Archives par mot-clé : prison

Doan Van Toai : Le goulag vietnamien [1979]

Témoignage d’un ancien dirigeant étudiant de l’opposition au régime sud-vietnamien militant pour la paix et un Sud-Vietnam neutre et indépendant de Hanoï, deux fois emprisonné sous le régime de Nguyen Van Thieu :

“Après la chute de Saïgon en avril 1975, très vite, comme ses amis de la gauche, il se rend compte qu’il a été trompé. Ce sont les communistes du Nord qui s’emparent de tous les leviers de commande et qui imposent leurs méthodes. Par centaines de milliers, les militaires et fonctionnaires de l’ancien régime sont internés dans des camps de “rééducation” dont ils ne reviennent pas. Les prisons sont bondées de prisonniers politiques. Un soir de juin 1975, c’est le tour de Doan Van Toai. Il ne sera libéré qu’en novembre 1977, grâce au fait que sa femme est de nationalité française” (quatrième de couverture).


En annexe figure notamment un Appel à l’opinion mondiale approuvé par 40 de ses co-détenus parmi lesquels d’anciens membres importants du Parti Communiste vietnamien et d’anciens chefs militaires du Front National de Libération du Sud-Vietnam. L’auteur, né en 1945, Vice-Président de l’Union des Étudiants de Saigon en 1969 et 1970, devient, après la chute du régime Thieu, cadre au ministère des Finances. Son opposition à un supérieur, sur un plan purement professionnel, provoque son emprisonnement. Après sa libération, il quitte le Vietnam en mai 1978, pour Paris. En août 1989, alors qu’il promeut un projet de rapprochement entre exilés et gouvernement vietnamien et milite pour l’établissement de relations diplomatiques entre les États-Unis et le Vietnam, il est victime d’un attentat à Fresno (Californie) : il est sérieusement blessé par arme à feu par deux Asiatiques.

Réf. : Doan Van Toai, Le goulag vietnamien, Paris, Robert Laffont, 1979, 341 p. (récit recueilli par Michel Voirol)

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The Vietnamese Gulag

Doan Van Toai spent time in jails in South Vietnam for antigovernment activities as a student leader, including a trip to the U.S. to deliver antiwar speeches at California universities. When the Communists took over in 1975, he went to work for the Revolutionary Finance Committee and observed at close hand the workings of the new regime. Then, without warning, he was thrown into prison, where for 28 months he suffered torture, starvation, disease and despair. Just as abruptly, he was released and allowed to leave the countrystill not knowing why he had been arrested. In this effective, absorbing memoir, the authors describe in detail the “insidious inhumanity” of the Communist government (“far worse than that of the foreign oppressors”) as it took control in Saigon. Toai, who now lives in California, accurately refers to himself as the first articulate messenger of the new order, and his message is directed at “the Vietnamese community abroad who had supported the revolution, and the foreign antiwar movements that had done so much to bring it about.” (From Publishers Weekly).

Every Communist party in power has established prison systems that mix torture, brutality, starvation, and the use of informants to crush real and imagined enemies. Toai, a Saigon student leader in the 1960s and early 1970s, spearheaded opposition to the pro-U.S. Thieu regime, but failed to cast his lot with the Communist revolutionaries. He was swept into a Communist prison in late 1975, and here tells the story of a would-be Third Force intellectual’s struggle to survive over the following two years. His vivid descriptions of prison life are interspersed with memoirs of his days as a student leader. The material is fascinating, but the narrative flashback technique is irritating. Political memoirs need not be written as if they were movie scripts. (by Steven I. Levine, Sch. of International Service, American Univ., Washington, D.C. – From Library Journal – © 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Réf. : Doan Van Toai (with David Chanoff), The Vietnamese Gulag, Simon & Schuster, 1986, 351 p.

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Der vietnamesische Gulag

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Un document rare de Doan Van Toai

Doan Van Toai, Dossier sur les prisons au Viêt Nam, Paris, R. Laffont, 1978. First Edition. Quarto (30cm); staple-bound, pictorial wrappers; [30]p.

Extremely scarce, hastily-assembled white paper on the status of political prisoners in Vietnam, published a year prior to Van Toai’s landmark work Le Goulag Vietnamien (“The Vietnamese Gulag”), which exposed the brutalities of the Communist regime following the United States’ exit from South Vietnam in 1975. Assembles a number of documents including a “Declaration of disinherited Vietnamese on Human Rights” (1977); “The Vietnamese Patriotic Prisoners’ Testament”; “Document on the penitentiary regime under the communist government of Vietnam” (1978), as well as press releases and news items taken from French and American media. Rare: OCLC locates only one copy in North America (Harvard Yenching Lib – catalogued under the English title “Documents on Prisons in Vietnam).

Source : Lorne Bair Rare Books

Re-education in Unliberated Vietnam: Loneliness, Suffering and Death – by Ginetta Sagan and Stephen Denney [1982]

Note: The following article was published in The Indochina Newsletter, a newsletter I edited at the time, October-November 1982. Much has changed in the 16 years since this article was written. So far as is known all of the former South Vietnam government officials and officers have been released from the re-education camps and many have been allowed to emigrate to the U.S. under a special program, called Humanitarian Operation. But many of former prisoners have experienced various problems resulting from their long term incarceration under difficult conditions. I hope this article might be of historical interest in understanding what these prisoners have experienced; and also in understanding conditions of imprisonment endured by those dissidents and others still detained in Vietnam. – Steve Denney [1998]




October-November 1982


Re-education in Unliberated Vietnam:

Loneliness, Suffering and Death

by Ginetta Sagan and Stephen Denney

(Editor’s Note: The following article is part of a preliminary draft of a report that will be issued later this year on human rights in Vietnam. The report is prepared for the Aurora Foundation, of which Ginetta Sagan is the Executive Director. Mrs. Sagan is a well-known human rights activist who interviewed over 200 former prisoners from Vietnam in preparation for this report. Details of the interviews will be brought out in fuller detail when the report is issued.)

Ten years ago, demonstrations were held around the world to protest political repression and imprisonment in South Vietnam. Seven years ago, Communist forces completed their conquest of South Vietnam. In June of 1975, the new regime ordered hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese to report to authorities for “re-education”. Many are still held in the camps today, but the world is mostly silent on their plight.

“Re-education” means different things to different people. To the Hanoi regime and its more vocal defenders abroad, re-education is seen as a very positive way to integrate the former enemy into the new society. It is, according to Communist leaders of Vietnam, an act of mercy, since those in the camps deserve the death penalty or life imprisonment.(1). The former prisoners, on the other hand, see re-education from quite a different perspective.

Re-education as it has been implemented in Vietnam is both a means of revenge and a sophisticated technique of repression and indoctrination which developed for several years in the North and was extended to the South following the 1975 Communist takeover. Yet it has largely failed in its effort to remold individuals because the ideology upon which it is based underestimates the power of the human spirit.

In preparation for this report, we have interviewed over 200 former prisoners from Vietnam’s re-education camps and examined all available articles from the Hanoi press and the Western press on the camps. The picture that emerges from our research is of hard-labor camps where hunger and disease predominate, where prisoners are harshly punished for minor infractions of camp rules, subjected to political indoctrination and forced to write long “confessions” denouncing themselves and others for alleged misdeeds in the past.

Estimates of those still detained in the camps range from 20,000 (government estimate) to 200,000.(2). We know of at least 80 reeducation camps in Vietnam (although some of them may have been consolidated since the prisoners we interviewed were released), and estimate that 100,000 are still in the camps. Those detained include military officers and government officials of the former regime, medical doctors, religious leaders, artists, poets, political leaders and schoolteachers, just to mention a few.(3)

In this article, we will begin with a brief description of the beginnings of the re-education system in North Vietnam, and then examine the re-education camps that have been instituted for the South Vietnamese since 1975. We will focus this report on the re-education camps in Vietnam, rather than the prisons, of which there are many, because we have much less information about the latter.

The Precedent in the North

According to Hoang Son, a spokesman for the Hanoi regime, the use of “re-education” camps began in North Vietnam in 1961, at a time, he says, when the United States and the South Vietnamese government of Ngo Dinh Diem had sabotaged the 1954 Geneva Accords, and were attempting to incite rebellion among “counter-revolutionary elements” in the North, most notably among former members of the pro-French army and government that existed during the colonial period. Son cited acts that threatened public security, such as “economic sabotage” and attempted assassinations of Party cadres. It was under these circumstances, said Son, that the DRV (“Democratic Republic of Vietnam”) enacted on 20 June 1961 Resolution 49-NQTVQH, with the task of concentrating for educational reform “counter-revolutionary elements who continue to be culpable of acts which threaten public security.” (4).

The method of implementing Resolution 49 was brought out in General Circular No. 121-CP, dated 8 September 1961, of the DRV Council of Ministers “regarding concentration for educational reform of elements dangerous to society.” The circular said Resolution 49 was to apply to “all obstinate counter-revolutionary elements who threaten public security” and “all professional scoundrels.” The “obstinate counterrevolutionary elements,” said the circular, included the following groups:

“1) All old dangerous spies, guides or agents, all elements of the old puppet army or administration, former Rangers with many heinous crimes, who received clemency from the Government and much education but who still obstinately refuse to reform and who still have acts threatening public security.

“2) All hard core members of the former opposing organizations and parties, who before committed many heinous crimes, who received clemency from the Government and much education but who still obstinately refuse to reform and who still have acts threatening public security;

“3) Obstinate elements in the former exploiting class and all other counter-revolutionaries with deep feelings of vengeance towards our system always acting in opposition;

“4) All dangerous counter-revolutionaries having completed a prison sentence but who refuse to reform.”

The circular also described different categories of “professional scoundrels,” including thieves, pimps and “recalcitrant hooligans,” all of whom have been “educationally reformed” many times, but “who refuse to mend their ways.”(5) It is evident, therefore, that “professional scoundrels” would mean common criminals, while “obstinate counter-revolutionary elements” would generally refer to political criminals, in the eyes of the government, and those imprisoned on the latter basis should therefore be regarded as political prisoners.

It is also evident, from the description of “professional scoundrels”, that these do not include the most dangerous criminals, such as murderers. The system of re-education developed in North Vietnam since 1961, and in all of Vietnam since 1975, is not looked upon by Vietnamese Communist leaders as punishment, but rather as a form of rehabilitation, in which Vietnamese who do not conform to the government’s norms are deprived of citizenship rights until they are ready to return to society. As stated in Resolution 49, “All persons given educational reform shall not be considered as criminal offenders who have been sentenced to punishment but during the period of educational reform they shall not receive the benefits of the rights of the citizens.”

The system of re-education, according to the circular of the Council of Ministers, is to follow the line of “combining labor and political education,” and the regimen is to include eight hours of “productive labor” a day, two half-days set aside each week for “political study,” with cultural classes in the evenings. Those who violate camp discipline, said Resolution 49, depending on the seriousness of the violation, “shall be prosecuted before a people’s court or sanctioned administratively.”

esolution 49 set the period of “educational reform” at three years, but allowed for early releases for those who “genuinely reform,” while stating that those who “refuse to reform” will have their period of “educational reform” extended. According to Hoang Son, as of 1980 all those in North Vietnam who were interned in the early 1960’s for reeducation have since been released (but how many of the released have since been arrested?). On the other hand, he said, there are still “a small number of counter- revolutionary elements interned in virtue of Resolution 49 since the beginning of the early 70’s.”(6).

Vietnamese Communist leaders argue that the system of reeducation is a humane alternative for those who deserve educational reform but not punishment. From what we have discussed so far, however, the difference between re-education and imprisonment is not clear. The main difference, it seems, is that under re-education, the inmate is subjected to an indefinite sentence, with its length officially dependent upon how well the inmate submits to political indoctrination and “productive labor.” If the re-education camps are more humane than the prisons of Vietnam, then it is only in the truest sense of the “lesser of two evils.”

Re-education Since 1975

Article 11 of the 1973 Paris Agreements guaranteed the people of South Vietnam the following rights:

1) freedom from reprisal and discrimination against those who collaborated with one side or the other during the war, and

2) democratic freedoms, such as freedom of speech, press, assembly, belief, movement, organization, meeting, residence and freedom of political activities.

