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Survivors Shed Light On Dark Days Of Khmer Rouge


churchill
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PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Looking across the courtroom where he is on trial for crimes against humanity, the chief Khmer Rouge torturer cannot avoid seeing an artist and a mechanic who sit watching him but mostly avoid his gaze.

Mariko Takayasu

Chum Mey, a mechanic, was spared because he was needed to make repairs. The two men are to testify against their torturer.

Bou Meng was singled out during the Khmer Rouge reign of terror in Cambodia to produce portraits of the group’s leader.

One short and forceful, his feet dangling just above the floor, the other melancholy and drooping a bit, they are rare survivors of Tuol Sleng prison, where at least 14,000 people were sent to their deaths three decades ago.

In the weeks ahead, the two survivors will take the stand to testify against their torturer, Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, who commanded the prison, and both have stories to tell about a place of horror from which almost no one emerged alive.

Bou Meng, 68, the short one, survived because he was a painter and was singled out from a row of shackled prisoners to produce portraits of the Khmer Rouge chief, Pol Pot.

The other, Chum Mey, 78, was a mechanic and was spared because the torturers needed him to repair machines, including the typewriters used to record the confessions — very often false — that they extracted from prisoners like himself.

Duch (pronounced DOIK), 66, is the first of five arrested Khmer Rouge figures to go on trial in the United Nations-backed tribunal here. His case began in February and is expected to last several more months.

Mr. Bou Meng and Mr. Chum Mey are living exhibits — like a third survivor, Vann Nath — from the darkest core of the Khmer Rouge atrocities. They are tangible evidence, like the skulls that have been preserved at some killing fields, or like hundreds of portraits of their fellow prisoners that are displayed on the walls of Tuol Sleng.

The photographs were taken as detainees were delivered to the prison, before they were stripped and fettered and tortured and sent to a killing field.

Those ordered killed at Tuol Sleng are among 1.7 million people who died during the Communist Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1979 from starvation, disease and overwork, as well as from torture and execution.

Duch is accused of ordering the kinds of beatings, whippings, electric shocks and removal of toenails that Mr. Bou Meng and Mr. Chum Mey describe; indeed, he admitted in the courtroom to ordering the beating of Mr. Chum Mey.

Both men endured torture that continued for days, and Mr. Chum Mey said, “At that time I wished I could die rather than survive.”

But both men did survive, and in interviews they now describe scenes that almost none of their fellow prisoners lived to recount. “Every night I looked out at the moon,” Mr. Bou Meng recalled. “I heard people crying and sighing around the building. I heard people calling out, ‘Mother, help me! Mother, help me!’ ”

It was at night that prisoners were trucked out to a killing field, and every night, he said, he feared that his moment had come. “But by midnight or 1 a.m. I realized that I would live another day.”

Though many Cambodians have tried to bury their traumatic memories, Mr. Bou Meng and Mr. Chum Mey have continued to return to the scene of their imprisonment and torture as if their souls remained trapped there together with the souls of the dead.

During the first few years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, Mr. Bou Meng returned to work in an office at Tuol Sleng, which was converted into a museum of genocide. Now he uses it as a rest stop, spending the night there on a cot when he visits the capital, Phnom Penh, from the countryside, where he paints Buddhist murals in temples.

Mr. Chum Mey, retired now from his work as a mechanic, spends much of his time wandering among the portraits, telling and retelling his story to tourists, as if one of the victims on the walls had come to life.

An eager and passionate storyteller, he will show a visitor how he was shoved, blindfolded, into his cell during 12 days of torture, and he will drop to the floor inside a small brick cubicle where he was held in chains.

“As you can see, this was my condition,” he said recently as he sat on the hard concrete floor, holding up a metal ammunition box that was used as a toilet. “It upsets me to see Duch sitting in the courtroom talking with his lawyers as if he were a guest of the court.”

Like many other Khmer Rouge victims, both men say they have no idea why they were selected for arrest or why they were tortured to admit to unknown crimes. Both men lost their wives and children in the Khmer Rouge years, and although both have rebuilt their families, the past still holds them in its grip.

