5. PHAM THI YEN

Imprisonment and Torture of a Political Prisoner

On 18 April 1960 at 8 P.M., right in the streets of Saigon, the US-Diemist security police arrested me because of my patriotic activities. I was taken to the Commando Post Number One, the Ba Hoa Post at Cho Lon. The commandant himself directed the interrogation, which started immediately after my arrest. He asked questions about my activities with the patriots. I did not answer these questions, so they started to torture me. Smelling of alcohol, the `commandos' as the Vietnamese call them, started beating me, {226} shouting with rage. The commandos are a sort of Vietnamese Gestapo.
     They tied my two arms behind my back, then pulled me up to the ceiling by strong cords tied to my wrists. They beat me with sticks, stopping only when I fainted. Then they let me down, throwing cold water on my face. Gradually I recovered consciousness. More questions. Silence. Furious, they hung me up again. This was repeated I don't know how many times. They called this operation: `ride in a Dakota'.
     My body was covered with wounds and was most painfully swollen. I suffered atrociously the slightest movement and I thought I would faint with pain.
     After a moment's rest, they applied the `ride in a submarine'. They undressed me and tied me, face upwards, to a plank. A towel was used to tie my head to the plank; a rubber tube led from a 200-litre barrel, fixed to a stand. The water fell drop by drop on to the towel, soon flooding my face. To breathe, I sucked in water through my nose and mouth. I was suffocating, my stomach started to swell like a balloon. I could no longer breathe and I fainted. When I regained consciousness, I suffered unimaginable pains. I opened my eyes and saw two commandos called Duc and Danh, and nicknamed the `Grey Tigers' because of their bloodcurdling exploits, stamping on my chest and stomach to get the water out of me. I vomited through my mouth and nose, water mixed with blood pouring out. This was repeated several times. I suffered atrociously in my chest and in my stomach; it was as if someone was twisting my entrails.
     `Serve him another dish,' the commander said to his agents. The latter formed a square and, with myself in the centre, they beat me with sticks. They pushed me from one to another as if I were a ping-pong ball, shouting and hurling insults at me. I was seriously wounded in the head, blood trickled down. They stopped beating me and started to shave my head, to bandage it.
     They started to lull me with doubtful promises mixed with threats:
     Talk, and you can rejoin your children. If not, you will die and your children will be orphans.
     Talk, and you can keep your pharmacy, your possessions. Otherwise we will ruin you. {227} Talk, or we will torture you to death and even if you survive you'll be useless, without strength to brush a fly away.
     Neither their sickening promises nor their threats had any effect. Screaming with rage, they threw me face down on the floor, a huge brute squatting on my back, two others holding my feet with the soles turned upwards. Using police truncheons they beat the soles of my feet with all their strength. My feet and legs swelled up visibly as they struck. I felt as if my skin was going to burst.
     Afterwards they hung me by my wrists, this time attached to the iron bars of a window with handcuffs, my arms crossed and at a height at which I could only stand on the tips of my toes. My arms and legs hurt terribly. They started to hammer my arms against the bars. My arms became numb. Seeing this had no effect, they untied me and kicked me on to the floor again. They started to kick me. Blood was running all over the place. I fainted.
     Again there were promises, threats and insults. Tired themselves, they called other prisoners and tried to force them to beat me. They all refused, so the prisoners were furiously beaten. In that place there was no room for any human sentiments at all.
     Just before dawn they said they would serve me a `sensational dish'. They attached me to a kaki tree in the garden near a cage where two tigers were ferociously roaring. In South Vietnam, kaki trees, which produce very sweet fruit, are always covered with yellow ants. If a single ant stings you, you'll yell with pain. And the spot where you are stung will swell up immediately with the effect of the poison. This tree was just of this species - its branches full of yellow ants. ...
     The tigers continued roaring, the torturers were shouting with rage. It was a frightful and at the same time terribly sinister experience. But all this also had no effect. My feelings were entirely concentrated on the little ants, their stings were so painful.
     The torturers threatened me: `If you don't talk, your children will be tortured in front of your eyes; your parents, your brothers and sisters will be imprisoned. Your family will be destroyed, your pharmacy seized...'
     At six o'clock in the morning, after ten hours of torture, they threw me into a cell. I could hardly stand up, I had to lie down on the cold floor... {228}
 

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