Several years ago I remember going to a talk by Peter Maguire about his book, Facing Death in Cambodia. That book is about the Khmer Rouge, why they killed, and why (at the time Maguire wrote the book) none of them had been tried in court.

facing death

One thing that I remember from his talk is that Maguire mentioned that in the course of conducting his research he came to realize that some Westerners had been executed in S-21 (a.k.a. Tuol Sleng), the infamous torture center in Phnom Penh run by Kaing Guek Eav, a.k.a. “Duch” (sounds like “Doik”). And what is interesting is that he had actually succeeded in identifying (at least) one of these victims, a surfer from California who had also spent time surfing on the north shore of Oahu in Hawaii.

What Maguire had found out is that this guy, and some friends, had tried to smuggle Thai stick (i.e., marijuana) from Thailand to Hong Kong, but were blown ashore in Cambodia when it was under the control of the Khmer Rouge. They were captured and taken to S-21, had their pictures taken, (presumably) were tortured, and then were killed.

The Cambodia Genocide Project at Yale has digitized some 5,000 photographs of S-21 victims. I’m not sure if their pictures are there or not.


Today, however, I came across some digitized materials in the David Chandler Cambodia Collection at Monash University. Now a professor emeritus, Chandler is the premier Western historian of Cambodia. And apparently what he did after retiring was to offer Monash Library many of the materials that he had collected over the years through his research, and the Monash Library has digitized a few of them (please digitize more!!!).

As a side note, I think that this is a practice that every scholar should start engaging in. However, rather than waiting until one retires, one should put resources on the web as soon as one is “done” with them. For example, if you collect materials to publish a book, put them on the Internet after the book is published. Let’s all share!


Back to the topic of S-21, in the David Chandler Cambodia Collection I came across a document from 1999 entitled “Interview with Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, chairman of S-21.” It is a record of an interview conducted by Christophe Peschoux of the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

In this long (86 pages) interview, Peschoux brings up the topic of Westerners being killed at S-21. Duch says (pg. 79) that “I remember that these people had come to Cambodia by sea. Our naval forces had arrested them. I do not remember very well how many of them there were. . . I do remember getting an order from Nuon Chea to burn their bodies. They were burnt on a bunch of tyres. I do not recall exactly where, but it was close to Boeng Trabek, between Mao Se Tong Boulevard and Boeng Tumpun, next to a small pond where nobody lived. They were detained in S-21 for less than a month.”

I’m assuming that Duch was talking here about the surfers who were trying to smuggle marijuana from Thailand to Hong Kong.


And on that note, it looks like Peter Maguire has researched that topic further. I see that later this fall a new book that he has written is coming out – Thai Stick: Surfers, Scammers, and the Untold Story of the Marijuana Trade.

This is the summary of the book on the Columbia University Press page:

“Thailand’s capital, Krungtep, known as Bangkok to Westerners and ‘the City of Angels’ to Thais, has been home to smugglers and adventurers since the late eighteenth century. During the 1970s, it became a modern Casablanca to a new generation of treasure seekers: from surfers looking to finance their endless summers to wide-eyed hippie true believers and lethal marauders leftover from the Vietnam War. Moving a shipment of Thai sticks from northeast Thailand farms to American consumers meant navigating one of the most complex smuggling channels in the history of the drug trade.

“Peter Maguire and Mike Ritter are the first historians to document this underground industry, the only record of its existence rooted in the fading memories of its elusive participants. Conducting hundreds of interviews with smugglers and law enforcement agents, the authors recount the buy, the delivery, the voyage home, and the product offload. They capture the eccentric personalities who transformed the Thai marijuana trade from a GI cottage industry into one of the world’s most lucrative commodities, unraveling a rare history from the smugglers’ perspective.”

It looks like this will be a fun book to read.