The story behind the last U.S. victims murdered by the Khmer Rouge.

The story behind the last U.S. victims murdered by the Khmer Rouge.

 A tree at the Killing Fields, Phnom Penh.

I recently read a very interesting article by Peter Maguire, published on ocweekly.com, about the arrest, interrogation and death of two US citizens at the hands of the Khmer Rouge in the final days of their crumbling regime in Cambodia. I have edited the article below, added photos for illustration and put a link to the full article at the end.

Thai Sticks - tightly rolled Marijuana, making it easier to transport.

Thai Sticks – tightly rolled Marijuana, making it easier to transport.

By Peter Maguire

Between 1975 and 1979, 2 million Cambodians died during their nation’s four-year experiment in stone-age communism. In 1994, I began documenting atrocities carried out by the Khmer Rouge, the peasant army that took over Cambodia on April 17, 1975—just two weeks before the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War.

During my first trip to Cambodia, I visited the Khmer Rouge’s torture centre at Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Pehn, Cambodia; of the approximately 15,000 to 20,000 men, women and children who entered, less than 20 survived.

Included in the mountains of photographic and documentary evidence left behind by the Khmer Rouge, were the “confessions” of American sailors Michael Deeds and Chris Delance. While some historians speculated they might have been working for U.S. intelligence, I suspected they were marijuana smugglers.

Deeds and Delance aboard the Iwalani in Singapore in 1978

Deeds and Delance aboard the Iwalani in Singapore in 1978 (© unknown)

Both men were approached by Ron Jackson (not his real name) about smuggling Thai pot aboard his sailboat the Iwalani. According to Jackson, he had smuggled marijuana before, but Deeds and Delance had not.

Deeds told his family he was going to Hawaii and would be out of touch for several months. After the Iwalani reached Singapore, Jackson traveled to Thailand to put together their load while Delance and Deeds lived aboard the sloop at the Republic of Singapore Yacht Club.

Although the Americans told harbor acquaintances they were delivering the boat to an Australian buyer, after weeks of waiting turned into months, their expat friends began to suspect the two men were smugglers. Jackson had laid the groundwork for a deal a year earlier, but because he had arrived late, his source in Thailand was out of pot.

More Thai Sticks.

More Thai Sticks.

He turned to Mike Ritter and Don Hagee. Both men agreed to help him arrange a load, but even with their collective efforts, they could not locate decent marijuana so late in the season.

Jackson grew frustrated waiting and found another longtime American scammer in Bangkok who could load the Iwalani immediately. He contacted Deeds and Delance and told them to set sail for Thailand while he left the port of Sattahip on a vessel with the pot on board. When the Thai ship reached the rally point, the Iwalani was nowhere to be found. After three days and nights of waiting, the ship returned to Thailand with the pot still on board.

“That was Nov. 23, 1978,” said Jackson. “I spent the last four days of November, all December and the first week of January going up and down the Malaysian coast in case they’d been blown off or shipwrecked. The only thing we couldn’t do was get into Cambodia. They just disappeared into the void.”

A Khmer Rouge Navy-manned boat that was part of the Mayaguez Incident in the same area the Americans were captured.

A Khmer Rouge Navy-manned boat that was part of the Mayaguez Incident in the same area the Americans were captured.

The Iwalani was within sight of Cambodia’s offshore islands when Delance and Deeds spotted a Khmer Rouge Navy boat heading toward them at high speed. For smugglers such as Ritter, who regularly took boatloads of pot out into the Gulf of Thailand, their greatest fear was being captured by the Khmer Rouge.

“I’d look over there, and I would just get cold shivers,” Ritter recalls. “My image of the country at that time was a black hole where all regard for life and civilized behavior broke down. I choked at the thought of dying slowly in a Cambodian prison.”

Although the Iwalani attempted to head back out to sea to avoid capture, when the patrol boat opened fire, the Americans lowered their sails and awaited their fate. The Cambodian boat closed the distance quickly and didn’t even bother to pull alongside; it smashed right into the Iwalani‘s fiberglass bow.

Delance's photo, taken inside Tuol Sleng Prison where the men were brought for torture and interrogation.

Delance’s photo, taken inside Tuol Sleng Prison where the men were brought for torture and interrogation.

Black-clad men armed with AK-47s spilled onto the deck and wasted no time in subduing and blindfolding the Americans, and toeing the boat back to the port of Sihanoukville.

