- Text smaller
- Text bigger
Editor’s note: Dispatches contributing editor Anthony C.
LoBaido journeyed into the dark heart of
Cambodia recently. His first person account of the Killing Fields
revisited is featured in the June issue of the magazine, the sister
off-line publication to WorldNetDaily. LoBaido has worked as a
correspondent in Mexico, South Africa, Australia, Korea, Thailand and
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — It is a scene as eerie as Hitler and Eva
Braun’s final moments inside a Berlin bunker a half-century ago. On
Jan. 7, 1975, the clock strikes high noon at the notorious Tuol Sleng
The invading communist Vietnamese have sacked Phnom Penh. Kaing Kek
Iev, Pol Pot’s chief executioner at S-21, paces frantically around the
prison — a former high school converted by the Khmer Rouge into a house
of horrors. The sound of gunfire and artillery fill the air. Outside,
silent flashes of lightning light up the dark afternoon sky. As Yeats
once wrote, “The center does not hold.”
In one room, Kaing Kek Iev, (whose nom de guerre is “Duch”) looks
over a giant macabre stack of human skulls. In another room lay
mountains of records — notes Duch meticulously took down during the
Khmer Rouge genocide enacted between 1975 and 1979. Scattered around
the prison in dank cells are a few unlucky prisoners chained to their
beds. Duch pours gasoline on as many of the records as he can and
lights them on fire. He then executes the last remaining prisoners.
These poor souls will not be among the 500,000 Cambodians the Khmer
Rouge will force to march to the Thai border in a hasty and mass retreat
in the wake of the invading enemy. The survivors will be put into
Khmer-run camps until 1991. Top Khmer Rouge leaders will head to the
rural town of Pailin, where they will soon garner a fortune mining rare
But Duch has other plans, and he heads for the Cardamom Mountains of
Western Cambodia. The top administrator of S-21 soon passes undetected
into Thailand, carrying with him a dark secret that remained unknown for
over 20 years. But the truth is often difficult to keep buried forever
and works to break apart even the heaviest of monoliths — like the
steady eroding power of water, wind and ice on the great mountains of
In the case of Pol Pot’s Nazi-style experiments, the truth only
recently emerged from five handwritten pages which survived the gasoline
and matches of Duch’s poor counter-intelligence work at S-21.
The dark secret Kaing Kek Iev ran off with so long ago has now come
full circle. Duch reappeared this past May in Western Cambodia where he
had been serving as a volunteer aid worker after becoming a born-again
Christian. And although change is not always visible, the changes in
Duch’s personal morality have led him to identify the chain of command
in Pol Pot’s killing machine at S-21 and the Cheung Ek Killing Fields.
Moreover, Duch has brought something far more horrific into the light
for examination — the Nazi-style experiments he and his cohorts
performed on the internees at S-21.
Kaing Kek Iev has been many things in his life — a professor, Khmer
Rouge soldier, prisoner under the anti-Communist Cambodian King
Sihanouk, administrator/executioner at S-21 and fugitive from justice.
Now Duch has embarked on a new and perhaps the final phase of his life
as the star witness in the upcoming Khmer Rouge genocide trails.
The trials will be conducted by the present Cambodian government. It
is a government staffed by many Khmer Rouge defectors who still control
loyal, private guerrilla armies deployed in the field.
Recent revelations show the Nazi-style experiments conducted at S-21
to be so barbaric, cruel and medieval in nature so as to make Dr. Josef
Mengele shudder in horror.
“Dr. Mengele would give lollipops to small Jewish children before
injecting their eyes with blue dye. Pol Pot’s henchmen were not so
polite,” says Loyal Gould, the former chairman of the Baylor University
Department of Journalism. Dr. Gould is the only English-speaking
journalist in the world to have covered the Auschwitz Trials from start
“Certainly this kind of cruelty is the epitome of evil.”
According to five of the 100,000 pages of forced “confessions” and
prison records Duch accumulated while running S-21, the Nazi-style,
pseudo-scientific human experiments included the following:
“A. A 17-year-old girl with her throat cut and stomach slashed, put
in water from 7:55 p.m. until 9:20 a.m., when the body begins to float
slowly to the top, which it reaches by 11 a.m.”
“B. A 17-year-old girl bashed to death, then put in water as before,
for the same period, but the body rises to the top at 1:17 p.m.”
Most of the 17,000 Cambodians tortured and killed at S-21 were loyal
Communist party cadres falsely accused of being CIA spies. They
included the scientific, political, religious and educational elite of
S-21 served mainly as a torture chamber, while most of the final
liquidation occurred at the Killing Fields of Cheung Ek outside of Phnom
In addition to running S-21, Duch (who is half-Chinese and
half-Khmer), served as the head of SANTEBAL, the National Security
machine of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime. Duch took over SANTEBAL in
1975 after the Khmer Rouge seized the government from the pro-U.S. Lon
Nol. He immediately took 154 prisoners kept in a Phnom Penh chapel and
transferred them to S-21.
Tuol Sleng could hold up to 1,500 prisoners, and this served the
grand paranoia of Pol Pot frighteningly well. Pol Pot was obsessed with
“enemies,” both real and imagined, on the scale of Stalin.
Says one former Khmer Rouge soldier, “Pol Pot was afraid of a spider,
so he shot at anything with more than two legs. He saw a CIA operative
or collaborator hiding under every rock.”
By 1977 Tuol Sleng had hired over 100 wardens, most of who were in
their late teens and early twenties. These wardens tortured and
executed women, children and babies with cruel efficiency.