The Paris Agreements was proclaimed a victory for their side by the DRV and NLF (National Liberation Front), and its representatives pointed out that several portions of the treaty, including Article 11, were virtually identical to statements made in previous declarations of the NLF, including its founding statement in 1960. While presenting themselves as genuine civil libertarians (despite the police state in the North), while proclaiming that Article 11 was in perfect agreement with international law, including the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, DRV and NLF leaders severely criticized the South Vietnamese government for not respecting the human rights mentioned in Article 11.(7)

When the DRV and NLF launched the 1975 Spring Offensive, leading to the military takeover of South Vietnam, they claimed they did so in order to “enforce” the Paris Agreements. Yet upon taking control over the South, these new leaders did not set about to implement the rights mentioned in Article 11 but rather to permanently destroy them through the establishment of a “dictatorship of the proletariat.”

The hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese who have been imprisoned in re-education camps since 1975 basically fall into two categories:

(1) Those who have been detained in re-education camps since 1975 because they collaborated with the other side during the war, and

(2) Those who have been arrested in the years since 1975 for attempting to exercise such democratic freedoms as those mentioned in Article 11 of the 1973 Paris Agreements.

In other words, both categories of prisoners are held in direct violation of Article 11 of the 1973 Paris Agreements, an international treaty, and therefore of international law.

Registration and Arrest

In May of 1975, various groups of Vietnamese were ordered to register with the new regime that had established control over the South on April 30, 1975. Then, in June, the new regime issued orders instructing those who had registered in May to report to various places for re-education. Soldiers, noncommissioned officers and rank-and-file personnel of the former South Vietnamese government were to undergo three-day “reform study,” June 11-13, in which they would attend during the day and go home at night.(8)

The others ordered to report for “reform study” were not allowed to attend during the day and go home at night, but were instead to be confined to their sites of “reform study” until the course ended. Nevertheless, there was some hope, for the government gave the clear impression that reform study would last no more than a month for even the highest ranking officers and officials of the former government in South Vietnam, and ten days for lower-ranking officers and officials.

Thus, officers of the RVN (South Vietnam) armed forces from the rank of second lieutenant to captain, along with low-ranking police officers and intelligence cadres, were ordered to report to various sites, bringing along “enough paper, pens, clothes, mosquito nets, personal effects, food or money for use in ten days beginning from the day of gathering.”(9). High- ranking military and police officers of the RVN, from major to general, along with mid and high-ranking intelligence officers, members of the RVN executive, judicial and legislative branches, including all elected members of the House of Representatives and Senate, and, finally, leaders of “reactionary” (i.e. non-communist) political parties in South Vietnam, were ordered to report to various sites bringing enough “paper, pens, clothes, mosquito-nets, personal effects, food or money for a month beginning the first meeting.”(10)

Dr. Tran Xuan Ninh, a pediatrician who served as a medical officer in the armed forces, was among those who eagerly reported for re-education with ten days provisions, as prescribed by the government. Compared to what had been expected, the deal was too good, said Dr. Ninh – three days of re-education for RVN soldiers, ten days for low-ranking officers and officials, and one month for high-ranking RVN officers and officials. Many teachers reported for reeducation, assuming that they would have to undergo it sooner or later anyway. sick people also reported for re-education, assured by the government (falsely) that there would be medical doctors and facilities in the “schools” and the patients would be well treated.(11). Yet, as we shall see, very few, if any, of those ordered to report for ten days or thirty days were released within that period, and many still suffer in the camps seven-and-a-half years later, living under the most inhuman conditions.

The Hanoi regime and its apologists defend the reeducation camps by placing the “war criminal” label on the prisoners. A 1981 memorandum of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to Amnesty International claimed that all those in the re-education camps were guilty of acts of national treason as defined in Article 3 of the 30 October 1967 Law on Counter-revolutionary Crimes (enacted for the government of North Vietnam) which specifies punishment of 20 years to life imprisonment or the death penalty. But because the regime was so merciful, it was instead allowing the prisoners to experience “re-education without trial,” which “as applied in Vietnam is the most humanitarian system, and the most advantageous for law offenders … in accordance with the tradition of generosity and humanitarianism of the Vietnamese nation and the loftiest ideals of mankind.”(12)

Thus we see that hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese have been detained in re-education camps since 1975 not for any specific individual deeds, but for the act of collaborating with the other side during the war. This applies not only to top-ranking government officials and military officers of the former regime in South Vietnam, but also to more ordinary people such as medical doctors conscripted into the army (like Dr. Ninh), who were told that in treating sick and wounded soldiers, they had committed the crime of “strengthening the puppet forces.” College graduates, who attended officer’s training school, as required by law, and then became RVN reserve military officers were also sent to the re-education camps.Others sent to the camps in June of 1975 included nearly 400 writers, poets and journalists and over 2,000 religious leaders, including 194 Buddhist, Catholic and Protestant chaplains,and 516 Catholic priests and fathers.(13). Even leaders of the opposition to U.S.-supported regimes, such as the legislator Tran Van Tuyen (who died after three years imprisonment) were sent to the camps.

Furthermore, Amnesty International has appealed to Hanoi on behalf of many writers, scholars, priests, human rights activists and others who had no connection with the Thieu regime or previous South Vietnamese governments supported by the U.S., yet were arrested “months and even years after the end of military conflict in April 1975.” Amnesty International believes that “many were detained for the nonviolent expression of views critical of the present government.”‘(14). Under the present legal system in Vietnam, the government can, in political cases, detain an individual for up to twelve months for interrogation without formal charge or trial.(15). Some Vietnamese, such as leaders of the Unified Buddhist Church arrested in April 1977 have been held for interrogation for much longer than twelve months. Following this period, the prisoner may be (1) released with a formal warning, (2) sent to a re-education camp in accordance with the 1961 Resolution 49, or (3) brought to trial.

If brought to trial, the prisoner will be tried under laws originally enacted for the government of North Vietnam, which include penalties such as two to twelve years imprisonment for “propagandizing the enslavement policy and depraved culture of imperialism,” three to twelve years imprisonment for attempting to flee the country, and five to fifteen years imprisonment for “undermining the religious policy” of the government or “causing disunity among the various religions, between believers and non-believers and between believers and the administration.”(16). Bui Dinh Ha, a former RVN soldier, was brought to trial on the 25th of June 1981 for selling and loaning “reactionary and decadent books” and magazines in Saigon. He was sentenced to life imprisonment,in accordance with articles 4,7 and 8 of the Decree-law 267 promulgated on 15 June 1956 by the Council of Ministers of North Vietnam.(17)

From the discussion so far, it can be seen that the Hanoi government grants itself sweeping powers of arrest and imprisonment, and these powers are based not on any sense of justice, but on the desire to protect the security of a totalitarian government. It is from these circumstances that so many Vietnamese have fled the country over the last seven years.

Camp Conditions

We know of at least eighty re-education camps in northern and southern Vietnam, although it is possible that some of them may have been closed or consolidated since the prisoners we interviewed were released. Many of the camps are arranged in groups of three or four, with three to fifteen miles between each sub-camp. In the South, the camps are generally located in the remote jungle areas or near “safe” villages (pro-NLF before 1975). The high-ranking military officers and government officials of the former regime in South Vietnam, along with other Vietnamese considered high-security risks, were moved to camps in the North, some near the Chinese border, in 1976 and 1977, but they were moved away from the border with the outbreak of hostilities in 1978.

According to Amnesty International, conditions vary widely in thee camps, depending on their location, the composition of prisoners in the particular camps and the administrators of the camp, among other factors.(18). In its 1978 annual report on world conditions, Amnesty International said there were four categories of re-education camps in Vietnam, and described them in the following manner: “(a) detention centers in towns where the initial inquiries are held; (b) second category camps which hold both criminal and political prisoners, where detainees are encouraged to write accounts of their backgrounds; (c) third category camps where prisoners are held according to the nature of their alleged past offenses and (d) camps for former senior officers and members of intelligence services who have been judged to be `ac on’ (wicked), which are mostly situated north of Hanoi.”(19). With regard to the third category camps mentioned, this is apparently referring not to specific deeds committed in the past but rather to positions held. For example, low-ranking military officers would be in certain camps in the South, while high-ranking officers and officials would be in other camps, usually in the North.

Most of the former prisoners we have interviewed have been in between three and five different re-education camps. It is our belief that the movement of prisoners from one camp to another may be intended to delay Vietnamese from knowing the whereabouts of their relatives in the camps and to prevent prisoners from forming bonds of friendship with each other or with some of the guards. Some of the camps are administered by the military, some by the security police, and some by both.

In assessing conditions within the camps, there are basically three sources we can rely on: (1) official statements of the Hanoi government, (2) accounts by visitors to the camps and (3) accounts of the former prisoners. All three sources must be considered, but the value of the first two sources is limited. We have found translated articles from the official press to be very useful, especially with regard to rules that prisoners and their families are required to obey, and also with the attitude displayed by the government in these articles. But articles for foreign consumption tend to be highly self-serving and propagandistic.

When foreign delegations visit the camps, the prisoners are briefed on what to say to the visitors. In some cases, about half of the prisoners would be taken out to the fields or jungles to hide until the delegates departed. We know of at least one case where government agents pretended to be prisoners during a visit.(20). In another case, a prisoner was punished for reading a prepared statement to a visiting delegation rather than memorizing it.(21)

Nevertheless, such possibilities are not considered by most of these delegations, and this attitude is precisely why they were invited to tour the model camps. Since these visitors are ideologically predisposed to support the Hanoi regime, committed to improving relations between the regime and Western countries, they naturally try to portray the reeducation camps in the beat possible light — as if the typical camp were merely a training school rather than a prison. In defending the re-education camps, these visitors encourage the Hanoi regime to continue this policy and therefore bear a responsibility for the suffering of Vietnam’s political prisoners.

However, not all of the visitors to the re-education camps in Vietnam have been so myopic. Among the exceptions would be an Amnesty International delegation that visited Vietnam in December of 1979 and Dermot Kinlen, a distinguished Irish lawyer who led a delegation to Vietnam for nine days in April of 1980. The AI delegation, which visited three re-education camps and one prison in Vietnam, said it could not make a general assessment of camp conditions based on the visit: “Amnesty International is not professionally equipped to carry out prison visits in the manner that the International Committee of the Red Cross can. Thorough camp inspections necessitate lengthier visits to more camps and would require medical expertise among the inspection team.”(22)

Dermot Kinlen noted that the camps his delegation visited “were exactly the same camps as Amnesty had visited some months earlier and had also been visited by other groups. It is a pity that only three camps are available for inspection.” In all of the camps they visited, he said, most of the inmates “were not seen as they were absent at fieldwork.” Kinlen also said: “Aa a lawyer of thirty years experience and as a prison visitor and having made a study of penology I am satisfied that there is wholesale and widespread violation of human rights in Vietnam. The retention of an uncertain but large number of people without trial in detention and forcing them to do forced labor and subjecting them to indoctrination and depriving them of support and social contact with their families and friends, and providing inadequate medical facilities, and denying them any spiritual administration and allowing them no intellectual exercise other than the absorption of selected texts for the purpose of indoctrination are all negations of human rights.”(23)

Camp Routine

While it is true that conditions vary widely in the camps, we have also found a depressing quality of similarity with regard to certain features of the re-education camps, which appear to be universal. These include an emphasis on political indoctrination and mandatory “confessions” during the early stages of re-education, heavy and often dangerous physical labor, and widespread disease due to a severe lack of food and medical care. The variations occur mainly with regard to the various forms of physical mistreatment inflicted on the prisoners, but even here there are certain features widely practiced,such aa placing recalcitrant prisoners in “connex” boxes, metal air freight containers left behind by the United States, or in dark cella underground.

