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  • July 1970.

  • Two American Congressmen are among a delegation that is visiting Côn Sơn Prison in South

  • Vietnam.

  • They are getting the guided tour when one of the Americans pulls out a hand-drawn map

  • a former prisoner had given him.

  • The map shows a secret part of the prison.

  • That's where they want to go.

  • As they open a door, they begin to hear a chorus of moans.

  • People are crying out for what the Americans are told is water.

  • As they walk farther into the room, what they see they can't believe.

  • Women and men trapped in cages.

  • Some are beaten, mutilated, their bodies covered in sores.

  • The translator looks at one of the congressmen and says, “Tiger Cage.”

  • The two congressmen were Augustus Hawkins and William Anderson.

  • They were accompanied by the USAID Office of Public Safety Director Frank Walton, as

  • well as Tom Harkin, who would later serve on the United States Senate.

  • Their translator and assistant for the day was Don Luce, a man that would soon relinquish

  • his support for the American war effort.

  • He has a controversial story to tell, but we'll save that until the end.

  • The Vietnam War was in full swing.

  • That's why in those cages were people considered the enemy of the US and the Republic of Vietnam.

  • The delegation didn't fully understand the ongoing atrocities committed in the prison,

  • and as you'll see soon, other prisons.

  • That day, Tom Harkin took the photos, which were later published in a Life magazine article

  • titled, “The Tiger Cages of Con Son.”

  • The article appalled many people in the US, folks who had no idea that such inhumane treatment

  • of prisoners was happening in South Vietnam.

  • They became even more appalled later when released prisoners talked about what had happened

  • to them.

  • But first, let's talk more about what the delegation saw that day.

  • This part of the prison that was not on the guided tour was the punishment block.

  • It was a room with about 120 cells.

  • These weren't ordinary cells, though.

  • They were basically pits in the ground, each with an iron grid for a ceiling.

  • That made it possible for guards to walk over the cells and look inside, perhaps now and

  • again, throw some food down there...or worse.

  • Many of them were open to the sunlight all day, and in Vietnam, that sun can be pretty

  • damn strong.

  • These cells were mockingly nicknamed thesunbathecells.

  • Anyone who's ever been foolish enough to sit under the tropical sun from dawn until

  • dusk will know what damage that can cause.

  • We should say here that these cells weren't the creation of the Vietnamese.

  • The French first made theTiger cellswhen they were in Vietnam, doing all the terrible

  • things colonists tend to do from time to time.

  • The Americans described the cells as being around five feet wide, six feet long, and

  • six feet deep.

  • That wasn't much space when there were usually six or seven prisoners wallowing down there.

  • We don't need to tell you that the cells weren't fitted with modern conveniences,

  • so the stench from human waste was unbearable.

  • As for who was down there, it included anyone accused of being Communists.

  • Sometimes families were imprisoned; other times student activists were rounded up and

  • sent to the prison, sometimes spending years down there without ever having a trial.

  • Let's now talk about torture.

  • The tiger cells, as we said, were a punishment block.

  • But they weren't always just punishment in themselves; rather they were a holding

  • house.

  • One former prisoner said he wasbeaten and tortured on and off for a whole year.”

  • He said, at times, he'd have soapy water forced into his mouth and eyes.

  • He said other times he was electrocuted.

  • On other occasions, he was beaten with sticks until, he said, hevomited blood or until

  • the blood came out of my eyes or ears.”

  • Another former inmate described having his hands handcuffed behind his back and then

  • being suspended with his arms from the ceiling.

  • That caused incredible pain and usually resulted in him blacking out.

  • In his own words, he said, “There they chained our feet and attached the chains to a pole.

  • There were between 50 and 100 prisoners.

  • We had nothing to lie on, and it was filthy and dirty and cold.

  • Every day they would open the door and send in a bunch of common criminals who would beat

  • us with sticks and kick us.”

  • He said he saw several people die in the tiger cages.