The two Americans were then loaded into a car that drove inland for a few hours before it turned down a hot, dusty road on the outskirts of Phnom Penh and stopped at the reinforced gates of Tuol Sleng Prison. Unlike the majority of Cambodian prisoners, who were photographed and put in mass cells, ankle-cuffed to large steel poles, the Americans were photographed and taken to a house for “special” prisoners just outside the gates.

Tuol Sleng shortly after the Vietnamese had invaded. Note the crops growing in front of the prison building.

Tuol Sleng shortly after the Vietnamese had invaded. Note the crops growing in front of the prison building.

Tuol Sleng interrogators worked in three-man teams composed of a transcriber, an interrogator and a torturer. Torture came in a variety of forms: beating with fists, feet, sticks or electric wire; burning with cigarettes; electric shocks; being forced to eat faeces; jabbing with needles; ripping out fingernails; suffocation with plastic bags; water boarding; and being covered with centipedes and scorpions.

The same building today.

The same building today.

Different teams specialized in interrogations of increasing severity. Many of the questions asked revolved around charges of sedition. Individuals were accused of being agents of “C” or “K,” shorthand for the CIA and the KGB. Typically, the victim was asked a battery of questions that had no correct answer. The goal of the torture was, according to Brother Duch, who ran the prison, to loosen memories: “Beat until he tells everything, beat him to get at the deep things.”

Interrogators were carefully instructed to write down prisoners’ torture-induced personal histories. One interrogator’s note to Duch that was recovered at the prison recounts a typical session with a prisoner. “In the afternoon and evening of July 21, 1977, I pressured him again, using electric cord and shit. On this occasion, he insulted the person who was beating him. ‘You people who are beating me will kill me,’ he said. He was given two to three spoonfuls of shit to eat, and after that, he was able to answer questions … That night, I beat him with electric cord again.”

Young Khmer Rouge interrogators and guards at Tuol Sleng laugh as they pose on top of one of the buildings in the compound.

Young Khmer Rouge interrogators and guards at Tuol Sleng pose on top of one of the buildings in the compound. (DC-CAM)

One Khmer Rouge lie detector was especially crude: a plastic bag went over the suspect’s head, and if his or her carotid artery throbbed, the person was declared guilty.

Throughout December 1978, Deeds and Delance were tortured and forced to write their confessions. Tuol Sleng’s terrifying head interrogator, Mam Nai, a.k.a. “Chan,” probably questioned the Americans because he was one of the only members of the staff who could speak English.

The Americans’ confessions are more a testament to man’s remarkable creativity under extreme duress than anything else. Both men wove fact and fiction to tell a more convincing story. Deeds claimed to have been recruited by a CIA agent named Lazenby. After tactical training in Virginia and California and a 16-week course at the CIA’s intelligence and operation school in Washington, D.C., he was given a certificate that declared him an “operation officer.” Before going to Cambodia, the CIA allegedly sent Deeds to Cal State Long Beach to keep track of radical student organizations, to Colombia to follow a drug-dealing revolutionary, and finally to Hawaii to infiltrate a radical environmental group. Deeds’ stated objective was “to impede effectively the communist influence.”

A painting of interrogation techniques by Vann Nath, one of only a handful of the many thousands who passed through Tuol Sleng to their deaths.

A painting of interrogation techniques by Vann Nath, one of only a handful of the many thousands who passed through Tuol Sleng to their deaths.

Delance wrote that the CIA recruited him in 1969 to infiltrate radical student organizations and “defend my country from within against communist insurgents.” He claimed he was trained by “Commander Branley” at the nonexistent U.S. Special Services School; his “CIA number,” 570-80-5777, was strangely similar to a Social Security number. Delance wrote that his mission in Cambodia was to make contact with Cambodian fishermen and turn them into spies who would photograph a Khmer Rouge military base.

Delance claimed he and Deeds had been taking photographs for an hour when they saw the Cambodian naval vessel and threw their camera overboard to hide their espionage.

The confession is dated Dec. 26, 1978. One week later, the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia and toppled the genocidal regime. They were presumably killed shortly afterwards, almost certainly at the Killing Fields on the outskirts of the city.

© Peter Maguire

Read the full article here: http://www.ocweekly.com/2014-07-17/news/michael-deeds-chris-delance-thai-stick-khmer-rouge-tuol-sleng-prison/

For POWs left behind in Laos, see also:

 

Excavated mass graves in the modern-day Killing Fields.

Excavated mass graves in the modern-day Killing Fields.

 

Peter Alan Lloyd

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