Back to Cambodia again. During our stay in Phnom Penh, we toured some historical sights, taking some time to learn about the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge regime in the late ’70s. One of the sites we visited was the notorious Tuol Sleng prison, where tens of thousands of ordinary people were detained and tortured before being trucked off to the killing fields to be brutally executed.
While the worst of the blood has been cleaned up, Tuol Sleng exists today much as it did when it was being used. It’s stark, with steel-frame beds, shackles, bars on the windows, and barbed wire all around, and other implements of torture scattered throughout the cells (like the hoe in the shot below).
Every time I see the photos we took at Tuol Sleng I’m reminded how horrible humans can be to one another. It was a school that was converted into a prison. It’s bad enough that a place that was built to fulfill such a positive role as education could be used for such nefarious purposes, but to see the blood stains on the floor and to see depictions of the horrors committed there does so much more to undermine my faith in humanity.
One of only a handful of prison survivors, interviewed for a documentary, tells this story (which I think about every time I see a photo form the prison): One of the ways the Khmer Rouge would torture and kill someone was to pour quick-dry cement in their sinus cavity and then fill it with water. How does one person do that to another?
Evidence of just how brutal humans can be makes me both angry and sad (not to mention confused, depressed, and terrified). I’m just grateful I work where I do – a humanitarian organization where I regularly see people helping people. If not for that positive reinforcement, images like these would likely send me over the edge.