  • Others lost the use of their limbs, with one man saying he and many others were disabled

  • after the beatings.

  • He said, “We were still sick and needed more time to recover.

  • We told them many of us still could not walk and many were still very sick.”

  • He then dropped this bombshell.

  • He said the old tiger cages were being replaced by new ones, with the new torture cells paid

  • for by the US and built by an American contractor.

  • That contractor we discovered after some research was the construction consortium, Raymond.

  • Morrison, Knudsen, Brown, Root, and Jones.

  • The deal was worth $400,000 and was paid for by the US military.

  • That's about $2.7 million in today's money, a mere speck in the vast and costly tapestry

  • of war.

  • These new cages were smaller, so only one prisoner stayed in them at a time.

  • But this created another kind of evil.

  • The guards would open the iron grills and jump in with the prisoner, beating him senseless.

  • The prisoners were so weak they couldn't fight.

  • Each day they were only given enough water to barely survive.

  • Food-wise, they were given two spoons of rice.

  • That is hardly enough calories to sustain human life.

  • That same prisoner said they received more beatingsbecause we asked for more food

  • and more water.”

  • He said a man named Le Van An was beaten to death, and so was a Buddhist monk.

  • When investigations into the torture and deaths happened later, all the prisoners told the

  • same story.

  • One of them said, “Each of us went through a similar ordeal.”

  • It's hard to say just how many political prisoners were held on both sides of the war.

  • The Saigon government said the number was 5,000, but the New York Times in1973 said

  • it was more like 20-30,000, with some estimates being as high as 200,000.

  • These were secretive times indeed, but those released from those prisons stood up later

  • and described in horrific detail what had happened to them.

  • The Times published an article on July 11, 1970, with the headline, “Saigon Is Investigating

  • 'Tiger Cage' Cells at a Prison.”

  • Partway down the story is this paragraph, “The Government has already confirmed that

  • the small, crowded 'tiger cage' cells exist and that they contain about 400 prisoners

  • who refuse to obey the prison authorities.”

  • It said the prisoners were shackled, beaten, and did not receive enough food or water to

  • sustain anything near good health.

  • When the South Vietnamese government was asked about this, it responded by saying prisoners

  • in those cages had not saluted the national flag.

  • But from what we can see, there was some amount of sadism going on in those wretched punishment

  • blocks.

  • Indeed, after three students from Saigon University were released from prison, they said the government

  • had not beentelling the truth”.

  • They said they believed the number of prisoners was way higher than the government had said,

  • stating the number was 11,200.

  • Speaking on behalf of those students was a man named Cao Nguyen Loi.

  • He said he'd spent 13 months in a tiger cage for nothing more than joining a peace

  • protest.

  • Women got the same treatment as men.

  • Here is one testimony from a former female prisoner:

  • In prison, sometimes they made my sister or me witness the torture of the other.

  • When I saw them beat my sister, it was very painful.

  • They put us in the Tiger Cages, and when I came to my senses I thought I fell into Hell

  • because the cage was the shape of a coffin.”

  • There's a kind of happy ending to her story, though.

  • She also said she was released.

  • She wrote, “The happiness made tears pour down.

  • I couldn't walk.

  • I was paralyzed.

  • I was cured in months after, but at the time of my liberation, my legs were still very

  • weak.”

  • As for other kinds of tiger cages, you can look no further than Phu Quoc Prison.

  • It housed mostly Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers, some of whom held a high rank.

  • Today, the prison is a museum that shows how conditions were back then, replete with tiger

  • cages.

  • These cages were no hole in the ground, and they certainly weren't large enough for

  • a bunch of guards to get in there and commit themselves to an orgy of violence.

  • They must, however, have been an awful way to spend time.

  • Under the sun all day, at the mercy of guard's sticks, biting ants, snakes, and likely the

  • occasional giant centipede.