Mr. Bou Meng does not wander like his friend among the Tuol Sleng pictures, but he does keep one in his wallet: a snapshot-size reproduction of the prison portrait of his wife, Ma Yoeun, who was arrested with him but did not survive.

“Sometimes when I sit at home I look at the picture and everything seems fresh,” he said. “I think of the suffering she endured, and I wonder how long she stayed alive.”

Mr. Bou Meng has since remarried twice, but he remains shackled to his memories. “I know I should forget her,” he said, “but I can’t.”

She visits him, he said, in visions that are something more than dreams, looking just as she did when he last saw her — still 28 years old, leaving Mr. Bou Meng to live on and grow old without her.

Sometimes she appears with the spirits of others who were killed, he said. They stand together, a crowd of ghosts in black, and she tells him, “Only you, Bou Meng, can find justice for us.”

Mr. Bou Meng said he hoped that testifying against Duch and seeing him convicted would free him from the restless ghosts and let him live what is left of his life in peace.

“I don’t want to be a victim,” he said. “I want to be like everybody else, a normal person.”

But he said he knew that this might be asking too much of life.

“Maybe not completely normal,” Mr. Bou Meng said. “But at least 50 percent.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/17/world/as....html?ref=world

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i have a couple of basic questions, sorry, i'm not an history buff so please excuse:

1) What were the Khmer Rouge hoping to gain by randomly rounding up, extracting forced confessions and killing a large portion of their own population? I don't really see the point; at least the Nazi's had an f'ed up reason, they hated the Jews, but is seems to me that the Khmer Rouge were killing people exactly the same as themselves. what was the point?

2) What percentage of the population were really, truly committed to the Khmer Rouge's goals? when ever i hear interviews with the torturers, its usually a kid with the same story, 'if i didn't do it to them, someone else would do it to me'. Sometimes it sounds like the entire country was held hostage to about 10 guys, but like in Nazi Germany, you have to figure there had a general consensus of support among the population, or how did they pull it off?

i'm not looking for a debate here, just a simply explanation of the possible motivations behind what when on.

thx steve

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i have a couple of basic questions, sorry, i'm not an history buff so please excuse:

1) What were the Khmer Rouge hoping to gain by randomly rounding up, extracting forced confessions and killing a large portion of their own population? I don't really see the point; at least the Nazi's had an f'ed up reason, they hated the Jews, but is seems to me that the Khmer Rouge were killing people exactly the same as themselves. what was the point?

2) What percentage of the population were really, truly committed to the Khmer Rouge's goals? when ever i hear interviews with the torturers, its usually a kid with the same story, 'if i didn't do it to them, someone else would do it to me'. Sometimes it sounds like the entire country was held hostage to about 10 guys, but like in Nazi Germany, you have to figure there had a general consensus of support among the population, or how did they pull it off?

i'm not looking for a debate here, just a simply explanation of the possible motivations behind what when on.

thx steve

I am far from being an expert on this subject. But, from what I know, let me address your first question. The Khmer Rouge (KR) were largely young boys/men from rural Cambodia. And most were dirt poor.

The Vietnam War had caused massive economic problems in the region. The war also spilled over into Cambodia (Nixon's big mistake). American bombs rained down on villages in Cambodia. Many innocent people died. Many Cambodians were angry.

Pol Pot exploited this with skill. He told the young recruits that Americans were trying to kill Cambodians. AND THAT THE RICK AND POWERFUL PEOPLE IN PP WERE HELPING THEM DO IT.

An army of angry young men was formed........they marched on the urban areas........people were rounded up, but it was not random. The rich and powerful were singled out.......along with educated Cambodians.

What did Pol Pot want? He wanted to create a new society based on his strange ideology.

Basically, Pol Pot was a skillful, charismatic leader......beyond that he was a mass murderer. The same can be said of Hitler....skillful, charismatic leader/murderer.

That is the way I see it......maybe an expert will follow up on this.

