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A Virtual Tour of Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Guided by Tuol Sleng survivor/artist Van Nath with CIVICUS Cambodia founding president
Theary Seng for Kerry Kennedy, Michaela Kennedy Cuomo, John Heffernan (22 Feb. 2011) and
psychologist/author Dr. Ervin Staub, psychotherapist Dr. Luann Warren-Sohlberg (a trustee of
the Headington Institute), Sivnin Eam (7 March 2011).

A new entrance of Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, southeast corner of the former high school
compound, bemoaned by Mr. Van Nath for the destruction of authentic sites to create this
entrance and the sanitized cement parking driveway along the back of the buildings, former
gravesites (before mass killings were moved to Choeung Ek) where Mr. Van Nath remembers
encountering human remains everywhere. 7 March 2011. Cambodians do not have to pay to
enter Tuol Sleng, foreigners do pay, however only in cash and overt loopholes in financial
accounting (receipts).
A former classroom split into two rooms for the interrogation and torture of special victims.
Here Mr. Van Nath, Dr. Ervin Staub and I looking at the photograph of a fresh corpse whose
identity is unrecognizable by the torture, taken by a Vietnamese photographer accompanying
the victorious new occupying Vietnamese military force, probably a few days after the Jan. 7
military victory. Fourteen of them found in these large torture/interrogation rooms, now
represented by 14 white graves at the entrance. It is good to see a sign “Do Not Touch” on the
metal bed, a new and improved step toward preservation. When I first visit in 1995, I remember
blood stain still on the floor. Mr. Van Nath during his incarceration carried cement to build the
wall splitting each classroom into 2 interrogation rooms. The open windows near the ceiling
were sealed to muffle the screams of torture.
We are in front of “The Gallows”, a former high school rope-climbing exercise bar. Here, Mr.
Van Nath is recalling what he witnessed one evening as depicted in the painting by him in 1980:
he saw through an opening window from his workroom (in the direction of the pointing fingers,
middle of the former school) victims being drowned in the water containers and hung from the
exercise bar. Upon notice, a security guard went to shut the window.

Work brigades (of children, women, men – forced slave labor) in the provinces across Cambodia
during the 3 years, 8 months 20 days of the Khmer Rouge regime.
Evacuation of Phnom Penh, 17 April 1975, with young soldiers barely strong enough to carry the
AK-47. Map of the movements of people during the Khmer Rouge regime.

Former Khmer Rouge female personnel of Tuol Sleng who later became themselves became
victims. Mr. Van Nath pointed to a woman who is still alive but is reluctant to talk about her
experience as a former KR cadre. One feels the heaviness and the cruelty of the Khmer Rouge
regime; however, information about the rise of the Khmer Rouge and the victims are scant or
completely lacking… If we are to memorialize and educate, we need more than to know of the
cruelty but the lessons of history through objective, non-politicized facts and personal narratives
to give this generation and future ones hope and honored, sobered remembrance.

We are in front of another painting by Mr. Van Nath depicting victims being transported in
convoy trucks to be killed in Choeung Ek, a field about a 30 minute drive from central Phnom

Each torture/interrogation room has this handwritten security regulations, now translated into
French and English and magnified for visitors (photo below). Mr. Van Nath says by the time
victims were brought into the interrogation room and see this security regulation, they would
have already lost consciousness.
photo from Wikipedia
Kerry Kennedy, Michaela Kennedy Cuomo with special tour guide, Tuol Sleng former inmate
Van Nath, who is the epitome of dignity, 22 Feb. 2011. The inmates in Tuol Sleng comprised of
former Lon Nol civil servants and officers, Cambodian peasants from the countryside, Khmer
Rouge rank-and-file falling out of favor of the regime and their family members, former Tuol
Sleng personnel, and . . .

. . . a handful of foreigners, like Kerry Hamill, a sailor from New Zealand (brother of civil party
Rob Hamill).
Mr. Van Nath and I are standing next to a photo of corpses, taken immediately after they were
tortured and killed, as proofs to their KR superiors that they have done their job well, that these
individuals have not escaped. The one particular corpse above my head is that of a woman who
committed suicide from the 3rd floor (2nd floor French/Cambodian counting) of Building C,
witnessed by Mr. Van Nath. Every morning the security guard would come to unchain the ankle
of Mr. Van Nath to escort him to his work room where he drew huge portraits of Pol Pot. Every
morning, the interrogator would come for 2-3 victims, shouted from the ground as interrogators
cannot enter the building, for the security guard to take these victims down. One morning the
security guard unchained the ankle of this woman and turned to unchain the ankle of Mr. Van
Nath. Within that split second, the woman jumped from the 3rd floor window to her death on
the dirt/pebbled ground (Mr. Van Nath's testimony at the Extraordinary Chambers).
John Heffernan, Kerry Kennedy, Michaela Kennedy Cuomo with special guide of Tuol Sleng,
former inmate Van Nath in front of rows of shackles: the long ones are for many prisoners,
shackled by only one ankle; the shorter ones are for prisoners taken to be interrogated when
both ankles, criss-crossed, are shackled. Similar iron shackles were used for prisoners at
Boeung Rai Security Center in Svay Rieng where my mom, brothers and I were detained.
According to Mr. Van Nath, the provincial security centers tend to have wooden shackles.

