Monday, August 17, 2009

Aussies at S-21

Photographs of foreigners killed at S-21 that can be seen at the Tuol Sleng Museum
As a foreigner myself, I've always maintained an interest in the stories behind the handful of foreigners killed at S-21, or Tuol Sleng as we know it today. Rob Hamill, the brother of Kerry Hamill, a New Zealander who was killed there, will give testimony at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal this coming week about the effect of his brother's death. In the meantime, this story appeared in The Australian newspaper over the weekend, about two more of the foreigners killed at S-21 in the late 1970s.

Intrepid larrikins defied Pol Pot's killers - by Mark Dodd and Marianne Harris, The Australian
In late November 1978, in the Killing Fields of Cambodia, a 35-year-old Sydney pub and club worker Ronald Keith Dean signed a confession that he was an operative for the CIA. Three weeks later, another Australian, David Lloyd Scott, signed a similar statement detailing years of anti-communist activity and a long career with the premier US spy agency. Dean and Scott, two knockabout Aussies, who had embarked on a Southeast Asian yachting adventure and strayed into contested waters, thinking they were in Thailand, were, of course, nothing of the sort. Captured by the Khmer Rouge and undoubtedly terrified in Pol Pot's S-21 death camp, they produced a final act of defiance.

Now with the discovery of confessions which were buried in a Cambodian archive and testimonies to a war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh, the full details of their capture, interrogation and murder are emerging. Their forced confessions, which have emerged 30 years after their deaths, cast new light on the enduring mystery over their disappearance and have again thrown into stark relief the brutality and paranoia of the Pol Pot death machine.
They also tell a tale of bravery and creativity under the gravest pressure, with Scott spinning a yarn of how Muresk College in Western Australia was a CIA training farm that churned out "active probationary CIA agents". Scott, a former roadie with West Australian rock band Bakery, thumbed his nose at his captors, naming members of the band entourage, such as manager John Hopkins, as a CIA agent and saying he was recruited into the CIA by a "Mr Magoo". Dean also treated his torturers with contempt, spinning a fanciful tale of being recruited into the CIA in Prague.

But with their signatures on each page of the confessions and their thumbprints at the end of the documents, they were effectively signing their death warrants at the hands of Pol Pot's brutal regime. Documents obtained by The Weekend Australian show the two men were among about a dozen foreigners, including other yachtsmen, killed at the death camp. Confirmation of their deaths has also cast new light on Andrew Peacock's resignation as the Fraser government's foreign minister in 1981 over his unease at Australia's decision to recognise Pol Pot's regime under pressure from China.

Pol Pot's infamous extermination centre, through the entrance of which passed about 16,000 victims, lies off a quiet, dusty side street in the southern suburbs of Cambodia's bustling river port capital, Phnom Penh. Khmer know the old French lycee as Tuol Sleng, or Hill of Poisoned Trees. According to testimony to a UN-backed war crimes tribunal inquiring into the genocide in the Killing Fields, Dean or Scott died in horrific circumstances. "At least one of the yachtsmen may have been killed on Mao Tse Tung Boulevard ... In this instance on an unknown date in 1978, a witness indicated that he observed a Westerner being taken to this location and incinerated on a pile of automobile tyres. It was stated that this prisoner was alive when set alight."

Scott and Dean met in December 1977 after spending their lives a continent apart. Scott had brushed with fame as a roadie for the band Bakery, while Dean had worked in pubs and casinos and travelled through Britain, Zimbabwe, South Africa and the then Czechoslovakia. "I guess I just want to know what happened," said Jenny Morgan, a friend of Dean from his Sydney days. They took off on a carefree adventure and it went pear-shaped, and it just seems so unfair that nothing was ever done about it." Peter Walker, a former guitarist with Bakery, has been haunted by Scott's disappearance for three decades. He remembers Scott as a knockabout country bloke who was the band's ever-reliable roadie. "Dave was a very solid friend to the band and not forgotten by Hank (Davis, drummer) or John (Hopkins, the manager)," Walker told The Weekend Australian yesterday. "Dave was loyal and showed surprising enterprise and ability. His confession sadly demonstrates that behind the laconic farmer boy was a very creative mind."