During the early phase of re-education, lasting from a few week. to a few months, inmates were subjected to intensive political indoctrination. Subjects studied included the exploitation by “American imperialism” of workers in other countries, the glory of labor, the inevitable victory of Vietnam, led by the Communist Party, over the U.S., and the generosity of the new government toward the “rebels” (those who fought on the other aide during the war). There were a total of nine courses, of variable length. Each course would begin with lectures from the political cadres, lasting one or two days, and following this the inmates would divide into closely supervised groups where they would discuss the lesson over the next five to seven days and write essays summarizing each lesson. According to Ngo Trung Trong, a former inmate in a camp for low-ranking RVN officers, the discussions would last four hours in the morning and four hours in the afternoon. In the afternoon sessions, the prisoners were required to repeat the contents of the lectures. (24)

The nine-course political indoctrination session generally lasted about two months, in the summer of 1975. Political indoctrination classes have continued since then, but with much less emphasis. A former inmate of Xuyen Moc camp in southern Vietnam reports that the subsequent indoctrination has consisted mainly of dividing prisoners into small groups in the evenings to review their work through mutual criticism and self- criticism – but this conversation never continues beyond the guards’ presence.(25)

Another feature emphasized during the early stage of reeducation, but continued throughout one’s imprisonment, is confession of one’s alleged misdeeds in the past. In a March 1981 memorandum to Amnesty International, the Hanoi government said “in all cases of people being sent to re-education camps, the competent Vietnamese authorities have established files recording the criminal acts committed by the people concerned.”(26) These files were established through the mandatory confessions and denunciation of others.

Such “confessions” provide the government with a retroactive justification of its decision to imprison hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese in the camps. It can point out, as it did to Amnesty International, that the prisoners themselves had confessed to committing crimes. Of course, such reasoning is unlikely to convince many people outside of the leadership of the Vietnamese Communist Party, but in any case the situation provides much opportunity for false confessions by the prisoners in order to satisfy their captors, as well as more ill-treatment of the prisoners in order to produce the “confessions”.

All prisoners in the camps are required to write confessions, no matter how trivial their alleged crimes might be. Mail clerks, for example, were told that they were guilty of aiding the “puppet war machinery” through circulating the mail, while religious chaplains were found guilty of providing spiritual comfort and encouragement to the enemy troops.(27) A reserve military officer who taught Vietnamese literature in high school was told that he had “misled a whole generation of innocent children.”(28)

Besides confessing such “crimes”, prisoners had to write their autobiography and disclose their financial assets as described by a former prisoner: “You had to write the story of your life, including your father, grandfather and children, describing their fortunes, how everyone died, what they owned, including television, radio, camera. New ones had to be written twice each month, both in re-education and in prison. If they found you had left something out that you had included earlier, you were in trouble. You would have to write new confessions many times each day. Each confession was about 20 pages handwritten.”(29) Following the written confessions were the public confessions in which prisoners would confess their “crimes” before the camp authorities and other prisoners. Prisoners were encouraged to criticize each other’s confessions, said a former prisoner, which was “very effective in getting us to hate each other.” The more “crimes” a prisoner confessed, the more he is praised as “progressive” by camp authorities.

The incessant demand for confessions places much pressure on the prisoners, leading to insanity in some cases. A former prisoner who had previously been a medical doctor said he saw “many cases — screaming, yelling people.” Despite his medical experience, he was not allowed to treat them.(30)

The purpose of these confessions has not only been to produce a sense of guilt in the prisoners and to establish files on them, but also to get the prisoners to denounce other former soldiers and government officials who had not yet reported for re- education. The government has been very concerned about the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese who have not yet reported.

“Labor is Glory”

Much emphasis in the re-education camps is placed on “productive labor.” Such labor was described by SRV spokesman Hoang Son as “absolutely necessary” for re-education because “under the former regime, they (the prisoners) represented the upper strata of society and got rich under US patronage. They could but scorn the working people. Mow the former social order has been turned upside down, and after they have finished their stay in camps they have to earn their living by their own labour and live in a society where work is held in honor.”(31) Thus, in the eyes of the Vietnamese rulers, “productive labor” is a necessary aspect in the overturning of the social order. Yet in examining the conditions under which this labor takes place, it seems that there is also an element of revenge.

The labor is mostly hard physical work, some of it very dangerous, such as mine field sweeping. No equipment is provided for this extremely risky work, and as a result, many prisoners have been killed or wounded in mine field explosions. Other work includes cutting trees, planting corn and root crops, clearing the jungle, digging wells, latrines and garbage pits, and constructing barracks within the camp and fences around it. The inmates are generally organized into platoons and work units, where they are forced to compete with each other for better records and work achievements. This has pushed inmates to exhaustion and nervousness a former prisoners said: “Each person and group had to strive to surpass or at least fulfill the norms set by camp authorities, or they would be classified as `lazy’ and ordered to do ‘compensation work’ on Sundays.”(32) Other prisoners who missed their quota have been shackled and placed in solitary confinement cells.(33)

The duration of the work has generally been eight hours a day, six days a week, which might not seem so bad, except the work is done in the hot tropical sun, by prisoners who are poorly nourished and receive little or no medical care. The poor health, combined with hard work, mandatory confessions and political indoctrination, makes life very difficult for prisoners in Vietnam, and has contributed to a high death rate in the camps.

Food and Medical Supplies

“My ideal, my glory, my dream, my love, All these are remote and abstract things! I confess to you that we, hungry prisoners, Only dream of being as well fed as animals. Why? Our dream to be Man, alas, Has ceased to be a possibility; That dream has led us to prison. Now, only four things on the earth are meaningful: Rice, manioc roots, potatoes and corn. These four things bind us, harass us, torture us, They never leave us in peace.”(34)

It was acknowledged by the government spokesman Hoang Son in his 1980 essay that while poverty is a serious problem throughout the country, “Neither food nor housing conditions can be considered as satisfactory in some of the camps.” However, Son maintains that such conditions are “equally shared by the inmates and their guards.”(35). Former prisoners would use stronger language in describing the lack of food in the camps, and deny that there is such equal sharing. Former prisoners believe that the government deliberately keeps the prisoners on low rations in order to weaken their ability to unite and resist camp policies, so all they think about will be the next meal.(36)

Since the inmates were originally told in 1975 to bring enough food for up to 30 days, food supplies were generally adequate for the first few weeks, but have gradually deteriorated since that time. Prisoners interviewed in 1976 and 1977 reported that the typical diet was only one or two bowls of rice a day with no meat and few vegetables.(37) Since then, the diet has become even worse, shifting from rice to corn and root crops – especially common in the diet now is manioc, a starchy root crop which has little nutritive value other than filling one’s stomach. Besides salt and water, the total amount of food for each prisoner is about 400 to 500 grams a day, and much of it is spoiled. There is virtually no protein in the diet, except on rare occasions, perhaps two or three times a year on holidays such as Ho Chi Minh’s birthday, the Lunar New Year or Independence day, when the diet is supplemented by a few tiny morsels of meat.(38) Under such conditions, prisoners are constantly preoccupied with food, as described in a letter smuggled out of the country:

“In my forced labor camp in the highland the event that dominates everything is the experience of hunger. We are hungry permanently. All we can think about, day and night, is eating! During the first days of the harvest season we are allowed almost our fill of corn and manioc roots. But that lasts only a few days. During these days there are shining eyes and smiles. But very soon the camp administration shuts up the eating. The shining eyes and smiles disappear. We feel hungry again, so hungry that we think of nothing else. Many of us catch lizards to eat, knowing they provide protein. Very soon the lizards of the whole area were exterminated. I know of a prisoner who one night caught a millepede on the ceiling, hid it under the mat, and in the morning roasted it on a fire and ate it. He said it was as good as roast shrimp. There are those who are very clever to invent devices to catch mice and birds; they will roast and eat them while others watch with envy. Others catch grasshoppers and crickets. Whenever someone catches a snake, that is a feast. In our conversation, we only talk about eating, and how to find things to eat. When we do not talk about eating, we silently think about eating. As soon as we finish lunch, we begin to imagine the supper awaiting us when we return from the field: The food put into the mouth is like one breath of air blown into a vast empty house. What little food is given is chewed very slowly.

“Still, it makes no difference — we feel even more hungry after eating. Even in our sleep, our dreams are haunted by food. There are those who chew noisily in their dreams…Such food as mice, rats, birds, snakes, grasshoppers, must be caught and eaten secretly. It is forbidden, and if the camp guards learn about it, the prisoners will be punished.”(39)

The lack of food has caused severe malnutrition for many prisoners and weakened their resistance to various diseases. Most common among the diseases are malaria, beriberi and dysentery.(40) Tuberculosis is also widespread in some of the camps. Medical supplies are generally nonexistent in the camps and medical care is very inadequate, usually limited to a poorly trained medic and perhaps a few prisoners who had formerly been medical doctors. The result is a high death rate from diseases. A prisoner in Dam Duong camp of Ha Nam Ninh province, for example, witnessed twenty deaths, including three cases of intestinal hemorrhage in which prisoners died because there was no plasma.(41) In Tun Hoa camp, about thirty prisoners (out of a camp population of 5,000) died of illness in the last three or four months of 1978.(42). Some seriously ill prisoners have been allowed to go to hospitals outside the camp or return to their families. But others have not, and many have died in the camps, without their families even being notified. It is official government policy, as stated in the 1976 PRG decree No. 02/CS-76 that terminally ill prisoners will be allowed to return to their families. Yet Amnesty International has brought to Hanoi’s attention cases of such prisoners not allowed to return. One such prisoner was Truong Van Truoc, who “died in August 1980 of stomach cancer in a detention camp, 90A TD 63/TC, Doi 11, Thanh Hoa.” Another prisoner AI mentioned was the writer Ho Huu Tuong, who was sick for several months, but not transferred to a hospital until June 2, 1980: “He died only three weeks later, just after he was finally given permission to return to his family.”(43)

Rules and Punishment

In the appendix of his book Enfer Rouge, Mon Amour, Lucien Trong, who was imprisoned in a camp of low-ranking officers, published a list of rules which he said were posted by the authorities in his camp. Other former prisoners have told us the same rules exist in other camps. The authorities seek to maintain strict control over the thoughts of the prisoners, and to this end forbid prisoners from keeping and reading books or magazines of the former regime, reminiscing in conversation about “imperialism and the puppet south,” singing old love songs of the former regime, discussing political questions (outside authorized discussions), harboring “reactionary” thoughts or possessing “superstitious” beliefs. It is also forbidden to be impolite to the cadres of the camp, and this rule has been abused to the point where the slightest indication of a lack of reverence to the cadres has been interpreted as rudeness and therefore harshly punished.

Violations of these and other rules lead to various forms of punishment, including being tied up in contorted positions, shackled in connex boxes or dark cells, forced to work extra hours or reduced food rations. Many prisoners have been beaten, some to death, or subjected to very harsh forms of punishment due to the cruelty of certain camp officials and guards. Some have been executed, especially for attempting to escape. Some of the most brutal treatment occurs in camps in southern Vietnam around the Mekong delta, where guards apparently have no fear of any reprimand for mistreating the prisoners.(44)

The connex boxes vary in size, but are generally large enough to accommodate a few prisoners crowded together. Some of the containers are made of wood, some of metal. The metal containers can become unbearable in the hot ,sun, prisoners can pass out or die under such circumstances.(45)

Solitary confinement cells are also common in the camps, such as the Gia Ray camp, where prisoners can receive ten days solitary for minor infractions, fifteen for making “reactionary statements” and one year (or the death penalty) for attempting to escape the camp. Prisoners in these daring cells are forced to eat and sleep on the spot, and carry out bodily functions while shackled to the wall.(46) Prisoners in such cells in Ham Tam camp (Thuan Hai province) lie on the floor with their legs raised and feet locked in wooden stocks.(47) In a camp in Nghe Tinh, Than Chuong district of Nghe Tinh province, some prisoners in the dark cells had their hands and feet tied so tightly that they became afflicted with gangrene and lost their hands or feet or died.(48)

Other forms of confinement include tiger cage cells and abandoned wells. A prisoner in Long Khanh camp (a southern camp for low-ran-ding officers) was put in such a well for five days because he sang “Silent Night” on Christmas Eve, 1975.(49) In some camps, such as Ben Gia, ditches, called “living graves” by the prisoners, are dug around the outer perimeter, away from the main camp, but visible from the watchtower. Prisoners confined to these ditches in Ben Gia were fed once daily–a bowl of rice or sorghum and water.(50)

Other forms of torture were reported by a former prisoner of Dam Duong camp, composed of around 1,000 prisoners, with 200 Montagnards (tribal highlanders):

1. The Honda : with the prisoner’s hands and feet tied together, he is hung and swung to and fro while beaten. Nausea and vomiting often follow.

