Voices_from_S_21

Voices from S-21: Terror and History in Pol Pot's Secret Prison, by David CHandler

During the reign of the Khmer Rouge, S-21 was used as the prison, interrogation centre, and finally, the place of execution for several thousand Cambodians who were suspected of counter revolutionary activity.

Between the years of 1975 and 1979, it is estimated that 14,000 prisoners entered S-21, but only four survived. The horrors of S-21 were uncovered during the liberation by the Vietnamese who found the prison's ghastly remains. Chandler shows that the mania of the Khmer Rouge leadership could not differentiate the truth and made up stories under torture.

Chandler used the S-21 record which were microfilmed by Cornell University in the early 1990s and synthesized the archive to produce this book.

Chandler's poignant use of confessions forced from unfortunate and often innocent victims paints a grizzly portrait of power without constraints. It mattered not that neither interrogators nor prisoners knew what crimes had been committed, it was merely enough they had been arrested and sent to S-21, therefore they were guilty. With their de facto "guilt" established, it was the interrogators job to obtain a proper confession of these unknown, but treasonous, crimes. With or without a confession, there was only one verdict: death.

Chandler manages to draw interesting parallels between the Nazi concentration camps and Stalin's terror in the 1930's, and the Chinese Cultural Revolution in the 60's. He shows that some ingredients of terror are always there, no matter if it happens in Treblinka, Moscow, the countryside of China, or in the killing fields of Cambodia.

Chandler's book is more than just a story of an awful prison in Cambodia. It is about the mechanisms that make some humans commit unspeakable acts (apparently by their own free will) against their fellow human beings, simply because of a belief in a political ideology.

With "Duch", the former S-21 commander, now in detention awaiting judgement for crimes against humanity during the Pol Pot regime, "Voices from S-21" is most timely for anyone interested in the thoughts and methods behind the slaughter of millions of people in communist and fascist countries in the 20th century.