Thursday, July 16, 2009

"No regrets" about deaths

Yesterday I visited the site of one of the Killing Fields in Choeung Ek, where a memorial lies to commemorate the many thousands of Cambodians who were executed by the Khmer Rouge from 1975-1979 in these fields. The mass graves at the site have all been excavated so there are now large pits covered with grass and flowers. Some of the larger pits have thatch canopies over them and signs describing what demographic was buried there, such as just children, or just women and children.

The memorial at Choeung Ek is in the form of a Buddhist stupa. Behind tall windows on all four sides are thousands of skulls from those who were executed here.

After walking the perimeter of the site, which also has a large pond at one end, and a path through the graves, I sat down across from the memorial. Nature has reclaimed the area. It was difficult to imagine the atrocities that were carried out there. And yet this is a part of very recent history. Something that was happening when I was a toddler.

I closed my eyes and tried to project myself into that scene -- children bound to trees and beaten, all being starved, some being forced to dig their own graves, being executed by a hammer or ax to the head. How does one go about adopting an ideology that could justify such acts? An ideology that leads to a complete loss of one's humanity?

After the Killing Fields I continued on to the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum, the site of the infamous S-21 prison during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. Torture was routine at S-21, including the practice of waterboarding which we all became refamiliarized with in the former US administration.

Earlier that morning I had read an article on a top Khmer Rouge interrogator. In his testimony, Mam Nay "expressed no remorse for the killings of thousands of Cambodians who he said had all committed crimes."

"Asked about the deaths of innocent people, Nay, 76, said: 'None of them was innocent -- those people committed offences, either minor or serious.'"

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