2. The Auto : the prisoner is tied “butterfly” style with thumbs tied together behind the back; one arm over the shoulder and the other pulled around the trunk of the body. In another version of this the prisoner’s outstretched legs are tied by the toes to the two middle fingers of the hands of the outstretched arms. A prisoner could be kept in such positions for weeks or even months.

3. The Airplane : the prisoner is tied either standing to a pole, lying down, or sitting on cement for various periods, depending on the prisoner’s “mistakes” — one week, sometimes longer, sometimes a few days.

As one would expect, prisoners released after such treatment are often unable to walk.(51)

A case where the airplane method was applied was described by Nguyen Ngoc Ngan in his book, The Will of Heaven . This case occurred in May of 1977 at Bu Gia Map camp, located in a malarial jungle area near the Cambodian border. Tru, a prisoner, became angry when he saw a guard using the flag of the former government of South Vietnam as a dustcloth. He took the flag out of the guard’s hand and yelled at him for desecrating it. The next day, Tru was brought before the prisoners in a “people’s court,” but instead of confessing his “crime”, Tru remained unrepentant, praising the flag and criticizing the communists. The out- raged camp commander sentenced Tru to be tied to a wooden column outdoors, standing upright for three months. He was gagged and his hands were tied behind the back and around the post, his wrists lashed tightly with telephone wire. The wire cut through his flesh by the end of the first day. Forced to stand bareheaded all day long in the hot sun and the unusually cool nights of the highlands, plagued by mosquitos, Tru contacted malaria by the second week and became seriously ill. After a month, Tru was untied and carried to meet the camp commander’s superior who was visiting the camp that day, and was given one more chance to repent. But Tru remained unrepentant and was taken out of the camp the next day.(52)

It has been acknowledged by Hanoi that violence has in fact been directed against the prisoners, although it maintains that these are isolated cases and not indicative of general camp policy.(53) Former prisoners, on the other hand, report frequent beatings for minor infractions, such as missing work because of illness. In some cases, prisoners have been beaten to death, such as Colonel Pham Ba Ham. Accused of helping an escape attempt of other prisoners, he was bludgeoned before the other prisoners and left without any medical treatment until he died.(54) Another prisoner, a former noncommissioned RVN officer, insulted leaders of the Vietnamese Communist Party while delirious with fever and was beaten to death with chains.(55)

Prisoners have been executed, most commonly for attempting to escape the camps. In some cases, the caught prisoners are tried by “People’s Courts” held before the other prisoners and then killed.(56)

Suicides appear to be fairly common in the camps. In one camp, a pharmacist who ended a letter to his wife asking her to pray for his return was brought before the other prisoners and berated for relying upon God for his release. For the next several nights he was interrogated by camp authorities, until he committed suicide. His family was not notified of his death.(57)

The Prisoners and Their Families

Family visits are important not only because of the personal need for prisoners and their loved ones to have contact with each other, but also because the families can bring food to their relatives in some of the camps. It has been reported that the prisoners in these camps could not survive without such food.(58) However, the government does not allow many visits. As of 1980, official regulations stated that prisoners in the camps could be visited by their immediate family once every three months.(59). The duration of the visits are not long, reported by former prisoners to last from 15 to 30 minutes.(60) Moreover, family visits can be suspended for prisoners who break rules: and it has also been said that only families who have proven their loyalty to the regime are allowed visiting privileges.(61) In its 1980 memorandum to the Hanoi government, Amnesty International expressed its concern that visiting privileges are dependent on the prisoner’s conduct and “progress in re-education,” and stated its belief that “a prisoner’s rights to visits and correspondence should be inviolable and in no way conditional, except in cases of serious violations of camp discipline and then only for a limited period.”(62) AI also said that if “visits by family or a lawyer are not allowed, an officer may feel secure when ill- treating a prisoner, knowing that no one concerned about the prisoner’s interests will see him or her soon and notice any signs of physical or mental deterioration. (63)

The families of the prisoners are regarded as responsible for the acts of the prisoners before 1975. According to the Hanoi spokesman Hoang Son, 1.3 million Vietnamese were part of the military or administrative apparatus of South Vietnam, members of “so-called” political parties or of mass organizations which Son says were American-controlled. On the basis of this estimate, and on the estimate that there are an average of five members to each Vietnamese family, Son concluded that there were 6.5 million Vietnamese who were “compromised” by ties with the non- communist regime in South Vietnam.(64) As a result of such logic, not only the prisoners, but also their families, suffer discrimination in access to health care, employment and higher education.(65)

As a way of redeeming their relatives for their past activities, families of Vietnamese ordered to report to the re- education camps were told in 1975 that they should “urge their dear ones to devote themselves to reform study.” (66). In order to attain the release of their imprisoned relatives, to demonstrate that they are good families, they have been pressured to move to the new economic zones.(67) Some families of the prisoners have had their food ration cards revoked until agreeing to move to these areas.(68)

The new economic zones are theoretically for a good purpose, to increase food production, but actually are more like concentration camps located in malarial jungle areas where the land is very difficult to cultivate. Conditions in these areas are therefore not so different from life in the re- education camps–living under harsh conditions and in isolated areas. Thus, thousands of Vietnamese have fled these areas and returned to the cities. In doing so, they become non-persons in the eyes of the state, ineligible for food rations, an approved job, or housing. Living in makeshift shelters on the streets of Saigon alone are as many as 15,000 to 20,000 such people, according to a reporter who visited the country in 1980.(69)

Besides being pressured to move to the new economic zones, families of the prisoners have also been pressured to give up all their possessions to the state and work extra hours in order to demonstrate that they are good families so that their relatives can be released.(70)

Release Policy

The policy of releasing prisoners from the re-education camps of Vietnam has been a story of broken promises. The existence of the camps in is itself a broken promise because it violates Article 11 of the 1973 Paris Agreements, which specifically prohibits such imprisonment. Another broken promise, as we have already noted, occurred when the Vietnamese who had reported for re-education in June of 1975 were not released within 30 days, as had been clearly implied by the new regime when it issued the order to report. In June of 1976, the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam, in one of its last policy announcements before the official reunification of Vietnam, stated that those in the camps would either be tried or released after three years imprisonment. But this promise was also broken.

Over one million Vietnamese have been re-educated and returned to society since 1975, according to the Hanoi government. However, this would seem to contradict another official statement from Hanoi which said that 40,000 is the total number of Vietnamese who have gone through the reeducation camps since 1975, and that 26,000 remained in the camps as of 1980.(71) So if we are to take these figures seriously, and try to reconcile them with-each other, then we might assume that the one million figure includes those who attended “short-term, on-the-spot” re- education, in which Vietnamese would come to the “classes” during the day and go home at night, while the 40,000 figure refers to those who underwent long-term re-education, meaning internment in the camps. With regard to the latter, we must note that the estimates of foreign observers of those detained in the camps since 1975 are much higher, ranging up to 300,000.(72) Our own estimate is that 100,000 Vietnamese are still in the camps. It would be more difficult for us to estimate the total number detained in the camps since 1975, and we will not attempt to estimate the number of dissidents detained in the many prisons of Vietnam.

From accounts in the official press of Vietnam, it appears that the large-scale release of prisoners began in the last few months of 1975. On Jan. 6, 1976 the government newspaper Giai Phong (published in Saigon) announced the release of hundreds of prisoners on the previous day, and added: “That was the 21st time the Management-Training Section of the Military Management Committee has allowed people who make progress in reform study to return to their families.” Assuming that hundreds of prisoners were released on each occasion, one might very roughly estimate from this statement that somewhere between 4,000 and 10,000 prisoners had been released from the camps by the end of 1975.

Articles that appeared in Saigon Giai Phong (Liberated Saigon) of Ho Chi Minh City on August 24, Sept. 7,20,24 and 30, and Dec. 11 and 25, 1975, discussed categories of prisoners that could be released at that time. The August 24 SGP article said certain groups of prisoners were eligible for release. These included prisoners with close relatives (parents, spouse, siblings) who were revolutionary cadres or had “merit toward the revolution in the locality,” and scientific and technical specialists who did not “commit crimes” or participate in non-communist political parties or organizations. The Sept. 7 SGP article added another category of prisoners eligible for release: old people, people seriously ill and pregnant women. However, as with the other categories, it stressed that “first and foremost” prisoners must have shown “progress” in re-education and repentance over “past mistakes” and also must not have been engaged in “criminal acts” against the revolution before 1975. (73) We can see from such vague wording that there were no guarantees for any category of prisoners being released.

The most significant policy announcement on the re-education camps was broadcast by Saigon Domestic Service on June 9, 1976. This is the May 25 PRGRSV statement No. 02/CS-76, signed by President Huynh Tan Phat. According to this broadcast, 95% of those “attending reform courses had their cases examined and their citizen’s rights restored” in order that they could vote in the April elections. This figure led some foreign observers to estimate that 50,000 remained in the camps, according to official figures, since the government had said that over one million had been re-educated.

The policy announced that those still in the camps would stay there for three years, but could be released earlier if they make “real progress, confess their crimes and score merits.” It also said that some Vietnamese would be brought to trial, including those who deserted the NLF during the war, those who owed “many blood debts” to the people and those who fled to “foreign countries with their U.S. masters.”(74)

As far as we know, no such trials were held, or at least they were not publicized. Nor were prisoners in the camps released after three years. The excuses offered for the continued detention beyond the three years are increased security tensions with China and the 1961 Resolution 49, which Hanoi argues supersedes the 1976 PRG decree and which allows for detention in the camps beyond three years. According to Hoang Son, Resolution 49 allows for a new three year period to be established for those in the camps who did not sufficiently reform during the first three years.(75) Since it is now over seven years since many of the prisoners were first arrested, we can presume that such prisoners are in their third three- year period. In the words of Amnesty International, “Grounds for the continued detention of these people, therefore, seems to have shifted from past misdeeds and present behavior to the external situation, namely national security. These prisoners are therefore being held in what is usually termed administrative detention without trial.” The result of such prolonged, indefinite detention is severe hardship for the prisoners and their families, said Amnesty International.(76)

Since there is no clear criteria for releasing the inmates from the camps, bribery and family connections with high-ranking officials are more likely to speed up release than the prisoner’s behavior. Released prisoners are put under probation and surveillance for six months to one year, and during this time they have no official status, no exit visas, no access to government food rations and no right to send their children to school.(77). If the progress of the former prisoners is judged unsatisfactory during this period, they may be fired from their jobs, put under surveillance for another six months to a year, or sent back to the re-education camps.(78) Approximately 60% of those released have been re-arrested, according to a high-ranking Vietnamese official.(79)

Amnesty International has appealed to Hanoi to abolish Resolution 49 and the system of re-education camps in Vietnam. We agree. Genuine peace and reconciliation in Vietnam cannot be brought about through forcing the people to praise the regime or “confess” their past opposition to the Communist side. On the contrary, as stated in 1973 by NLF leader Nguyen Van Hieu (presently Minister of Culture in Vietnam), “..democratic freedoms are man’s fundamental rights, ardent aspirations of all social strata, of all political and religious forces in South Vietnam. Only a full and total exercise of democratic liberties can serve as a basis for the realization of national reconciliation and concord, the settlement of the internal affairs of South Viet Nam, and the exercise of the South Vietnamese people’s right to self-determination.” (80)

We call upon the Vietnamese rulers to make these words a reality in Vietnam today.


1. March 1981 written reply of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV) to Amnesty International, page 42 of Amnesty International Report on Mission to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, June 1981.

2. estimate mentioned by Della Denman in the Far Eastern Economic Review, August 6, 1982.

3. see annual reports issued by Amnesty International.

4. p.86, Which Human Rights?, published in Hanoi, 1980.

5. The translated text of this document was published in the appendix of a report on human rights in Vietnam prepared in 1978 by Stephen Young for the New York Bar Association.

6. ibid.

7. discussed in detail in issue 1 (Oct. 79) of this newsletter.

8. 6/10/75 Saigon-Gia Dinh Military Management Communique, broadcast by Saigon Domestic Service on June, translated by the Daily Report (Asia-Pacific) of Broadcasting Information Service (hereafter as FBIS) on June 11, 1975.

9. 6/20/75 Saigon-Gia Dinh Military Management Communique, translated by FBIS, 6/23/75.

10. 6/11/75 Saigon-Gia Dinh Military Management translated by FBIS, 6/12/75.

