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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

World: No Regrets?

No, it's not the Billie Holliday song. It's what's happening in the trials of the Khmer Rouge criminals right now.

Prisoner at Tuol Sleng, Pol Pot's notorious S-21 prison

No, my knowledge of Kampuchean history is not great. I know something about the early history of the Khmer and other peoples of that part of Southeast Asia, the Funanese empire, the Dong Son bronzes, but almost nothing about their modern history, except that my parents greatly respected and admired Prince Norodom Sihanouk.

I am about to begin my historical explorations of that deeply wretched nation.

However, today's report from Reuters does not bode well for my virtual travels thereto. According to Reuters, one Mam Nay, aka Chan, who served for a time as an interrogator under Pol Pot's head jailor, Duch (real name Kaing Guek Eav) testified in court today that he has no regrets for
what happened at the Tuol Sleng prison, where more than 14,000 men, women and children were killed, [...].
Tuol Sleng, also known as S-21, is the infamous prison referred to in "The Killing Fields."

No regrets for this, Mr. Chan? Or Mam Nay, if you prefer?

Tortured Prisoner, one of 6,000 photographs left behind when Khmer Rouge jailors evicted Tuol Sleng prison in advance of invading VietNamese troops

Mam Nay, who is appearing as a witness for the prosecution in the joint Kampuchean-UN war crimes trials, has denied any part in torture or killings of prisoners and blamed the United States and Vietnam for undermining his country.
"My only regret was our country was invaded," he told the joint Cambodian-U.N. tribunal. "Frankly speaking, the Americans invaded us then Vietnam invaded us. That is my regret."


"I did not use torture in my interrogation. I believed I would not get a true confession."

Asked about the deaths of innocent people, Nay, 76, said: "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."
Note: This guy was a schoolteacher. Maybe he was a brainwashed cadre turned schoolteacher. But how do you become a schoolteacher if you cannot empathize with frightened children? And some of the 14-20,000 imprisoned at Tuol Sleng were children. Ony six people survived that prison. The remaining 13,994 — or 19,994, no one really knows — died as a result of torture.

There is no denying that the US bombing of Kampuchea and various associated military actions led to the rise of the Khmer Rouge. But who thought they would be so inhumane as to kill between 1 and 3 million of their own people? Between the U.S. bombing and the NVA attempts to escape U.S. military actions by slipping over the border into Kampuchean territory, evicting Kampucheans, and training members of the Khmer Rouge, Kampuchea's attempts at neutrality and Sihanouk's heroic efforts in that direction were virtually worthless. Here is a brief background on these aspects of Kampuchean history.

Mam Nay, or Mr. Chan, or whatever you call yourself, should a "minor" offense warrant waterboarding? Or, as Americans and other Westerners used to refer to it, "Chinese" or "Japanese" water torture?

Picture taken by Jonah Blank in 2005 at the Tuol Sleng Museum. Published on the Web by David Corn.*

Oh, well. I guess now that it's come to light that we waterboarded mentally ill or innocent or possibly innocent people ourselves, repeatedly, I guess we're in no position to quibble about anyone else's crimes.

Ain't torture egalitarian?

*See here for copyright/licensing information on this picture.

Incidentally, the still-adored ex-partner made a trip to those parts some years ago, and opined that "the whole place seemed haunted. It was like going to a ghost town. Even the people's faces look haunted." The ex is a tough businessperson who has had plenty of occasion to mock and deride my own claims of sensitivity and queasiness and unexplained oojie-woojies, so to hear those words from such a person, well. Virtual trips to Kampuchea is all I'm up to for now.

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At 11:32 PM, Blogger BadTux said...

Looking at poor little 137, who was maybe 9 years old plus or minus 18 months and who will forever be nameless in a pile of bones with nothing to attest to the fact that she ever lived except a torn and faded photograph, and it is enough to make tears come to my eyes. How can evil like Mam Nay and his mentor Pol Pot exist? How can someone say that a 9 year old girl is guilty of anything other than, maybe, giggling inappropriately when she sees something she thinks is silly?

What a sad, pathetic race we are...

-- Badtux the Grim Penguin

At 8:48 AM, Blogger ThePoliticalCat said...

My friend, I know if I've moved you, I've done at least as well as I intended.

It was a very hard piece to write. Thank you for your comment.


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