Phnom Penh. 1996. Tuol Sleng prison, now a museum. Photos of inmates executed by the Khmer Rouge.
The infamous Tuol Sleng prison, aka Security Prison 21 (S-21), was
one of at least 150 execution centres in the country
used by the Khmer Rouge regime when in power (1975-1979). Between 17,000 and about 20,000 people were imprisoned there; there are only seven known survivors.
Prisoners at Tuol Sleng were systematically tortured to obtain confessions of whatever crimes their captors desired. Routine torture methods included beatings, electric shocks, searing of hot metal instruments, hanging, lacerations with knives, suffocation with plastic bags, pulling out of fingernails while pouring alcohol on the wounds, and waterboarding. The “medical unit” at Tuol Sleng also performed medical experiments on some prisoners; test subjects would be sliced open and their organs would be removed with no anaesthetic; others would be attached to intravenous pumps drained of every drop of blood to see how long they could survive. Flaying was reserved to the most difficult prisoners. After captors were satisfied with the confessions obtained, prisoners would usually be transported to
Choeung Ek, one of the most infamous killing fields of the Khmer Rouge, and killed there using crude weapons like iron bars or machetes, before being buried in mass graves.
Nowadays, Tuol Sleng is a museum open to the public. Buildings have been preserved as they were left when the Khmer Rouge were driven out in 1979 and extensive records are available since the regime made efforts to document its activities. Several rooms are lined, floor to ceiling, with black and white photographs of some of the estimated 17,000 prisoners who passed through the prison.