11. from speech of Dr. Ninh at Amnesty International conference, published in Amnesty Action (of AIUSA), Sept. 82.

12. March 1981 written reply of SRV to AI, p. 42 of Amnesty International Report on Mission to Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

13. Nguc Tu Lao Dong Vietnam, Paris 1977, as cited by Stephen Young in his 1978 report to New York Bar.

14. p.272, Amnesty International Report 1981.

15. p. 9, AI Report on Mission to SRV.

16. Law on Counter-Revolutionary Crimes, Articles 9,12,15 Originally enacted by the government of North Vietnam in 1967, this code became law for all of Vietnam after the 1976 unification and was broadcast by Hanoi Domestic Service on Oct. 16, 1979 (translated text reprinted in Issue 21 of this newsletter).

17. The trial of Bui Dinh Ha was reported in the government newspaper Saigon Giai Phong on June 11, 25 and 26, 1981 and by a Hanoi radio broadcast on June 26. 1981. The reports were translated by the Vietnam Report of the Joint Publications Research Service (hereafter referred to as JPRS) on Sept. 4 and 10, 1981 and by the FBIS, July 10, 1981.

18. p. 196 Amnesty International Annual Report 1978.

19. ibid.

20. confidential interviews with former prisoners (the identities of all the prisoners we interviewed for this report are kept confidential).

21. Newsweek , June 26, 1978.

22. p.13, AI Report on Mission to SRV.

23. pp. 4 and 6, Report on the Re-education Camps and Prisons in Vietnam, by Dermot Kinlen, June 1981.

24. The indoctrination courses were described by former prisoner Ngo Trung Trong in his unpublished manuscript, The Vietnam Re-education Camp . Also described by former prisoner Nguyen Ngoc Ngan in his book The Will of Heaven (Dutton, 1982), p 123, and by the Washington Post , 4/30/78, New York Times , 8/29/78 and by prisoners we have interviewed.

25. New York Times, 8/14/81.

26. p. 42, Report of AI Mission to SRV.

27. Washington Post.4/30/78.

28. p.112, The Will of Heaven.

29. “They Were Us, Were We Vietnamese,” by Theodore Jacqueney, Worldview April 1977.

30. ibid.

31. p.97, “Re-education Camps and Human Rights” by Hoang Son, Which Human Rights?, Hanoi 1981.

32. Washington Post, April 30, 1978.

33. confidential interview.

34. “Tu Chuong Tren Doi,” poem by Nguyen Chi Thien, translated by Nguyen Huu Hieu.

35. p. 99, Which Human Rights?

36. see, for example, “A Form of Torture: Food Deprivation,” by Cao Ngoc Phuong of the Vietnamese Buddhist Peace Delegation in Paris. This article was published in Issue 24 of this newsletter. Ms. Phuong believes the policy of food deprivation for prisoners began as early as 1956 in North Vietnam.

37. New York Times , 11/11/76 and 2/12/77 Worldview April 1977; Christian Science Monitor, 5/4/77.

38. confidential interviews.

39. “A Form of Torture: Food Deprivation,” by Cao Ngoc Phuong.

40. Washington Post , 4/30/78; also based on confidential interviews.

41. confidential interviews.

42. ibid.

43. p. 38, Report of AI Mission to SRV.

44. confidential interviews.

45. confidential interviews.

46. confidential interviews.

47. confidential interviews.

48. confidential interviews.

49. pp. 137-142, The Will of Heaven.

50. confidential interviews.

51. confidential interviews.

52. pp. 240-246, The Will of Heaven.

53. p. 98, Which Human Rights? (Hanoi). It was also acknowledged by Hoang Nguyen, editor of the Hanoi magazine Vietnam Courier, that prisoners have been tortured, but likewise claimed that it was not official policy to do so.(from Dermot Kinlen’s June 1981 report).

54. The Times, 10/25/78.

55. from speech of Dr. Ninh, Amnesty Action, 9/82.

56. see for example of such a trial pp. 116-118 in The Will of Heaven.

57. from speech of Dr. Ninh, Amnesty Action, 9/82.

58. New York Times, 8/14/81.

59. p. 14, Report of AI Mission to SRV.

60. The Oregonian, 12/6/77; The New York Times 8/14/81.

61. The Oregonian, 12/6/77.

62. p. 14, Report of AI Mission to SRV.

63. Ibid.

64. p. 81, Which Human Rights?

65. p. 716, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices , U.S. State Department Report to Congress, Feb. 2, 1981.

66. Giai Phong, 6/11/75, translated by FBIS, 6/16/75.

67. Saigon Giai Phong , June 16 & 18, 1975, translated by JPRS: 67909.

68. New York Times, 2/12/77.

69. The Asian Wall Street Journal Weekly , Hong Kong, 6/16/80 and 6/23/80.

70. confidential interviews.

71. figure given to Amnesty International in Dec. also to Dermot Kinlen in April 1980 visit

72. The Amnesty International Report 1979 s belief that the number of political prisoners was “far higher” than the then official figure of 50,000, and mentioned estimates by foreign “50,000 to 80,000” (Le Monde, 4/19/78), 150,000 (Reuter from Bien Hoa), “150,000 to 200,000” Washington Post , 12/20/78) and “300,000 France Presse, from Hanoi, 2/12/78).

73. The 8/24/75 and 9/7/75 articles were both translated by the Vietnam Report of the Joint Publications Research Service, JPRS:66059 and JPRS: 66446 respectively.

74. The text of the 1976 PRG policy announcement was translated by FBIS, June 10. 1976.

75. p. 90, Which Human Rights?

76. AI Report on Mission to SRV June 1981.

77. Far Eastern Economic Review, August 6. 1982.

78. Article 5 of the May 25 PRGSV statement No. 02/CS-76.

79. The official was Hoang Bich Son, Acting Foreign Minister of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, whose remarks were reported by Dermot Kinlen in his June 1981 report.

80. p. 128, The Paris Agreement on Vietnam Fundamental Juridical Problems , published in Hanoi, 1973.

Source : OCF Berkeley

Tưởng nhớ Trung Tá Nguyễn Văn Tố – Nguyên Tỉnh Trưởng kiêm Tiểu Khu Trưởng Phú Yên

[ndlr] A l’occasion de la disparition du Lieutenant-Colonel Nguyen Van To (1930-2012) le 22 octobre dernier en Californie, son camarade de prison Ho Dac Huan livre ici une page émouvante de souvenirs. Il revient sur l’itinéraire de Nguyen Van To, sa carrière militaire et la rude période passée dans les camps de rééducation après la chute de Saigon. Un témoignage d’amitié pour cet ancien chef de la province de Phu Yen, officier de l’ARVN et membre du comité central du DVQDD qu’il considérait “comme un frère, comme un maître”.

L’article fut publié initialement dans le quotidien Vien Dong le 24-10-2012.

Trung Tá Nguyễn Văn Tố và Thiếu Tá Hồ Đắc Huân
© 2009 ảnh tài liệu của tác giả.

Trung Tá Nguyễn Văn Tố đã trút hơi thở cuối cùng vào lúc 7 giờ sáng ngày Thứ Hai 22-10-2012 tại Moncliar, California, Hoa Kỳ, hưởng thọ 83 tuổi. Ông ra đi để lại sự thương yêu quí mến của một đại gia đình gồm các con, dâu, rể, cháu, chắt, cùng bao nhiêu người thân, chiến hữu và bằng hữu.

Tôi và Trung Tá Nguyễn Văn Tố có thời gian ở chung trong trại tập trung khổ sai Cộng Sản qua các trại tù Kỳ Sơn và Tiên Lãnh thuộc tỉnh Quảng Nam, Đà Nẵng.

Cơ duyên đặc biệt: Trung Tá Tố, Trung Tá Nguyễn Văn Chước và tôi ở chung một nhà khoảng 8 tháng nên chúng tôi quen biết từ đây. Ba chúng tôi nằm kề nhau, tôi ở giữa, ông Tố bên phải, ông Chước bên trái. Cả ba cùng ăn cơm chung, cùng khổ nhọc trong lao động.

Những lúc chờ chợp mắt trong giấc ngủ chúng tôi thường kể cho nhau nghe về cuộc đời mình từ lúc nhỏ đến khi vào tù, kể cả mọi chuyện trên đời mỗi người biết đến để khuây khỏa hầu lấp khoảnh trống thời gian vì mệt mỏi trong lao động ban ngày. Chúng tôi thân và mến nhau từ dạo ấy của 37 năm về trước. Có lúc trong tù tôi nghĩ vợ con xa không bằng bạn tù gần là vậy.

Từ ngày định cư tại Hoa Kỳ, ông Tố và tôi thường liên lạc với nhau qua điện thoại thường nhật vào mỗi sáng ngoại trừ những lúc ông viếng thăm con cháu ở nơi xa. Nội dung hàn huyên thì nhiều chuyện lắm, nhất là tin tức thời sự trong ngày, sinh hoạt cộng đồng mọi nơi… những năm tháng gần đây theo dõi sát về mục tin tức bạn bè, chiến hữu ai còn, ai mất!

Thường mỗi tháng có dịp đi Bolsa ông thích thú gặp tôi, để được tay bắt mặt mừng rồi dùng cơm trưa, hàn huyên tâm sự. Người già chúng tôi thường hay nhắc bạn bè trong quá khứ.

Đối với ông Tố, ngoài tình bạn đồng tù tôi quý mến kính trọng, ông như một người anh, người thầy.

Cảm mến một người anh thân thương tôi xin viết lại đôi nét về ông, đặc biệt những giờ phút cuối qua hai lần thăm viếng vào các ngày 28-8 và 8-9-2012 khi tôi được ngồi cạnh ông. Rồi mới đây, tôi tiếp xúc ông qua điện thoại một ngày trước khi ông giã từ cõi đời. Nghe ông nói và dặn dò như những lời trăn trối làm tôi xúc động tột cùng. Thương tiếc và tưởng nhớ ông, xin ghi đôi dòng về ông để bạn đọc cùng các chiến hữu quen biết ông cảm thương ông hơn nữa.

Chiều dài binh nghiệp và cực hình trong lao tù cộng sản

Ông Nguyễn Văn Tố sinh năm 1930 tại Hương Thủy, Thừa Thiên, Huế, trong một gia đình Nho giáo theo đạo Phật. Hết nửa cuộc đời của ông đã gắn bó với Quảng Nam, Đà Nẵng. Tháng 8-1950, vừa tròn 20 tuổi ông nhập ngũ vào Trung Đoàn Võ Tánh Bộ Chỉ Huy, lúc bấy giờ đóng tại khuôn viên villa Vạn Hòa ở Hội An. Ông được đơn vị gởi theo học Khóa 2 Sĩ Quan Võ Bị Địa Phương Huế. Qua thời gian binh nghiệp ông theo học các Khóa Đại Đội Trưởng Chỉ Huy Tham Mưu Trung Cấp, Cao Cấp, du học ngoại quốc, phục vụ tại các Tiểu Đoàn 254, 44, Quận Thường Đức, Đại Lộc, Tiểu Khu Quảng Nam, Thừa Thiên, Phú Yên, Sư Đoàn 1, Sư Đoàn 3 rồi Bộ Tư Lệnh Quân Đoàn I cho đến ngày 29-3-1975, khi Cộng Sản Bắc Việt cưỡng chiếm Đà Nẵng.

Từ đây ông rơi vào vòng lao lý tủi hận tại các trại tù Kỳ Sơn, Tiên Lãnh, sau đó chuyển đến các trại biệt giam: Đồng Mộ, Nhà Trắng, Thôn 5 (biệt giam từ 1978-1983). Tháng 2-1988 ông ra tù trở về Đà Nẵng sum họp gia đình, nhưng Công An Phường Hải Châu ghi vào giấy ra trại: không giải quyết chỗ ở tại Đà Nẵng. Ông đành rời Quảng Nam, Đà Nẵng, để vào Sài Gòn!

Đêm kinh hoàng đến với Trung Tá Nguyễn Văn Tố tại trại Kỳ Sơn

Thời gian tôi ở tại trại tù Kỳ Sơn, Tiên Lãnh, có nhiều chiến hữu đã bị Cộng Sản sát hại rất dã man như Trung Tá Võ Vàng và Ngô Hoàng. Đến Hoa Kỳ tôi có viết lại với tựa bài “Dưới Tầng Địa Ngục” đã được nhiều báo đăng tải. Trong các nhân vật được kể có Trung Tá Nguyễn Văn Tố thoát chết trong đêm tối. Nhân viết bài tưởng nhớ Trung Tá Tố tôi xin trích đăng lại phần nói về Trung Tá Tố nơi bài viết trên.

