April 07, 2008|By Christiane Amanpour CNN Chief International Correspondent
The 2003 document also invokes wartime powers to protect interrogators who violate the Geneva Conventions, for example, by the use of waterboarding — when a prisoner is made to think he is drowning.
Half a world away, the divisive debate over whether waterboarding constitutes torture comes into sharp relief at the infamous S-21, Tuol Sleng Prison in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
This is where the genocidal regime of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge imprisoned and brutalized its enemies from 1975 to 1979. I visited the once secret S-21, now a museum, with Van Nath, a former inmate. He remembers being brought here blindfolded and terrified:
“I thought that was the end of my life,” he told me. “In my room people kept dying, one or two every day.”
Van Nath was kept in a room packed with 50 other inmates, shackled together and forced to lie down.
“We could not sit. If we wanted to sit, we had to ask permission first. No talking, whispering or making noise,” he told me.
Van Nath described how male prisoners were whipped raw, their fingernails were yanked out, they were hogtied to wooden bars. Prison guards mutilated women’s genitals, ripped off their nipples with pliers. And worst of all, babies were ripped from their mothers’ arms and slaughtered.
Van Nath was accused of being a CIA agent and given electric shock torture, but he survived when his jailers found out he was one of Cambodia’s most prominent painters. And what did they make him paint?
“Pol Pot’s picture. Big pictures,” he told me. “I had to paint the same one again and again. If they didn’t like my painting, that would have been the end of my life.”
So when Pol Pot finally fell in 1979, Van Nath returned to paint what he had really seen and heard at S-21. He did it as a memorial to the 14,000 who had been tortured and executed in the prison. It’s one of the few public reminders of the regime’s crimes.
Take water torture, for instance. Van Nath remembers it as if it were yesterday. I gasped as I entered a room filled with his vivid depictions.
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