Not For The Faint Of Heart

From the serenity and beauty of Siem Reap and its temples, we moved to the extreme opposite when we visited Tuol Sleng, formerly known as Security Prison 21 or “S-21”, the most notorious interrogation and torture prison in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. The buildings of Tuol Sleng used to house a middle school in an average neighbourhood in Phnom Penh, on a street lined with restaurants and small shops. As you step through corrugated iron gates lined with barbed wire walls, you can’t help but think about how children used to run around these yards.

The buildings, four in all, have been preserved pretty much as the Khmer Rouge left them when they fled the city from the Vietnamese. There are still shackles and iron bed frames in a few rooms, gallows tower over the quad outside which, when it was a middle school, served as exercise poles for the kids and were later used as torture instruments by the guards. (I am not going to go into details about the different kinds of torture inflicted upon the inmates at S-21. There is enough graphic info about this in the museum to make you want to cry and vomit at the same time, I’d rather not re-live that. If you want to know more about the depth of depravity that the human mind can sync to, a quick search on Google will get you all the info you want.)

These graves hold the 14 inmates found (dead) at S-21 by the Vietnamese when they moved into the city in 1979.

The Khmer Rouge kept extensive records of their atrocities, including photographs of the inmates arriving at Tuol Sleng. The ground floor of Building B is filled with dozens of giant frames plastered with images of prisoners on their arrival. In some of these head shots people were half smiling which is much more painful to look at than the empty and hopeless stares of others. Were the smiles an unfortunate reflex in front of a camera? Maybe they didn’t know what was going to happen? The most haunting picture showed a despondent woman starring into the camera with a crying toddler sitting next to her.

There are also lots of photographs of dead inmates, usually in emaciated states that call WWII concentration camps to mind. Those who didn’t die in S-21 from torture or starvation were usually taken out to Cheung Ek, the “killing field” located a few kilometers outside of the city, and executed with an axe blow to the back of the neck. Bullets were expensive. Enormous mass graves have been discovered in the area, holding close to 20,000 dead. We decided not to go to Cheung Ek because we had been to the killing fields in Siem Reap and seen enough horrors at Teul Sleng to last a lifetime.

I don’t know how else to end a post about such a horrifying subject than with a bit from the ever-brilliant Eddie Izzard and his show “Dressed to Kill” (1999). This is his take on Pol Pot and mass murdering fuckheads in general:

“Pol Pot killed 1.7 million people. We can’t even deal with that! You know, we think if somebody kills someone, that’s murder, you go to prison. You kill 10 people, you go to Texas, they hit you with a brick, that’s what they do. 20 people, you go to a hospital, they look through a small window at you forever. And over that, we can’t deal with it, you know? Someone’s killed 100,000 people. We’re almost going, “Well done! You killed 100,000 people? You must get up very early in the morning. I can’t even get down the gym! Your diary must look odd: “Get up in the morning, death, death, death, death, death, death, death – lunch- death, death, death -afternoon tea – death, death, death – quick shower…”
“So I suppose we’re glad that Pol Pot’s under house arrest… you know, 1.7 million people. At least he – we know where he is – under house arrest! Just don’t go in that fucking house, you know? I know a lot of people who’d love to be under house arrest! They bring you your food… “Just stay here? Oh, all right. Have you got any videos?” You know, you just sit there all day… And Pol Pot was a history teacher. And Hitler was a vegetarian painter. So… mass-murderers come from the areas you least expect it. I don’t know how the flip comes over, but it happens.”

Here’s the video on YouTube; this particular bit starts around 6:10.

3 Responses to “Not For The Faint Of Heart”

  1. […] can all agree that this blog is in desperate need of a puppie chaser after that last post about the Khmer Rouge and S-21. (A “unicorn chaser”, or in this case a puppie chaser, is a concept created by Boing […]

  2. Alex says:

    I just finished reading Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith, an interesting story that takes place during Stalin’s rule. At the end of the book he has some statistics that I wasn’t aware of. Reproduced here for your morbid pleasure:

    Number of forced labourers in the USSR during Stalin: 28.7 million
    Number of political executions between 1930 and 1953: 768,098 (women and children too)
    In 1930 there were 179,000 prisoners in the Gulag system. In 1953, the year of Stalin’s death: 2,468,524
    Number of peasants who died during the terror-famine and dekulakization ( 1930-1933: 14.5 million.
    Age at which a child could be executed: 12

    Bring on the puppies.

  3. Kuru says:

    I think after Khmer Rouge and Stalin, we need a unicorn chaser as well as a puppy one. Do please see if you can spot some, perhaps bathing in the river with the loverly carvings?

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