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Trung Tá Nguyễn Văn Tố và Hải Quân Thiếu Tá Nguyễn Công Anh Kiệt thoát chết trong đêm tối

Trung Tá Nguyễn Văn Tố sinh tháng 5-1930 tại Thừa Thiên. Số quân 50/201.605, Khóa 2 VBĐP Huế.
– Tham Mưu Trưởng Tiểu Khu Thừa Thiên.
– Phó Thị Trưởng thành phố Huế.
– Tỉnh Trưởng kiêm Tiểu Khu Trưởng Phú Yên.
– Trung Tâm Phó Trung Tâm Điều Hợp Bình Định Phát Triển Quân Khu I.

Hải Quân Thiếu Tá Nguyễn Công Anh Kiệt sinh tháng 6-1940 tại Sài Gòn. Số quân 60/701.173, Khóa 13 Đệ Nhị Dương Cựu trường HQNT.
– Phân Cuộc Trưởng Hải Cảng Sâu Tiên Sa Đà Nẵng (con rể ông Nguyễn Văn Kiểu, nguyên Đại Sứ VNCH tại Đài Loan, bào huynh cố Tổng Thống Nguyễn Văn Thiệu).

Khai cung trong tù: Trong đời binh nghiệp Trung Tá Nguyễn Văn Tố đã đảm nhận qua nhiều chức vụ khác nhau, tuy nhiên khi bị giam giữ tại trại Kỳ Sơn, cán bộ thẩm cung nghi ngờ anh là Sĩ Quan Tình Báo Cao Cấp, nhân viên CIA hạng nặng và am tường kế hoạch hậu chiến của chính phủ Việt Nam Cộng Hòa nên đã đặc biệt khai thác anh rất nhiều lần về 4 điểm mà họ cần biết rõ:

1. Anh Tố đã tham dự ba khóa học về tình báo:
– Khóa tình báo tại trường Cây Mai.
– Khóa tình báo tại Singapore.
– Khóa hướng dẫn tình báo cao cấp tại Okinawa.

2. Việc thám sát Xuyên Sơn:
Vào năm 1956, Tổng Thống Ngô Đình Diệm chỉ thị cho Trung Tướng Trần Văn Đôn (Tư Lệnh Quân Đoàn I) và Thiếu Tướng Nguyễn Giác Ngộ (đặc trách về du kích và phản du kích thuộc Bộ Quốc Phòng) có nhiệm vụ thành lập đoàn Thám Sát. Tiểu Khu Quảng Nam chỉ định Thiếu Tá Nguyễn Ngọc Bích (Tiểu Khu Trưởng) làm Trưởng Đoàn Thám Sát Xuyên Sơn và Trung Úy Nguyễn Văn Tố (Trưởng Phòng 2 Tiểu Khu) làm Phó Đoàn. Nhiệm vụ của đoàn là thám sát về thời tiết, địa thế giao thông bằng đường bộ, đường mòn, sông, suối, đời sống của dân Thượng Du, kinh tế, xã hội.

Sau hai năm thám sát, Tổng Thống Diệm xét duyệt lại để căn cứ vào đó thành lập 4 quận miền núi là Hiếu Đức, Thượng Đức, Hiệp Đức và Hậu Đức. Bốn quận này có trọng trách kiểm soát mọi hoạt động của quân du kích và ngăn chận sự xâm nhập của quân Cộng Sản Bắc Việt qua vùng rừng núi Trường Sơn.

3. Với chức vụ Tham Mưu Trưởng Tiểu Khu Thừa Thiên, Trung Tá Tố đã lập kế hoạch cố thủ và phản công tại Huế trong trận tổng tấn công Mậu Thân. Với chiến công đạt được, sau khi giải tỏa Huế, Tổng Thống Nguyễn Văn Thiệu đã gắn cấp bậc Trung Tá tại mặt trận cùng tưởng thưởng Đệ Tứ Đăng Bảo Quốc Huân Chương kèm Anh Dũng Bội Tinh với Nhành Dương Liễu cho ông.

4. Khai rõ kế hoạch điều hành về lãnh vực chính trị, quân sự, kinh tế thời hậu chiến khi Trung Tá Tố làm Tỉnh Trưởng Phú Yên vào năm 1970.

Đêm kinh hoàng: Vào lúc 12 giờ 30 một đêm đầu tháng 7-1976 tại Trại 1 Kỳ Sơn, một vệ binh mang súng AK vào nhà 9 gọi anh Nguyễn Văn Tố và sang nhà 6 gọi anh Nguyễn Công Anh Kiệt đi nhanh ra ngoài rồi dẫn đến phía ngoài vọng gác cổng chính của trại. Nơi đây có sẵn vệ binh Trương tức Bốn tay cầm AK chờ sẵn. Anh Tố và Kiệt đoán chúng sắp đem mình đi bắn rồi vì trước đây vệ binh Bốn đã được chọn bắn Trung Tá Võ Vàng vào ngày 13-4-1976 tại khu Cò Bay, Bông Miêu. Sau khi Bốn nhận hai anh Tố và Kiệt xong chỉ tới ngồi nơi tảng đá gần đó. Tại đây anh Tố nói nhỏ với anh Kiệt: “Chắc chúng đưa mình ra bờ rào bắn rồi hô hoán là trốn trại. Sự tù tội chắc còn lâu dài lắm. Thôi chết sớm khỏe xác mình, vợ con bớt khổ trong việc lặn lội lên rừng sâu, núi thẳm thăm nuôi”. Qua lời anh Tố, anh Kiệt thở dài!

Thời gian lo lắng lần đến 2 giờ 30 sáng, thấy đèn pin lập lòe sáng rồi lần hồi một cán bộ từ Bộ Chỉ Huy xuống nói nhỏ gì với tên Bốn xong về lại. Lúc này hai anh Tố và Kiệt rất hồi hộp, chắc chúng sắp đem mình đi bắn rồi. Hai anh thầm cầu nguyện theo tôn giáo của mỗi người. Năm phút sau, tên Bốn gọi anh Tố và Kiệt đến rồi bảo hai anh về lại nhà ngủ để mai tiếp tục lao động.

Suốt đêm này hai anh không sao ngủ được và cứ lo lắng mãi. Kể từ sáng hôm sau hai anh Tố và Kiệt luôn được Quản Giáo theo dõi sát cho đến khi chuyển qua Trại 4 rồi đến Trại Tiên Lãnh.

Đến ngày 28-9-1978, toàn bộ tù nhân Kỳ Sơn được chuyển đến Trại Tiên Lãnh. Ba ngày sau khi đến Tiên Lãnh, hai anh Tố và Kiệt liền vào nhà cùm cùng với một số sĩ quan khác chúng cho là nguy hiểm.

Hai tháng sau khi đến Tiên Lãnh, một buổi chiều qua âm thanh rùng rợn của hai tiếng kẻng, tất cả mọi tù nhân vào phòng đóng cửa sắt. Công an trang bị vũ khí rải ra, canh giữ từng phòng một. Các cửa nhà cùm được mở ra, khoảng 100 tù nhân từ các phòng biệt giam được đưa ra ngoài trói lại bằng dây dù cột vào nhau với 5 người một do một công an canh giữ rồi chuyển đến Trại Đồng Mộ, Nhà Trắng để giam tiếp, trong số tù trên có hai anh Tố và Kiệt bị giam cho đến năm 1983.

Đến năm 1988, cả hai anh Tố và Kiệt mới nhận giấy ra trại sum họp cùng gia đình. Ngày 24-6-1992, anh Tố cùng vợ và bốn người con được các con cháu cùng đông thân hữu vui mừng chào đón tại phi trường Los Angeles theo chương trình H.O. 10. Anh Kiệt đã sang Hoa Kỳ và định cư tại Houston, Texas.

Chồng bị tù, vợ lo gia đình

Trong lúc ông Tố nằm trong lao tù, bà vợ bên ngoài lo chạy mọi thứ việc, phần lo cuộc sống gia đình, phần thăm nuôi ông mỗi hai tháng. Việc khó nhất là phải thu xếp để cho các con được vượt thoát khỏi Việt Nam. Bà suy tính, cuối cùng đã quyết định cho vượt biển bốn lần được 9 người con đều thành công, tuy có lần bà cũng bị Công An gọi đi làm việc nhưng qua sáng kiến xoay xở, sự rối rắm cũng qua đi.

Định mệnh gặp nhau tại Sài Gòn

1998 [1988] tôi từ Nha Trang vào Sài Gòn để nhận chút quà do con gái từ Canada gởi về. Sáng sớm, tôi và người bạn là Thiếu Tá Lê Quang Trang vừa xuống xe, đang đi bộ trên đường Pasteur thì thấy một người đang chạy bộ sát gần rồi gọi “Huân”. Tôi quay nhìn thì té ra là ông Tố. Trông ông ốm teo. Tôi liền hỏi:
– Anh về khi nào? Sao ốm quá vậy?
– Vừa mới ra tù, ở nhà cùm lâu quá.
Anh tiếp:
– Thôi về nhà mình gần đây nói chuyện.
Đến căn nhà số 50 Pasteur, bấm chuông, cửa mở. Chúng tôi tâm sự cùng anh qua chung trà ấm, toàn là những chuyện đau buồn trong lao tù. Kế đó anh mời chúng tôi ăn điểm tâm sáng. Sau đó có việc, tôi xin phép chia tay anh.

Xa nhau từ nửa vòng trái đất

Ngày 16-12-1991, còn một ngày nữa tôi cùng gia đình rời Sài Gòn qua Hoa Kỳ (H.O. 9). Ghé thăm anh lần này thấy da thịt anh có phần đầy đặn, tinh thần vui vẻ vì anh đang lo thủ tục xuất cảnh. Trong bữa cơm gia đình, anh mời tôi dùng rượu Martel. Nhìn qua chai rượu tôi liền hồi tưởng lại khi trong tù qua chuyến thăm nuôi vào dịp Tết, chị Mai vợ anh cũng tìm cách mang vào cho anh nửa chai rượu Martel nhưng ghi nơi vỏ chai là rượu thuốc xoa bóp để qua mặt tụi quản giáo. Khó khăn lắm trong tù mới uống được rượu Martel.

Trước khi chia tay, tôi nắm tay anh thật chặt. Anh nói:
– Chúc Huân và gia đình lên đường bình an.
Tôi cám ơn, đáp lời cũng chúc anh chị và các cháu ở lại mạnh giỏi, mong sớm gặp nhau tại Hoa Kỳ.

Tôi rời nhà anh trên chiếc xe Honda do con tôi chở. Chiếc xe mỗi lúc mỗi xa. Nhìn anh Tố lần nhớ lại cánh tay nhìn chào tạm biệt tôi mỗi lúc mỗi thêm nhạt dần. Trên đường xe gắn máy chạy ào ào bóp còi inh ỏi. Ngày mai chúng tôi rời Sài Gòn, tâm trí tôi nghĩ: “Sông có khúc, người có lúc”, “ngày mai trời lại sáng”.

Khi viết bài này tôi chợt nhớ: mới đây gia đình tôi đến Mỹ đã tròn 21 năm (22-10-1991 — 22-10-2012). Thời gian qua mau thật!

17 năm sau đoàn tụ gia đình

Sau 13 năm tù trong, thêm 4 năm tù ngoài, ông bà Tố cùng 3 người con (2 gái, 1 trai) và cháu đích tôn đã đáp chuyến bay từ Bangkok sang Hoa Kỳ vào ngày 24-6-1992 trong chương trình H.O.10. Đúng 2 giờ chiều phi cơ đáp xuống phi trường Los Angeles.

Tại phòng khách có hàng trăm người đi đón, phần đông các con cháu, dâu, rể, sui gia, thêm chiến hữu, bằng hữu và bạn tù. Bạn tù gồm có các ông Phùng Ngọc Bang, Nguyễn Văn Chước, Tôn Thất Thuyên và người viết.

