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Americans Also Buried in Cambodia's Killing Fields

Written By vibykhmer on Wednesday, February 18, 2009 | 8:56 PM


Tuol Sleng's victims were shoved into 100 mass graves and skeleton-packed pits on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, which were later marked with signs after the Khmer Rouge were ousted (Photo © by Richard S. Ehrlich)
"They are murderous thugs, but we won't let that stand in our way," Henry Kissinger told Thailand. (Photo © by Richard S. Ehrlich)
The interior of a narrow make-shift cell in Tuol Sleng S-21 prison. (Photo © by Richard S. Ehrlich)
The door to a narrow make-shift cell in Tuol Sleng S-21 prison. (Photo © by Richard S. Ehrlich)
A painting by former prisoner Vann Nath, who later documented Tuol Sleng's slitting of throats during interrogation. (Photo © by Richard S. Ehrlich)
A painting by former prisoner Vann Nath, who later documented Tuol Sleng's use of pliers during interrogations. (Photo © by Richard S. Ehrlich)
A painting by former prisoner Vann Nath, who later documented Tuol Sleng's style of water boarding during interrogations. (Photo © by Richard S. Ehrlich)
A painting by former prisoner Vann Nath, who later documented Tuol Sleng's beatings during interrogations. (Photo © by Richard S. Ehrlich)
A Cambodian girl photographed by officials at Tuol Sleng with her arms tied behind her before interrogation. (Photo © by Richard S. Ehrlich)
A Cambodian woman and baby photographed by officials at Tuol Sleng on May 14, 1978 before interrogation. (Photo © by Richard S. Ehrlich)
A young Cambodian man photographed by officials at Tuol Sleng during interrogation. (Photo © by Richard S. Ehrlich)

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Richard S. Ehrlich
Scoop.co.nz (New Zealand)

Tortured Americans Also Buried in Cambodia's "Killing Fields"

BANGKOK, Thailand -- An estimated 1.7 million corpses are rotting in Cambodia's "killing fields," including two Americans from California and Minneapolis, whose blank-faced alleged torturer appeared in court on Tuesday (February 17) at the start of a U.N.- backed international tribunal.
"One Cambodian government document found in the National Archives of Cambodia revealed that an American, Michael Deeds, was taken to the notorious Tuol Sleng S-21 prison, tortured, and then executed during the last days of the Khmer Rouge government regime in Cambodia in 1979," wrote American investigators connected to the U.S. Defense Department.

"He was then buried behind Tuol Sleng," said the Defense POW/ Missing Personnel Office (DPMO), which searched among dusty files in 2000, unable to find further leads to determine what happened to the Americans.

Mr. Deeds, who went to high school in Long Beach, California, was seized by the Khmer Rouge along with others on a boat near Cambodia's coast.

He was travelling with James William Clark of Minneapolis, who was also interrogated in Tuol Sleng and died.

The burial ground for Tuol Sleng's victims includes 100 mass graves and skeleton-packed pits on the outskirts of Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh.

Nearby, the U.N. tribunal began its long-awaited hearings by displaying the elderly former Khmer Rouge torturer and interrogator, Kaing Guek Eav, commonly known as Duch (pronounced "Doyk").

Facing judges, lawyers, survivors, investigators and others, Duch stared wide-eyed and mostly expressionless while the court went through dry preparations to hear Duch's testimony, expected in March.

Duch operated Tuol Sleng where victims suffered water boarding, beatings, throat slitting, extraction of body parts with pliers, hanging, and other horrific abuse, according to former prisoner Vann Nath, who later documented the acts in gruesome paintings.

Duch has partially confessed, and his testimony would provide valuable details about what went on when Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia from 1975-79.

The Khmer Rouge's victory came when they toppled Cambodia's U.S.- backed Lon Nol regime in 1975, at the end of Southeast Asia's regional Vietnam War, which America lost in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

An estimated 1.7 million Cambodians perished under the Khmer Rouge's reign, which crumbled when a newly united Vietnam invaded impoverished Cambodia.

Duch, however, may not be able to offer much help in locating the remains of the Americans, or anyone else, because when Tuol Sleng's 16,000 tortured victims were dragged away, they were shoved by other Khmer Rouge cadres into unmarked graves.

The document about Mr. Deeds was described by the DPMO team as requesting "the disposition of Deeds, while in Tuol Sleng prison in late 1978, before the Pol Pot regime had him executed.

"Deeds was one of four Americans allegedly killed while possibly smuggling marijuana from Thailand, when their ship went off course and ended up in Cambodian waters, where they were boarded by Khmer Rouge and captured," said the U.S. team.

"Michael Scott Deeds, 29 years old, male, spy of Americans," reads a brief identification tag dated November 26, 1978, according to a separate Tuol Sleng Catalogue of Confessions compiled by Cornell University.

Tuol Sleng's interrogators extracted confessions from people who were tortured until they spouted the names of relatives, friends, associates, officials, strangers, and anyone else they could think of.

In agony, victims told whatever incriminating stories they thought would please their tormentors -- apparently hoping to end the pain or escape execution.

To prove their rapid, conveyor belt system of interrogations was efficient, Tuol Sleng's officials presented them as fact.

As a result, other Khmer Rouge believed the confessions, and brought in more and more innocent victims.

They, in turn, incriminated others in an increasingly absurd and vicious spiral which quickly decimated the government and its supporters.

Khmer Rouge loyalists, patriots and enthusiastic cadres soon found themselves scheduled for execution, based on Tuol Sleng's hand- written and typed dossiers.

America was castigated as Cambodia's worst enemy, and frequently appeared in confession statements.

But Washington was secretly covering up, and trying to improve, America's relations with Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime.

"You should also tell the Cambodians that we will be friends with them," U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told Thailand's political and military officials in Washington on November 26, 1975, seven months after Pol Pot seized power.

"They are murderous thugs, but we won't let that stand in our way. We are prepared to improve relations with them," Mr. Kissinger said according to a recently declassified U.S. State Department transcript.

"Tell them the latter part, but don't tell them what I said before," Mr. Kissinger told Thailand's U.S.-backed Foreign Minister Chatichai Choonhavan and his delegation -- three years before the confessions were extracted from Mr. Deeds and Mr. Clark at Tuol Sleng.

In 1989, Mr. Deeds's brother traveled to Tuol Sleng, but was unable to find his remains.

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Richard S Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist who has reported news from Asia since 1978. He is co-author of "Hello My Big Big Honey!", a non-fiction book of investigative journalism, and his web page is http://www.geocities.com/asia_correspondent

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