  • Today, you can visit the prison website, which shows one man-like doll in a tiger cage who

  • looks like he's supposed to be dead.

  • If he's not, he's missing half a leg and is covered in cuts and bruises.

  • Below the photo is the text, “At that time, thousands of prisoners died in the prison

  • because they couldn't stand tortures.”

  • In quite disturbing detail, the website talks about punishments that happened outside of

  • the tiger cages.

  • It shows one prisoner being blinded by high-powered lights.

  • Another picture shows a guard popping out a man's teeth with a stick.

  • If that isn't bad enough, another prisoner is wrapped in a sack and is being placed on

  • a large, heated pan.

  • This kind of thing never happened in the US, or at least we don't think it did.

  • But listen to what an academic wrote about those days in Vietnam.

  • In a paper published by the University of California Press, he wrote:

  • The Republic of Vietnam, or South Vietnam, operated this prison under close advisement

  • of the United States.

  • In fact, this prison was part of the mass incarceration system that Vietnam built in

  • the 1960s, with the help of U.S. law-enforcement experts and funding from the CIA.”

  • The writer also says guards would walk above the cages and throw quick lime over everyone.

  • Prolonged exposure to quick lime causes burns, and the people in the cells had no water to

  • wash with.

  • The academic also adds something to the story regarding when the US delegation went there.

  • He said that everyone who'd arrived from the US was appalled by what they saw.

  • Nevertheless, he said, the delegationminimizedthe conditions in their official report.

  • As some of you know, much of the USA was against the war in Vietnam.

  • Photos of inhumane conditions in prisons only supported their cause and turned more people

  • off the war.

  • That's why the officials kept most of the horrors hush, hush.

  • The writer said that Tom Harkin wasn't supposed to publish those photos, but he leaked them

  • to Life magazine.

  • After that leak, protests in the US exploded.

  • In Boston, activists made mock tiger cages and stayed in them all week.

  • Even in London, people made cages and sat in them outside of the offices of a contractor

  • that built detention facilities.

  • We told you we'd come back to that translator named Don Luce.

  • Many years later, he wrote that he had a friend who had been tortured to death, but he said

  • the torture happened under the eyes of American soldiers.

  • He said, “The US paid the salaries of the torturers, taught them new methods, and turned

  • suspects over to the police.

  • The US authorities were all aware of the torture.”

  • After he turned against the war effort, he lost his press pass.

  • He became a pariah to the US and the South Vietnamese.

  • One day a friend of his from military intelligence said, “Don, you've got to be more careful.

  • They're out to get you.”

  • This became reality when he discovered a deadlytwo-stepsnake had been planted in his

  • bed one day.

  • He was eventually expelled from Vietnam and had to return to the US.

  • A female prisoner named Thieu Thi Tao later wrote that she actually got to speak with

  • the delegation that day.

  • She was a 16-year old student at the time.

  • This is what she said about her experience: “I still remember the strange foreign voices.

  • In the cages, we wondered what new indignities were to be visited upon us.

  • But a foreigner myself who spoke Vietnamese with a heavy accent told us it was a US congressional

  • investigation.

  • We had prayed for such an inquiry and took the chance to speak of the tortures.

  • We begged for water and food.

  • We were dying, you know.”

  • After the Life magazine exposé, Congressman Philip Crane went to the prison to see what

  • was up.

  • His remarks have since been called racist, and he obviously either lied or wasn't shown

  • something similar to what had been happening before.

  • He said, “The tiger cages are cleaner than the average Vietnamese home.”

  • This didn't convince the activists, of course.

  • We'll finish with a quote that Don Luce liked to say at times, in reference to the

  • war.

  • It's from the poetry of the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh:

  • Remember, brother, remember.

  • Man is not our enemy.”

  • Now you need to watch, “50 Insane Facts About Vietnam War You Didn't Know.”

  • Or, have a look at...

July 1970.

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Tiger Cage - Worst Punishments in the History of Mankind

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