Xong thủ tục nhập cảnh, giờ đoàn tụ đã đến. Mọi người đứng lên, kẻ ôm chầm, người siết chặt tay, những lời chúc mừng vang lên, những đóa hoa tươi được trao cho người đến. Tiếng cười nghe thật rộn rã. Cùng chuyến bay có nhạc sĩ Huỳnh Nhâm cùng vợ và bốn con. Anh Nhâm là bạn tù chúng tôi tại trại Kỳ Sơn, Tiên Lãnh. Dịp này sự vui mừng của chúng tôi càng tăng thêm.

Sau đó, một đoàn xe nối đuôi về nhà con ông Tố. Buổi cơm đoàn tụ bắt đầu. Thực đơn không còn cóc nhái, củ mì (sắn) độn cơm, canh “Thái Bình Dương” như những món ăn trong tù Cộng Sản. Ngày hôm ấy mới thật là vui niềm vui đoàn tụ sum vầy của một đại gia đình xa nhau qua những năm dài thống trị của Cộng Sản!

Vui buồn nơi xứ người

Tạm ổn định cuộc sống nơi xứ người, ông bà Tố lần lượt đi thăm viếng sui gia, con cái và bạn bè. Tìm hiểu cuộc sống nơi xứ người để hòa nhập được nhanh chóng.

Cuộc sống của ông bà thật êm đềm, vui thú cùng con cháu. Nhưng buồn thay, con người sống chết có mạng. Mới sang Mỹ được ba năm thì bà Tố ngã bệnh rồi mãn phần vào ngày 31-1-1995, hưởng thọ 64 tuổi. Từ đó ông Tố quá buồn, cuộc sống hàng ngày gắn liền với kinh kệ nhà Phật. Cứ mỗi Thứ Năm hàng tuần ông đều đến viếng mộ bà với một bó hoa.

Cái phước của ông là có được 13 người con gồm 7 trai và 6 gái. Cho đến nay 13 người con hiện đều định cư ở Hoa Kỳ, cộng thêm các nàng dâu và các chàng rể cùng 23 cháu nội, ngoại và 4 chắt.

Tin buồn chợt đến

Sáng ngày 27-8-2012, anh Kiểm điện thoại sớm hỏi tôi có biết tin tức gì về ông Tố không. Nghe qua tôi đâm lo vì cách đây bốn ngày tôi không còn nghe anh Tố điện thoại mỗi ngày như trước đây. Anh Kiểm cho biết anh Tố từ bệnh viện mới về, sụt ký nhiều lắm. Anh định mai đi thăm rồi hỏi tôi nếu tôi muốn đi thì anh sẽ ghé đón luôn. Tôi nói vậy mai anh cứ ghé đón tôi đi luôn.

Ba người chúng tôi gồm anh Kiểm nguyên Tiểu Khu Phó Phú Yên, anh Võ Văn Tùng nguyên Quận Trưởng Tuy Hòa và tôi đến thăm anh Tố. Anh ra tận nơi văn phòng đón chúng tôi, trên tay chống gậy, người rất tiều tụy. Vào nhà, nghe qua bệnh tình, sức khỏe, hàn huyên hơn một giờ thì chúng tôi cáo từ ra về. Trước khi về có chụp cùng nhau một tấm hình kỷ niệm. Khi đứng lên anh Tố có trao cho tôi một bì thư xem ra là anh ghi lại chương trình đón tiếp Tổng Thống Thiệu khánh thành cầu Đà Rằng năm 1971 khi anh làm Tỉnh Trưởng để giúp tôi có tài liệu viết bài “Cầu Đà Rằng”.

Đậm tình chiến hữu

Nghe tin sức khỏe ông Tố có phần mỗi ngày yếu dần, chúng tôi tám người từng phục vụ dưới quyền ông hoặc quen biết liền ghé thăm.

10 giờ sáng ngày 8-9-2012, chúng tôi đến tận tư gia thăm ông. Ông rất vui mừng tiếp đón chúng tôi. Trong chúng tôi có người bốn thập niên sau mới gặp lại ông. Câu chuyện hàn huyên với hồi tưởng xưa. Rất tiếc lần thăm này cổ họng ông đau không nói được nên ông cám ơn chúng tôi bằng chữ viết thay lời nói, tôi xin ghi lại dưới đây: “Các anh đến thăm, tôi rất cảm động và cám ơn rất nhiều”.

Tiếp đến ông nhìn tôi rồi viết tiếp ba chữ “Cầu Đà Rằng”, ý ông nhắc tôi viết bài “Cầu Đà Rằng” để gởi cho Đặc San Phú Yên. Tôi nói với ông tôi sẽ gởi trước Tết này.

Trước khi ra về tôi mời anh em chụp chung với ông một tấm hình. Ông bịn rịn bắt tay từng người thật chặt. Cái bắt tay đậm tình chiến hữu không ngờ cái bắt tay hôm ấy là lần bắt tay cuối cùng của ông cùng đám anh em chúng tôi.

Ông Tố mất rồi

Tôi đang ngủ ngon vì đêm rồi thức khuya thì 7 giờ 15 sáng ngày 22-10-2012 điện thoại reo, nghe qua máy là tiếng nói của anh Đoàn Ngọc Đa. Anh nói:
– Anh Huân. Ông Tố mất rồi!
Tôi không tin, cố hỏi lần nữa. Anh Đa tiếp:
– Ông Tố mới mất hồi 7 giờ sáng nay. Có tin gì tôi gọi tiếp cho anh.
Tôi liền gọi chú Trung con ông Tố thì Trung xác nhận:
– Ba con đã ra đi hồi 7 giờ sáng. Trước đó có đầy đủ chị em hiện ở Cali có mặt và những người ở xa đều biết qua màn ảnh.
Nghe qua tôi thật sự đau buồn rồi nói:
– Thôi chú gởi lời chia buồn cùng các chị em Trung. Xin cầu nguyện cho ông sớm về cõi Phật.
Tôi viết bài tưởng nhớ về ông Tố tuy có phần dài song nội dung chính trong tâm tôi muốn ghi lại những gì tôi đã biết về ông, mục đích:
– Tưởng nhớ lại qua những vui buồn giữa ông và tôi.
– Để con cháu ông biết thêm những sự hy sinh suốt cuộc đời người cha, người ông mình.
– Để các chiến hữu, bằng hữu thân quen ông Tố biết tin ông đã xa rời gia đình, thân quyến và bạn bè.
– Để đồng bào Việt, nhất là các thế hệ sau biết qua ông Tố một sĩ quan QLVNCH đã hy sinh cả cuộc đời cho Tổ Quốc.
Sau cùng, xin có lời chia buồn cùng các cô, chú, con ông Tố và tang quyến.
Nguyện cầu xin Đức Phật A Di Đà sớm tiếp dẫn Hương Linh ông Nguyễn Văn Tố, pháp danh Quảng Chơn, về cõi Tây Phương Cực Lạc.

Kính lời vĩnh biệt anh Tố – vĩnh biệt anh!

Westminster ngày buồn nhất.
22 tháng 10 năm 2012

Hồ Đắc Huân (gửi riêng cho Viễn Đông)





Trung Tá Quân Lực Việt Nam Cộng Hòa

Đệ Tứ Đẳng Bảo Quốc Huân Chương

(Kèm Anh Dũng Bội Tinh với Nhành Dương Liễu)

Nguyên Tỉnh Trưởng kiêm Tiểu Khu Trưởng Phú Yên

Ủy Viên Trung Ương Đại Việt Quốc Dân Đảng

Đã mãn phần lúc 7 giờ sáng ngày 22 tháng 10 năm 2012 tại Nam California Hoa Kỳ

Hưởng Thọ 83 tuổi  

Hội Đồng Lãnh Đạo Đại Việt Quốc Dân Đảng và

Toàn thể Đảng Viên trong và ngoài nước thành kính

chia buồn cùng Đại gia đình Đồng Chí.

  Nguyện Cầu Hương Linh Đồng Chí sớm vãng sanh Tịnh Độ.



Source : Dai Viet Quoc Dan

L’Elimination, de Rithy Panh – par Dyna Seng

Cette recension d’ouvrage est issue de Politique étrangère (2/2012). Dyna Seng propose une analyse de l’ouvrage de Rithy Panh (avec Christophe Bataille), L’Élimination (Paris, Grasset, 2012, 336 pages).

L’Élimination est le récit d’une confrontation entre Rithy Panh et Duch, chef tortionnaire du régime khmer rouge. Survivant du régime, R. Panh est un cinéaste franco-cambodgien connu notamment pour ses films documentaires sur le S 21, centre de détention des Khmers rouges, dans lequel au moins 12 380 prisonniers ont été torturés, interrogés puis exécutés entre 1975 et 1979.

Dans son film S 21, la machine de mort khmère rouge (2003), R. Panh avait demandé aux bourreaux du centre de refaire leurs gestes en les filmant sur les lieux mêmes de leurs actes. Mais Duch, le directeur du centre, est absent de ce film. Pour R. Panh, c’est « comme s’il manquait une pièce essentielle à l’enquête : la parole de Duch ». Il a donc demandé aux juges du tribunal khmer rouge (chambres extraordinaires au sein des tribunaux cambodgiens) l’autorisation de mener des entretiens avec Duch pour réaliser un autre film, Duch, le maître des forges de l’enfer (2011).

Dans L’Élimination, R. Panh raconte ces 300 heures de face-à-face parfois très difficile. Il trouve que Duch demeure un mystère aussi grand que le régime dont il se réclame. « Il ment souvent » : pour R. Panh, le but de cette rencontre n’était pas de chercher la vérité mais la parole. Il ne cherchait pas à comprendre Duch, ni à le juger. Il voulait « lui laisser une chance d’expliquer, dans le détail, le processus de mort dont il fut organisateur ».

À cette confrontation s’entremêle le récit personnel de l’auteur sous le régime qu’il nomme « la terreur ». En 1975, R. Panh avait 13 ans. Son père était un ancien chef de cabinet de plusieurs ministres de l’Éducation. Sa famille était destinée à devenir, sous le régime khmer rouge, le « nouveau peuple » : celui des bourgeois, des intellectuels, des propriétaires… Dès l’entrée des Khmers rouges dans Phnom Penh, le 17 avril 1975, ce « nouveau peuple » est chassé de la ville pour retrouver l’« ancien peuple », les révolutionnaires. Aux yeux de l’Angkar (« Organisation », nom de code pour le Parti communiste du Cambodge), le « nouveau peuple » était celui des oppresseurs à rééduquer dans les campagnes ou à exterminer.

En moins de quatre ans sous le règne des Khmers rouges, environ 1,7 million de personnes sont mortes de famine, de maladie, du travail forcé, de tortures ou d’exécutions. R. Panh a perdu toute sa famille en quelques semaines : son père, sa mère, son grand frère, sa sœur, ses nièces et neveux. « Tous emportés par la cruauté et la folie khmères rouges. » Il a vécu, comme tous les Cambodgiens, sous l’emprise de la peur. Il ne pensait qu’à survivre. Les derniers mots de sa mère résonnaient dans sa tête : « Il faut marcher dans la vie, Rithy. Quoi qu’il arrive, tu dois marcher. » Il est allé au-delà du testament maternel. Il a survécu et, malgré « le chagrin sans fin » qu’il garde en lui, il a le courage de transmettre son histoire, aussi douloureuse soit-elle.

Le récit personnel de R. Panh est terrifiant mais les dernières pages de L’Élimination sont remplies d’une conclusion optimiste : « J’ai affronté cette histoire avec l’idée que l’homme n’est pas foncièrement mauvais. » Le film Duch, le maître des forges de l’enfer et L’Éliminationsont complémentaires. Dans l’un, c’est le bourreau qui parle. Dans l’autre, la parole est à R. Panh, la victime. C’est un travail de mémoire indispensable pour lutter contre l’oubli, contre le silence.

Dyna Seng

Source : Politique Etrangère

Nguyễn Chí Thiện’s life in his own words [2005]

Nguyen Chi Thien at The Gates of Hell
(Stanford University, California)

Autobiography of Nguyễn Chí Thiện

I was born in Hanoi on February 27, 1939.  My natal village is My-Tho in the district of Binh-Luc, Ha-Nam Province, North Vietnam.  My father, Nguyen-Cong Phung, was born in 1898.  He died in 1976.  Before 1954, he was a low-ranking official of the Hanoi Tribunal.  My mother, Nguyen-Thi-Yen, was born in 1900.  She died in 1970.  She was a little merchant.

