocidal clique." It's clear that photographs and confessions, seen by reliable sources soon after the Tuol Sleng archive left by the retreating Khmer Rouge was discovered, subsequently disappeared but where those invaluable documents ended up isn't known.

On the subject of Tuol Sleng and DC Cam, a new book is just about to be published detailing the story of one of S-21's rare survivors, Bou Meng. In 2002, DC Cam's magazine Searching for the Truth reported that Bou Meng had disappeared and was presumed dead. However, he'd survived and like his fellow inmate Vann Nath, his skill as a portrait painter had saved him, though he lost his wife and two children in the Khmer Rouge slaughter. The 175-page book Bou Meng: A Survivor from Khmer Rouge Prison S-21: Justice for the Future, Not for the Victims, written by researcher Vannak Huy will soon be on sale from DC Cam.
Bou Meng returns to Tuol Sleng

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