Sunday 5th September – Toul Sleng Museum or Camp S-21

Breakfast was a cup of tea and a piece of baguette (very nice, first since I’ve been here though according to the guide books we should be able to find them everywhere).   A group of us then took a tuktuk (very efficient transport – a driver and five heavy Europeans pulled by a 125cc motorbike) to the Toul Sleng Museum, which is based in camp S-21, the place headed up by Comrade Duch (recently convicted at the Cambodian Courts) where the Khmer Rouge tortured ‘traitors’, with some 22,000 going to their deaths after torture and forced confessions.  John Swain tells the story in River of Time of one or two Western or European sailors who got too close to the coast and were captured and then tortured as CIA spies by the Khmer Rouge in Toul Sleng.  I saw their photos there.  They signed horrible confessions in which they admitted all kinds of espionage, and fictitious events in their home country to feed the crazed fantasies of the torturers before they were killed.

The place had been a very nice airy secondary school – a desecration of its original purpose.  High ranking members of the Khmer Rouge who were tortured had their own classroom space.  Ordinary prisoners had to make do with a brick partitioned part of a classroom about 1m x 3m, with a metal chain to keep them in place.  Barbaric instruments of torture (are there any other kind) are on display as well as photographs, taken by camp guards, of many of the inmates. Only seven people survived S-21 and their photos are also included.  In a recent archive project, a number of former guards have come forward to give testimony – some of them did not really seem to accept any responsibility and one said he had no regrets.  There was also the testimony of relatives of some of those who went through Camp Duch and poignant photographs of them before 1975 juxtaposed.  It was a powerful display.  In another room there was a display about the current trials.

Cell interior

thorugh classroom window

through classroom window

faces of victims Toul Sleng

Faces of victims of torture- they should be remembered.


Khie Sampan and Ieng Sary

Khie Sampan and Ieng Sary

Nuon Chea and Ieng Thinrith

Nuon Chea and Ieng Thinrith

There were a couple of books to write in.  I wrote that we should continue to respect for ever the memory of those whose eyes stare out at us, telling us to remember those times.  We should also respect the democratic politics which prevents political power being abused through the proper accountability of those in power and the checks in our system.  Even as I was writing I realize of course that this only works in our country and the USA, for example, in part – the invasion of Iraq stands as testimony to how much unaccountable power a war-crazed clique, particularly if they are uncompromising believers that right is on their side, can exercise, as long as it does not directly affect those to whom they are accountable.

Inevitably coming so close to such inhuman behaviour, one is bound to ask, could people in Scotland or UK do such things?  You bet your life they could, if there was sufficient injustice and inequality, competition over scarce resources, no faith in the existing political system and civil rebellion.  In these situations, especially war, people have to be on one side or the other and the psychopaths among us thrive, as their sharp brutal and passionless use of violence is useful in war and conflict and gives them leadership status.

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