Wilfred Burchett, a leftist journalist sympathetic to Vietnam, reported yesterday from Phnom Penh that Pol Pot's overthrown Cambodian government ran torture chambers in which hundreds of intellectuals and Cambodian diplomats were mutilated and executed with "axes, hammers, shorthandled spades and jungle knives."
Burchett's story, written on a freelance basis for Britain's Manchester Guardian and distributed by that newspaper, is among the more damaging reports to emerge so far on the pol pot regime's brutal tactics in forcing change on Cambodian society. It fit in with Vietnamese efforts to discredit the Cambodian leader and his followers, overthrown by Vietnamese troops and pro-Vietnamese rebels last January.
Burchett, an Australian by birth, has a long history as an apologist for Asian communism, including that of China. In the dispute between China and Vietnam, however, he has advocated the Vietnamese position and his reports frequently are broadcast by Radio Hanoi. For this reason, his dispatch from Phnom Penh was interpreted as a reflection of what Vietnam wants the West to know about Cambodia, where noncommunist reporters rarely visit.
"In this land of horrors, the only place I have found in my first three days here where reliable statistics are available is the death factory in the former Tuol Sleng High School on the outskirts of Phnom Penh," Burchett begins his report.
He goes on to say that, based on death registers kept at the school, the victims included Huot Sam Bath, Prince Norodom Sihanouk's first ambassador to the United Nations, "and virtually every Cambodian diplomat or intellectual known abroad who was unwise enough to respond "to Pol Pot's invitation for "consulations" in Phom Penh.
"In 16 different, spacious rooms, the torturer-executioners were at work-like other [Cambodians]-for seven days a week," Burchett writes. "Each seems to have disposed on the average of at least eight victims a day."
"A long list of guidelines personally drawn up by Pol Pot in his own handwriting stipulated that victims once in the torture chamber 'must know they are going to die, so might as well make a full confession and get it over with quickly but they must not be killed until a full confession had been extracted," he adds.
A "favorite" torture, Burchett says, was using pliers to pull out hair. He writes that tufts of hair and Bloodstains remain at the head of iron bedsteads to which victims were bound with leg chains.
The number of execution victims on days picked at random from the registers, Burchett writes, were 100 on Aug. 6, 1976; 191 on Aug. 21; 92 on Aug. 31; 100 on Nov. 11; and 266 for June 20, 1977.
". . . it appears that the Tuol school is only one of many (extermination camps)," Burchett says. "No one knows and no one ever will know how many people were killed."