3 Main Points


As you can see in the videos below, the torture that the Cambodian people went through is simply unbelievable. It is estimated that 1.7 million people died during 1975-1979 during the Pol Pot reign. Years later after Vietnam went into Cambodia and tore down the Khmer Rouge rule, Pol Pot's second in command, Nuon Chea, had this to say " They said that 1.7 Million people were massacred, but that is absolutely untrue. We were completely supported by the people. The 1.7 million number is complete falsehood," when interviewed by a Japanese journalist. This shows the sheer arrogance that the Khmer Rouge leaders had. The main torture site was S-21 which up to 1976 had been Ponhea Yat High School. People were tortured and killed for the most simple of reasons like talking out of place. There were many weapons the guards used to kill and torture people. These included spades, hammers, hoes, hand clamps for nail pulling, cloth and buckets for water tortures and one device with a young women sitting in a chair with a metal bolt screwed into her head, which was then charged with electricity. Some of the most common ways of torture they used were whipping, the cutting off of limbs, electrical shock, beating, and different varieties of water torture. After all these people died they were just thrown into mass graves. Most of the killing happened in a place they called the "killing field". People were marched out, stood over a huge whole in the ground, shot, then simply kicked in the whole. Babies were taken from their mothers and beaten aganist trees, or thrown up in the air and shot. These guards had no essance of human life. People were treated as animals; there was no worth to them at all. Children were sometimes used as guards because according to the Khmer Rouge, children were innocent and pure. Childern literally had to watch and help kill their parents. If people were not being killed, they were held in a mass detention center where a hundred people would be bound in iron ankle hoops, literally piled on top of each other to be held for weeks at a time. Out of the thousands that were killed at S-21, only 14 are said to have survived.

These three Videos are of the torture that went on during the reign of Pol Pot.

Other Forms of Torture

Even though this method of torture at S-21 was obviously very effective, the Khmer Rouge leaders unfortunately had other ways of tormenting the Cambodian people. The Cambodian society, including just teenagers themselves, were forced to work in specialized camps in order "to build socialism in the fields" or so they thought. Work was absolutely excruciating. A policy was soon created that mandated that each worker was to stay and do their labor for 12 hours at a time without adequate food or water. Due to the intense conditions of these camps, many died from hard labor, disease, dehydration, starvation, and exhaustion. Sometimes working hard wasn't enough, though, for the leaders of the work camps. The Cambodian's lives had little or no value. Children were looked upon as innocent and free minds to be molded, so they were taken to places where they could be brainwashed while their parents worked or were sometimes killed. Others were solely looked upon as useless and meaningless beings. There was a Khmer Rouge slogan, "Keeping new people is no benefit. Losing them is no loss." So, of course, the cadres had no problem bringing hundreds of thousands of people to their death. They would now look for any excuse to kill someone. Communicating with a relative, wearing glasses, speaking a foreign language, practicing a different religion, thought to have intelligence, or whatever was on the mind of the cadre would be a reason to have someone killed. Just plain old shooting wasn't good enough for them, either. There were special means of killing. In the work camps, people were forced to dig holes in the ground. They were then told to stand above the holes and the cadres would hit them with either a shovel or hoe. They dug their own graves. No matter whether they were dead or alive, the holes were filled and the people, suffocated. Sometimes they would be left to starve or they would be executed in a number of ways with a multitude of weapons. No matter the case, the Cambodian people were left to suffer through this misery, or to be taken away from it by means of death.

The Tuol Sleng Memorial for the Killing Fields
The Tuol Sleng Memorial for the Killing Fields

A Khmer Rouge labor camp somewhere between 1975 and 1979
A Khmer Rouge labor camp somewhere between 1975 and 1979


S-21 (once a high school called Tuol Svay Prey High School) was a prison in which people went in but never came out. The converted school is located in Phnom Penh, and within its walls an estimated 17,000 people were held, tortured and all but 12 of which were executed. Prisoners of S-21 were mostly accused of betraying the party (usually false accusations) and were tortured until a confession was produced, after which point they would be killed.
Here are the prison rules to give you an idea of the staff mentality.


  1. You must answer accordingly to my question. Don’t turn them away.
  2. Don’t try to hide the facts by making pretexts this and that, you are strictly prohibited to contest me.
  3. Don’t be a fool for you are a chap who dare to thwart the revolution.
  4. You must immediately answer my questions without wasting time to reflect.
  5. Don’t tell me either about your immoralities or the essence of the revolution.
  6. While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all.
  7. Do nothing, sit still and wait for my orders. If there is no order, keep quiet. When I ask you to do something, you must do it right away without protesting.
  8. Don’t make pretext about Kampuchea Krom in order to hide your secret or traitor.
  9. If you don’t follow all the above rules, you shall get many many lashes of electric wire.
  10. If you disobey any point of my regulations you shall get either ten lashes or five shocks of electric discharge.

These harsh rules were enforced by a staff of 1,720 of which only 300 did the dirty work such as: keeping records of all the prisoners and their confessions, the guards and the interrogators (torturers), the rest provided or grew the prisoners basic necessities. There were many different ways the interrogators got confessions out of the prisoners some of the more gruesome ones were: pulling out fingernails, waterboarding, and getting alcohol poured into open wounds. This secret horror lasted from 1975 to 1979. Nobody had any knowledge of S-21 until a photographer discovered Tuol Sleng by following the smell of decaying bodies to the school. After the fall of the regime Pol Pot denied knowing about the prison and died before he could testify.