The Spectacle Blog

Khmer Rouge Survivors Speak

The trial of Comrade Duch, or Kaing Guek Eav, continues this week with the three known survivors of Tuol Sleng (or S-21) who are still alive testifying. Stats are impossible to nail down, but most who paid attention estimate that about 17,000 passed through those torture chambers and only seven survived.

By on 7.1.09 | 1:30PM

The trial of Comrade Duch, or Kaing Guek Eav, continues this week with the three known survivors of Tuol Sleng (or S-21) who are still alive testifying. Stats are impossible to nail down, but most who paid attention estimate that about 17,000 passed through those torture chambers and only seven survived. Two -- Vann Nath and Bou Meng -- were artists kept alive by Duch because of their skill in painting or illustrating pictures of Cambodian dictator Pol Pot. The third, Chum Mey, survived because he could repair equipment and vehicles for the regime. Reuters reports:

"I saw about 20 men with long hair, looking very sick and emaciated. The cell was like hell on earth," Meng told the court.

The prisoners were kept in chains with empty bullet boxes and plastic bottles to use as toilets.

"I saw a lizard and hoped it would drop on me so I could catch it and eat it," Meng said. "They kept whipping me and asked me when I joined the CIA." (the paranoid regime extracted confessions from all suspected opponents -- that they were agents of the CIA, KGB, or Vietnam -- before torturing and executing them)

For the first time in three decades, Meng had the chance to question Duch, the first of five Pol Pot cadres indicted by the tribunal.

He never saw his wife again after they entered S-21 and he asked his torturer what had happened to her.

"I expect she was killed by my subordinates," Duch replied.

Chum Mey's testimony was equally chilling:

(He) told the judges on Tuesday his toenails were torn off and that he, too, was held in a dark cell, his legs shackled. He received hardly any food and expected to die at any moment.

"I will never forget my suffering at S-21, as long as I live," he said, his voice breaking, tears rolling down his face.

"When I entered the room, I didn't expect to survive. I just laid on my back, waiting to be killed."

Mey's wife and four children were among the 1.7 million Cambodian's who died under Pol Pot's ultra-Maoist revolution, which ended in the 1979 invasion by Vietnam.

He too was accused of being a spy for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

Can't help but imagine political prisoners in today's dictatorial regimes aren't any better off.

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