For example, On July 1, 1977, Duch held “Women’s Day” at S-21,
killing 114 women. July 2, 1977 was “Children’s Day,” and saw 31 boys
and 43 girls tortured and slaughtered. In October of that same year,
S-21 set an all time single-day record by executing 418 people.
(Pol Pot referred to these victims as the refuse of the “Old
Society.” Upon seizing power in 1975, Pol Pot emptied Phnom Penh in
seven days. He called the evacuees “New People” of “The Year Zero.” His
Maoist agrarian style restructuring of Cambodian society sought to raise
up the poor or “base people.”)
The murderous experiments and killings rolled on. In 1978, Duch
oversaw the liquidation of 300 disaffected Khmer Rouge soldiers. The
soldiers were not even interrogated — they were summarily put to death
to soothe the whims of Pol Pot. Some of the soldiers were hung upside
down and had their heads placed in buckets of water.
In addition to running S-21, Duch controlled all the security prisons
in Cambodia. He was especially brutal, yet clever — often promising to
release prisoners if they would confess their “crimes.” Those who
refused to talk to interrogators had their fingernails pulled out with
pliers. Female prisoners were often stripped naked and then tortured.
Some of them were raped, though the wardens who raped them were
summarily put to death for this “breach of discipline and protocol.”
In another strange twist, Nuon Chea, Pol Pot’s second in command,
(known as “Brother Number Two”) ordered Duch to personally kill eight
Westerners unlucky enough to have been sent to S-21. Duch obliged his
superior. The killing of the Westerners — hailing from the U.S.,
Australia and several European countries — means that Duch could be
extradited to any of those nations where he might face murder charges.
Duch was also personally required to kill several top Khmer Rouge
leaders who had fallen into disfavor with Pol Pot. One of them, Von
Vet, was killed and then buried by Duch. Soon after, Nuon Chea asked
Pol Pot to exhume the body and photograph it for evidence that Von Vet
had indeed been killed.
Not surprisingly, some of Duch’s superiors worried about his
meticulous note-taking skills. They asked him to cut back on the paper
trail, as well as to save money on bullets in the execution process.
“We killed them [the S-21 prisoners] like a chicken,” Duch said
recently in an interview with the Far Eastern Economic Review. “We
simply slit their throats.”
Iem Chan, a sculptor who was recruited by the Khmer Rouge to work at
Tuol Sleng between 1977 and 1979, recalls Duch as “an educated man and a
nice talker.” Iem Chan was required to make several sculptures of Pol
Pot before being asked to turn his talents towards producing instruments
of torture at S-21. Speaking of the men who ran S-21, and the pain and
death they inflicted on the prisoners there he says, “If I ever met them
again I would tear them to pieces.”
Speaking of the dark goings-on at S-21, Dith Pran, the central
character of the hit Hollywood film “The Killing Fields,” says, “It is a
challenge to investigative journalism to research and document the
activities of the Khmer Rouge. We must tell America and the world what
happened under Pol Pot.”
Adds Loyal Gould, “The unrepentant Nazi doctors had two mantras at
the Auschwitz Trials. Either ‘I was just following orders,’ or ‘Progress
demands sacrifice and our experiments changed the world.’ In the dying
World War II, the U.S. and Soviet troops both raced to Berlin in a quest
to capture top Nazi doctors, scientists, advanced weapons and high
altitude test data collected on the poor Jewish victims put in pressure
“Some of the Nazi scientists and doctors escaped justice at the
Nuremberg and Auschwitz trials, and were given sanctuary in America.
They would go on to work for NASA and the space program during the Cold
War under a program called ‘Operation Paper Clip.’ But what was the
Pol Pot’s Nazi-style experiments?”
Pol Pot is sometimes compared to Adolf Hitler for a plethora of
reasons. Both were hypochondriacs who once worked with their hands.
Both were failed soldiers who liked small children. Both penned an epic
book — Hitler’s “My Struggle” and Pol Pot’s “Monarchy or Democracy?”
Both committed suicide under murky circumstances. Both were said to
have cast a “hypnotic effect” on all who heard them speak. Both accused
Napoleon of acting “without moral feeling.” Yet in the light of recent
evidence unearthed by Duch’s written records, the ultimate link between
Pol Pot and Hitler may well be the Khmer Rouge’s Nazi-style human
experiments at S-21.
According to Son Nim, a former Khmer Rouge soldier and technician at
S-21 now living as a semi-recluse on Koh Phi Phi (a tropical island in
the Gulf of Thailand), the revelations of Duch’s writings at S-21 are
only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
“There’s a lot more to this story than meets the eye. People need to
start asking questions about the CIA’s MK-Ultra Mind and Population
Control experiments and their role in Pol Pot’s regime,” he says.
“We know now that even in the early 1990s, Pol Pot was flying around
Thailand and Cambodia in state of the art helicopter gunships,
inspecting Khmer Rouge strongholds in Western Cambodia and preparing to
retake power in Phnom Penh when the proper time made itself known. What
scares me even more is that even today the Nazi agenda of cloning,
eugenics, euthanasia, and population control continues — both in
Cambodia and in the West.”
As for his own role in the Khmer Rouge’s Nazi-style genocide, Duch
turns to his newfound Christian faith for the courage to tell the world
what really happened at S-21.
“It is OK,” he says. “They [Khmer Rouge loyalists and the Cambodian
and international courts] can have my body. Jesus Christ has my soul.
It is important that this history be understood.”
Special offer: Order a subscription to Dispatches magazine,
including the June issue with Anthony LoBaido’s expansive, 10,000-word
cover story, “Holiday in Cambodia.” You can also sample Dispatches and
the June issue for only $3.