Michael Dobbs

Touring Pol Pot’s Cambodian killing fields

For a project exploring the “origins of evil,” what could be more evil than the genocidal regime of Pol Pot in Cambodia? My talented, adventurous intern at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Sarah Collman, recently visited the Cambodian killing fields. I invited her to contribute a guest blog post: By Sarah Collman Perpetrators of genocide ...

Sarah Collman
Sarah Collman

For a project exploring the "origins of evil," what could be more evil than the genocidal regime of Pol Pot in Cambodia? My talented, adventurous intern at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Sarah Collman, recently visited the Cambodian killing fields. I invited her to contribute a guest blog post:

By Sarah Collman

Perpetrators of genocide use different methods to kill and maim. In Bosnia, Serb forces lined up Muslim men and boys at mass execution sites, and shot them through the head. In Rwanda, Hutu gangs hunted down their Tutsi neighbors with knives and machetes. In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge tortured their fellow Cambodians with farming tools and bamboo sticks in prisons, before dumping their bodies in mass graves in the countryside. .

For a project exploring the “origins of evil,” what could be more evil than the genocidal regime of Pol Pot in Cambodia? My talented, adventurous intern at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Sarah Collman, recently visited the Cambodian killing fields. I invited her to contribute a guest blog post:

By Sarah Collman

Perpetrators of genocide use different methods to kill and maim. In Bosnia, Serb forces lined up Muslim men and boys at mass execution sites, and shot them through the head. In Rwanda, Hutu gangs hunted down their Tutsi neighbors with knives and machetes. In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge tortured their fellow Cambodians with farming tools and bamboo sticks in prisons, before dumping their bodies in mass graves in the countryside. .

It is an eerie feeling to follow in the footsteps of the executioners and their victims, and stand in places that have witnessed so much pain, horror, and death.

I began my tour of the Cambodian “killing fields” by visiting Tuol Sleng, the death prison known as S-21, in Phnom Penh. I walked through each of the tiny rooms and cells in buildings A, B, C, and D, which were used for extreme torture and interrogation, detention, and extermination from 1975-1979. Guards at S-21 beat prisoners until they were nearly dead, pulled off their fingernails and toenails, forced them to eat human excrement, and poured salt water over their wounds — in order to force confessions of non-existent crimes.

The half alive prisoners were often taken to Choeung Ek, the most notorious ‘Killing Field’ just seventeen kilometers south of Phnom Penh. Here you can still see some fifty pits marking the mass graves where more than 8,000 bodies were found. There is a Buddhist stupa filled with 5,000 skulls. One mass grave is marked with a sign that reads “MASS GRAVE of 166 VICTIMS WITHOUT HEADS.” The most disturbing spot is the “Killing Tree,” used by executioners as a stump to batter babies.

Despite the different methods used in Cambodia, Bosnia, and Rwanda, the outcome was the same. Mass graves filled with thousands of skeletons. The extinction of an entire generation. A gaping hole in the lives of millions of people. There is no need to determine which genocide was worst. All were horrific, and all left dark stains on the history of mankind.

Michael Dobbs is a prize-winning foreign correspondent and author. Currently serving as a Goldfarb fellow at the Committee on Conscience of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Dobbs is following legal proceedings in The Hague. He has traveled to Srebrenica, Sarajevo and Belgrade, interviewed Mladic’s victims and associates, and is posting documents, video recordings, and intercepted phone calls that shed light on Mladic's personality. Twitter: @michaeldobbs

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