Yesterday, Scott's sister-in-law, Pauline Scott, was reluctant to speak about the case after more than 30 years. "Let us hope and push the government in any way possible to actually make sure that these people who just carried out these atrocities are actually brought to justice," she said. Former West Australian agriculture minister Kim Chance grew up near the Scotts' farm and was in Scott's year at Wesley. Chance said when he read Scott's 1978 "confession", he knew his former school mate had not been defeated. "There was some real black humour in there," he said. "I knew it was meant to be seen as a funny document by those who knew him. I have been to Cambodia ... I just felt haunted by David the whole time I was there."

Dean and Scott met after Scott accepted an invitation from commercial diver and friend Kim Barnaby for a sailing holiday in Southeast Asia. The three men met in The Philippines and sailed to Brunei, where Barnaby left the yacht. Scott and Dean continued for the final leg of their voyage to Sattahip, a port in southeast Thailand. But two days away from their destination, they were arrested by a Khmer patrol boat. A war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh is starting to shed new light on the fate of the two men and and other Westerners, including four Americans, three Frenchmen, a Briton and a New Zealander. Held apart from the Cambodians, they were kept shackled by leg irons in a special section of Tuol Sleng reserved for "important prisoners". They were fed twice a day - a gruel of "banana stalk soup" or sometimes a little rice if they were lucky. Their toilet was an ammunition case and they were washed with a firehose. And they were tortured, beaten and given electric shocks to obtain the correct confession of offences.

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Blogger Andy Brouwer said...

The list of foreigners killed at S-21 included the following Westerners, though we mustn't forget that many Vietnamese and Thai nationals were killed there amongst the 12000+, of whom most were Khmers:

James Clark, USA
Michael Deeds, USA
Christopher Deland, USA
Lance McNamara, USA
Ronald Dean, Australia
David Scott, Australia
John Dewhirst, England
Kerry Hamill, New Zealand
Harard Bernard, France
Rovin Bernard, France
Andre Courtigne, France

August 17, 2009 at 2:25 AM  
Blogger marcus said...

Thanks for this information. Like you I have been interested in the the Westerns that died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge as well. I was in Cambodia in November 2009 and remember coming across A photo of an Australian who had been tortured and murdered - the image was in the Killing Fields museum not S-21 I think. Was it David Scott or Ron Dean? I thought the image was an Australian journalist but maybe I thought that up.

January 1, 2010 at 6:44 AM  
Anonymous Linda said...

Thanks for the information. I, too, was intrigued and horrified to find a photo of an Australian at the prison in a recent visit and wanted to find out what happened.

February 7, 2010 at 6:15 AM  
Blogger James said...


I just got back , literally, and the image of the Ausralian tourist, has come home with me. Now I discover he was a roadie from WA. This is not to downplay the 20 000 Cambodian souls lost but I guess it's realising how close to home it was.

March 18, 2011 at 7:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Went to both the Killing Fields and S-21 today, the same photo of an Australian man was at both. Spotted shirt and dark thick hair. Haven't stopped thinking about it and if someone could tell me where I could read his confession that would be much appreciated.

April 23, 2011 at 1:34 AM  
Blogger Andy Brouwer said...

Anon, that photo is actually not of any of the foreigners killed at S-21. It was a picture found in the possessions of one of the murdered sailors and has been posted by mistake by the museum staff for many years. It was a picture of a friend of the sailor Ron Dean and was erroneously identified as David Scott.
I wrote about this in a recent blog post at:

April 23, 2011 at 9:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

my wife and I are in Phnom Penh now and visited S21 yesterday and killing fields today and like some other posters couldnt get this Aussie guy out of our thoughts and wanted to know a little more about him. At first when reading he was a journalist thought he may have been here covering a story. So hard to believe the 2 guys were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.our thoughts go out to the families. If only Cambodia had oil maybe someone may have come to their aid.

August 26, 2011 at 10:15 PM  
Anonymous Mathi said...

Yesterday I went to the concentration camp of the S 21.that victim of 4 Foreigners (your photos) look like Indian origin.

June 22, 2014 at 5:10 PM  

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