Initially, the victims were killed on the grounds of Tuol Sleng but later they were transported in
convoy trucks to a field 30 minute drive away at Choeung Ek, now known as “The Killing Fields”
– what should be a place of honorable memorializing turned into a despicable commercial
private enterprise, sold to a Japanese company.
See my column: In (Sacred) Memory: Must Politics Obstruct Honoring the Dead?

Here we are in front of Building C where Mr. Van Nath was detained as a prisoner in 1978 on the
3rd floor (2nd Cambodian/French counting). A few steps to my right, behind Mr. Van Nath, was
the spot where the woman who committed suicide landed. Dr. Ervin Staub is pointing the steps
to the entrance where Mr. Van Nath informed us used to have a rug placed there by the Khmer
Rouge guards to mock the prisoners of their former class-consciousness. Here also Dr. Ervin
Staub explained to us how in other genocides as well the artists were valued by the perpetrators,
how during the Holocaust, the Nazis would have victim musicians play music to accompany the
killing of other victims. Mr. Van Nath bemoaned the fact that there is no sign to indicate the fact
this rug had been there as well as the sign slogan above the main entrance gate to Tuol Sleng
exhorting the beauty of the revolution.
During our discussions in front of Building C, we were nicely joined by Dr. Helen Jarvis, retired
from the Extraordinary Chambers (ECCC) but still a spokesperson for the government, who
came to meet the Tuol Sleng director, but tomorrow (March 8 being a national holiday
celebrating International Women’s Day), everyone had gone away. She informed us how her
book Getting Away with Genocide is now being translated into Khmer by DC-Cam.

Mr. Van Nath is showing us where the KR guards would hang the keys to the shackles of each
cell, on a numbered wooden plank.
Individual cells where Mr. Chum Mey was detained. The prisoners were shackled by one or both
ankles depending on how difficult they are perceived to be.

The cells have been reinforced by the reddish metal structure. The other buildings and floors
also have these cells but they have been removed for other exhibitions; however, the marks
outlining each cell are still on the floor.
A painting by Mr. Van Nath depicting his living conditions and those of the prisoners on the 3rd
floor (2nd floor French/Cambodian counting) of Building C (still with screens of barbed wires).
The prisoners must ask for and be granted permission to sit up; their normal state was lying
down. They would eat there (twice a day at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. – watery porridge totaling 5
spoonfuls, but to mock/demonize the prisoners, there were given the small coffee stirring
spoons) and would go to the bathroom there (in the bucket found near the ankles). Two to
three prisoners died daily; the corpse would not be taken away until a day or so later, lying next
to the other prisoners still breathing. Here, Mr. Van Nath showed us photos saved in his mobile
phone of two paintings he is saving for his children and grandchildren (refusing offers of sale):
the prisoners being hosed down through the window by KR security guards, and another one of
Tuol Sleng director Duch sitting between mounds of skulls with the verdict/judgment before
Photo of the only 7 known survivors of Tuol Sleng; now only three are still living: Mr. Van Nath,
Mr. Chum Mey (pictured below) and Mr. Bou Meng (pictured below) – all dynamic outspoken
advocates of victims’ rights.

Mr. Chum Mey, one of three living survivors of Tuol Sleng, here with Peder Pedersen of The
Charitable Foundation (founded by Australian philanthropist Steve Killelea who also founded
the Global Peace Index), 2010. He can be found most days at Tuol Sleng, here a chance
encounter after I had just finished telling Peder about Mr. Chum Mey and how we may run into
him. Mr. Chum Mey generously gave Peder and me a tour of the single cell he was detained in.
Mr. Bou Meng, one of the 3 living survivors of Tuol Sleng, here at our national conference:
Transforming Killing Fields into Healing, Living Fields of the Center for Justice &
Reconciliation (now a major project of CIVICUS: Center for Cambodian Civic Education), 11
Dec. 2009.

Mr. Van Nath and I are standing in front of an Exhibition with the biographies of the survivors
of Tuol Sleng, here in front of the photo/biography of Mr. Van Nath, 7 March 2011.
Mr. Van Nath, Dr. Ervin Staub and I sharing a lighter moment during our very heavy, dark tour
of Tuol Sleng, 7 March 2011.

Photos of Phnom Penh immediately after the end of the Khmer Rouge regime in January 1979,
including one of the National Bank completely destroyed, blown to pieces.