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I think that sums it up pretty well, JR. As an aside, it strikes me that there's a vague resemblance to our own Col T and his 'Thai Rouge' in the sense of manipulating the rural poor and uneducated against more successful and educated urban dwellers.

One substantial factor you overlook is China's logistical support for the KR.

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I think that sums it up pretty well, JR. As an aside, it strikes me that there's a vague resemblance to our own Col T and his 'Thai Rouge' in the sense of manipulating the rural poor and uneducated against more successful and educated urban dwellers.

One substantial factor you overlook is China's logistical support for the KR.

Thanks for posting........actually, I thought about the rural vs urban conflict that is currently taking shape in Thailand.

It makes me a bit uncomfortable knowing what happened in nearby Cambodia.

Right.......forgot about China's logistical support for the KR.

As to the second question, I just don't know how many people were truly committed. Many people no doubt went along in order to save themselves........you are with us or you are dead.

Others got caught up in the propaganda: You are poor and miserable because the rich businesspeople and intellectuals in PP--supported by evil Americans--are exploiting you. Join us and we will make them work for us in the fields and create an agricultural paradise........blah, blah, blah.

Imagine an army of angry young men entering your village with firearms threatening to kill everyone and everything in site......you might decide that it is in your best interest to go along with them.

Perhaps something similar happened in Nazi Germany.......I can't, for a moment, believe that all of the German soldiers wanted to exterminate the Jews or even create a larger German nation.

Young men tend to do what they are told by old men. Charismatic figures often play a role.

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I always thought, without any evidence to support this, that Pol Pot policy's were heavily influenced by the cultural revolution in China.

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I always thought, without any evidence to support this, that Pol Pot policy's were heavily influenced by the cultural revolution in China.

No doubt, partially influenced by Mao.........the classless, agrarian society bit.......you can probably find Marx inside his mind as well. But Pol Pot took it to a new level..........so horrible.

I remember walking around the school in PP that they turned into a torture, detention area. I moved off by myself and walked inside one of the "chambers" from hel_l.

Well.........I can only tell you that it gave be cold chills standing there, looking down at a metal bed frame and blood stained floor. You could almost hear the screams of the ghosts. I felt sick at my stomach and wanted to get out of there as fast as possible.

It amazes me what human beings are capable of.........both great things and horrible things and everything in between.

I am struck by how important it is to elect good and decent people. And how important it is for the general public to be educated so that they have the ability to make informed decisions.

I am also struck by how important it is for development to reach both urban and rural peoples. It is dangerous to leave one segment out.

Finally, I am struck by how important it is for adults to teach children the dangers of xenophobia, ethnocentrism, and extreme nationalism.

There are lessons to be learned from what happened in Cambodia.

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I always thought, without any evidence to support this, that Pol Pot policy's were heavily influenced by the cultural revolution in China.

It amazes me what human beings are capable of.........both great things and horrible things and everything in between.

I am struck by how important it is to elect good and decent people.

And how important it is for the general public to be educated so that they have the ability to make informed decisions.

I am also struck by how important it is for development to reach both urban and rural peoples. It is dangerous to leave one segment out.

Finally, I am struck by how important it is for adults to teach children the dangers of xenophobia, ethnocentrism, and extreme nationalism.

There are lessons to be learned from what happened in Cambodia.

Very good points.

Unfortunately you have Darfur, Rhawanda, Somalia to name a few. Putting the blame for your ills on another group of humans usually means you cannot see they are victims also when you have tortured and killed them?.

If the poorly eduacated rural masses were as educated as those in PP, then understanding may have kicked in. Realising you are all the same underneath comes with understanding

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The intent of the KR was to create an agrarian utopia free of all intellectuals, a kind of base case communism. However the movement achieved some kind of critical mass from whence it went on an orgy of torture and killing with no purpose. People were tortured brutally and continuously until they made signed confessions, mostly false, to justify their arrest. These confessions were not just of the "I admit I was a CIA agent" variety, that wasn't enough, the torture continued until they fabricated lengthy, very detailed confessions complete with dates, places and names. Part of their confessions had to be indictments of others often including their own families and so the arrests, torture and murders continued unabated. To try and imagine the level of suffering inflicted just consider how much pain you'd have to be subject to before you implicated your parents, brothers, sisters knowing full well you were condemning them to the same fate.

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I always thought, without any evidence to support this, that Pol Pot policy's were heavily influenced by the cultural revolution in China.

It amazes me what human beings are capable of.........both great things and horrible things and everything in between.

I am struck by how important it is to elect good and decent people.

And how important it is for the general public to be educated so that they have the ability to make informed decisions.

I am also struck by how important it is for development to reach both urban and rural peoples. It is dangerous to leave one segment out.

Finally, I am struck by how important it is for adults to teach children the dangers of xenophobia, ethnocentrism, and extreme nationalism.

There are lessons to be learned from what happened in Cambodia.

Very good points.

Unfortunately you have Darfur, Rhawanda, Somalia to name a few. Putting the blame for your ills on another group of humans usually means you cannot see they are victims also when you have tortured and killed them?.

If the poorly eduacated rural masses were as educated as those in PP, then understanding may have kicked in. Realising you are all the same underneath comes with understanding

Interesting.......it may come as a surprise to you that I AM HUMAN.

I was not leaving myself out or my country out or anybody out when I made the points I made about human beings in general. We all need to take a hard look in the mirror.

Good point Phil......and imagining what they went through leaves me with a terrible feeling. I hope the Cambodian people can finally move beyond history.

Generalizing, I have found the present generation of Cambodian people to be some of the nicest people I have ever met.

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No doubt anyone even vaguely interested will google about and find out more. There is a wealth of information and many books.

If you find your way to Tuol Sleng then, horrific as it is, you won't regret it or forget it.

I've been three times so far. There is a small shop opposite the entrance which sells drinks and snacks and CDs etc and where you can sit a while. The owner is a 52yo lady who you should try to speak to - she speaks excellent English. Her father worked for the French and they were quite well off so they had to conceal their background when the Kmer Rouge arrived. She was 17 when she and her family were marched out of Phnom Penh. Of about 20 members, she and one other were the sole survivors. She's a good looking lady but she'll show you how her front teeth were worn away crushing rice grains to survive in the fields.

Listen to her story, see the tears in her eyes and try to understand her pain. You won't forget her either.

The Americans knew only too well what they had done and what they were leaving behind when they jumped on their planes. How could they and the rest of the world turn their backs and let it all happen. That's the part I don't understand, but then isn't it still happening somewhere today?

Edited by mickba
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Khmer Rouge victims gather to mark 'Day of Anger'

Associated Press Writer= CHOEUNG EK, Cambodia (AP) â Cambodians marked their annual "Day of Anger" Wednesday to remember victims of the Khmer Rouge regime by re-enacting torture and distributing new textbooks about the era â largely ignored by schools run by a government whose leaders once served the movement.

About 2,000 Cambodians, including hundreds of Buddhist monks, gathered at Choeung Ek, a former Khmer Rouge "killing field" dotted with mass graves about nine miles (15 kilometers) south of Phnom Penh.

Some 40 students re-enacted the torture and executions inflicted by the ultra-communists under whose rule in the mid-1970s about 1.7 million people perished.

The performance was staged just yards (meters) away from a memorial filled with victims' skulls and mass graves where thousands of people were buried.

Relatives of the victims expressed hope that some of the surviving Khmer Rouge leaders will finally be brought to justice by a U.N.-backed tribunal.

Currently on trial is Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, who commanded the notorious S-21 prison where as many as 16,000 people are believed to have been tortured before being sent to Choeung Ek for execution.

Duch (pronounced Doik) is the first senior Khmer Rouge figure to face trial, and the only one to acknowledge responsibility for his actions. Senior leaders Khieu Samphan, Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary and Ieng Sary's wife, who are all detained, are likely to be tried in the next year or two.

"Why is the court taking so long to prosecute these leaders?" asked Tat Seang Lay, 47, whose two brothers were killed by the Khmer Rouge. "I want to see justice. I wish the court could end its trial process within the next few months."

continued at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/feedarticle/8516771

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