I have two sisters:  Nguyen-Thi-Hoan, who was born in 1923 and Nguyen-Thi-Hao who was born in 1925.  Nguyen-Thi-Hao died in Hanoi in November, 2004.  Nguyen-Thi-Hoan lives in Hanoi with her family.

When my parents died I was in a concentration camp called Phong-Quang in Lao-Cai Province.  Once my sister Hao visited me there at the request of my mother before her death.  My sister’s visit for the purpose of telling me of the death of my mother was the only family visit that I received while imprisoned for fifteen years.  This was not due to callous disregard on the part of my family; it was due to deliberate constant changes of prisons and camps by the regime.  Because I was not imprisoned with trials, they did not know where I was.  They had to hear from released prisoners where I had been, but I would be likely to be moved by that time.  Political prisoners were shuffled regularly by jailors so they would not form associations for rebellion or escape.

My brother is Nguyen-Cong-Gian; he was born in 1932.  He was a lieutenant-colonel in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam and, like all other officers, was imprisoned in a re-education camp after the communist victory in 1975.  His term was for thirteen years (1975-1988).  He and his family came to the U.S.A. under the Humanitarian Operation (H.O.) Program, a joint agreement between the U.S. and Vietnam allowing political asylum for military officers of ARVN who had been imprisoned in Vietnam for more than three years.  My brother and his family came to the U.S. in 1993, and have lived in Virginia since then.  Because the times of both of our imprisonments and surveillance in our homeland did not allow us to meet, I did not see my brother Gian from the time of our youth until I arrived in the U.S.A. on November 1, 1995, a period of forty-one years.  He and his family met me at the Dulles Airport.

My family was poor, but my parents did their best to give their sons and daughters a good education.  It was beneficial to be the youngest in the family because the older ones helped me to learn.  For example, my sister Hao taught me the French language at age six just as she had been taught in the colonial French schools.  This longtime use with the language may be the basis for my interest in French novels and poetry as relaxation.  My brother Gian was always studious and serious, whereas I was more interested in boxing and swimming as a youth.

During the Resistance against the French Army, which broke out on December 19, 1946, my family moved to My-Tho, our natal village, fifty miles from Hanoi. We lived in the home of a nephew of my father.  This was because Hanoi was a battlefield in the war between France and Vietnam and we were fleeing danger.  Everyone in Hanoi went to the countryside of the many regions of their births at this time.

At the end of 1949, my family came back to Hanoi, which  was then occupied by the French Army.  From 1949 to 1956 I went to high school at Nguyen Hue, Minh-Tan, Van Lang, Albert Sarraut, and Khai-Thanh.  These were private schools as was common in North Vietnam at that time.  After 1950 both boys and girls went to the same schools, but were so timid that we almost never talked to each other.

My sisters had married before 1945 and lived in Hanoi.  When necessary we lived at the home of my elder sister, Nguyen-Thi-Hoan, and her husband and children.

On March 9, 1945, when France had been liberated from Germany by the Allied Army, the Japanese made a coup d’etat on only one night and imprisoned the French governor of Vietnam and the French Army.  In the void following the Japanese surrender to the Allied Powers in August, 1945, there was a genuine revolution in my homeland.  This revolution was bloodless; it was the people taking care of themselves.  However it was soon co-opted by the communists with the assistance of the Soviet Union.  This was the establishment of the Viet Minh and return of Ho Chi Minh.  The nationalist leaders and many supporters of this Vietnamese revolution were soon imprisoned or killed by the communists.

After the Geneva Accords of July 20, 1954, nearly one million people left the North for the South, fleeing communism.  My parents decided to stay in Hanoi, believing that the Vietnamese  communists were patriots; they had led the people in the fight  against French domination, for national independence.  Moreover, their doctrine supported the poor.

That naivete would have disastrous consequences.  My brother, who had been mobilized in the National Army (quan doi quoc gia) in 1954 was the only one who went to the South, by traveling with the Army.  Later, he was a lieutenant-colonel.  After the fall of Saigon, he was put in a re-education camp in North Vietnam for thirteen years.  During the war he married a lady from Saigon.

I remember the 10th of October, 1954, as if it were yesterday.  That was the day Ho Chi Minh and his Party returned to Hanoi.  Like everyone my friends and I went out on the streets to welcome him.  Our hearts were full of joyous enthusiasm, thinking the red banner with a golden star would brighten our fatherland!  At that time, I used to invite some Viet Minh soldiers, victors of Dien-Bien-Phu, to my home for dinner, admiring them as true heroes.

My foolish exuberance, like everyone’s, soon vanished.  Perfidy and violence had started their way—trampling down all basic human rights, executing and imprisoning hundreds of thousands of innocent people.  Under the totalitarian yoke, the whole country turned into a huge prison.  All liberties were pitilessly destroyed.  No one could let out one peep against Ho Chi Minh.  The Party had gagged the people’s mouths. A terrifying atmosphere pervaded the entire population.  French colonialists began to be sorely missed!  Compared with Uncle Ho’s socialist regime, the French colonial domination was PARADISE!

Under Ho Chi Minh’s regime, everyone was poor, and did not have enough to eat.  However, this made me strong enough to withstand the starvation in the communist prisons, as well as other Vietnamese prisoners who were accustomed to a small diet and are not large people.  By contrast, when the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu and 10,000 soldiers captured and imprisoned, two-thirds of them died with a few months because of privation as well as torture by the Viet Minh using well-known communist methods.

The social changes of the communists began to take effect beginning in 1950, and were firmly in place by 1959.  This is the period of my teenage years.  My parents quickly began to feel they had made a mistake in not choosing to go South when they had the opportunity in 1954 and 1955.

In 1956, at the age of seventeen, I contracted tuberculosis.  Unable to work, I lived a parasitic life.  My elderly parents had to nourish me.  In the beginning of 1957, my parents and I moved to Haiphong, a harbor town seventy miles from Hanoi.  They had to sell our home in Hanoi in order to pay for my treatment, because antibiotics were very expensive.  We lived with the family of my elder sister, at 136 Station Street.

Although I said and did nothing against the Party, I had much trouble with Security Forces.  The authorities regarded me as “a discontented element” because my brother was in the quan doi quoc gia VN, the National Army.

In December, 1960, a high school history teacher who was one of my friends asked me to assume his task for two hours because he was ill.  The required textbook was Cach Mang Thang Tam 1945 (History of the August Revolution), which was published by the Su That Publishing House in Hanoi.  The textbook falsely stated that the Japanese surrender in World War II was to the Soviet Army’s victory over the Japanese armed forces in Manchuria.  I explained to my students that Japan had surrendered to the Allies because of the two atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the U.S.A.

About two months later I was arrested, accused of “Anti-propaganda,” and condemned to two years in prison.  In reality, I had to live three years and six months in labor camps in Phu-Tho Province and Yen-Bai Province.  Although labor was hard in these camps, I was still young.  Prisoners could talk to one another on our way to and from work, which was primarily agricultural, growing vegetables.  About ten of us enjoyed gathering in the yard at dusk to secretly read poetry and discuss literature.  This was necessarily secret because the guards would break up groups, especially those who met regularly.

During those years in detention, I created about 100 poems on the subjects of the prison scene and anticommunism.  When I was released in 1964, I continued to write poetry and recite it to my closest friends who went on reciting it to others, in Haiphong and Hanoi.  We did not have much money so we met in parks, on benches, in the evening.  My job at this time was to do bricklaying, especially the carrying of bricks in a basket across my shoulders.  The duty of reporting on others, even your own parents or husbands, to the cadres is a norm under the communist reign.  Whenever anyone would pass by when we were reading or discussing poetry and politics we would change the subject until they were out of hearing range.

My friends and I rejoiced that the Americans had entered the war on the side of South Vietnam and were bombing Haiphong.  We were given careful surveillance by Security Forces at all times because we were suspected of being saboteurs; however the only sabotage that we undertook was that of keeping our minds free of the demands of communism.  All over North Vietnam, it was  required of everyone to glorify the regime, especially in schools.  If not, and the student remained silent, that student would be reported to the Party.  Many friends of mine were put in prison because of their mouths.

My parents always loved me and made me feel that I had not done wrong in not adopting the ways and habits of the communists.  They blamed themselves for my prison life.  If they had only gone South along with my brother, they felt we would have a happy life.  We wanted South Vietnam to invade North Vietnam and take over the Communist government, and felt the American bombing was not enough to end the war, let alone to remove the regime.

In February of 1966 I was arrested again.  The Security Forces suspected that I was the author of the poems that were transmitted from mouth to mouth in Haiphong and Hanoi.  When interrogated, I denied it, saying that I knew nothing about these “reactionary poems.”  Without receiving a trial, I was sent to the concentration camps in Phu-Tho, Yen-Bai, and Lao-Cai Provinces.

I never think that I am talented, but that I was able to write poems that affected people because of inspiration, or a sacred fire that was inside me.  My vitality of life was put into creating poems even if I was in stocks or irons.  I used to work on poems at night, because in the daytime it was too noisy.  They took several nights  to write, and memorize, and revise the words carefully, before completion.  If a poem was not good, I would throw it out of my mind with the same method.

First I would consider the necessary rhythm of the poem.  Then I would place the words, the verses, and memorize them.  The following night I would repeat them and revise them and commit them to memory.  Then I would recite them to my friends in prison camp who were also poets when we gathered after work in the evening.  We would help each other.

It was at the Phong Quang camp, in Lao Cai Province, that I gained my closest friendship in life, the poet Phung Cung.  Because writing on paper was not allowed, everyone had ways to meter the verses.  Phung Cung would use his fingers to count.  He would do this with such concentration that other prisoners and jailers thought he was crazy.  But he was not, he was simply counting words.  I did not use body methods, even reciting aloud, just my memory.  Most of my poems (about 300) were created during the second period of imprisonment, eleven years between 1966 and 1977.   These are the years of my twenties and thirties.

In July, 1977, (two years after the surrender of South Vietnam) a dozen prisoners and I were temporarily liberated, making room for the increasing number of prisoners who arrived from the South.  These dozen included friends and fellow-writers who had come to know each other at the Phong-Quang concentration camp where I had been taken in 1970.

Returning to my elder sister, Mrs. Nguyen-Thi Hoan, and her family, I lived at their home at number 136 Station Street in Haiphong.  I was dismayed to find the house also occupied by ten families crammed into the house.  Those were families of cadres and party members, of the bloc leader and also of the police officer of this ward by the name of Thanh. The ward police, the district police, the city police often came to “inquire about my health”. Under those circumstances, I did not dare to shut myself in my room of 8 m2 to write. I often rode my bicycle – its brand was a bear but it was so rickety that even a thief would not want to steal it – to an outer suburb to buy a few litres of rice brandy to sell to the dog meat stalls. When the moonshine business was busted, I went to Hanoi. Vu Thu Hien helped me find a job delivering baking flour. Mr. Trinh, a former lieutenant in the National Army, gave me a few sets of bicycle spokes, which I took to Haiphong to sell. That’s how I managed to scrape through.  Friends were so preoccupied with survival that they rarely met each other.

Denied any form of employment, I made both ends meet with difficulty.  People under the Communist regime always had very little food because of the policy of exporting rice grown in the conquered South Vietnam provinces to other Communist regimes instead of feeding our own people.  I often went to bed with an empty stomach even when not in prison.  My mother, before she died in 1970, had bought me clothes to wear when I should be released from prison.  I had to sell these clothes to buy 8 kilograms (about 19 pounds) of rice to survive.

When Red China invaded the six border provinces, security forces tormented me ceaselessly.  Afraid of being unable to survive if jailed a third time, I made up my mind to send my poems abroad.  These poems were the first twenty years of my work.  It was impossible to let them be buried with me!  I went to Hanoi, deciding to run into the French or British Embassy.  It took me  three days to write four hundred poems from my memory on papers.  So, on July 16th, 1979, I put my manuscript under my shirt and went to the British Embassy on Ly-Thuong-Kiet Street.

I found my way into the Embassy, passing the guard.  One Vietnamese woman and three Vietnamese men were sitting around a table in a large room.  They were civil servants hired by the British to be a local reception office for the Embassy.  I told them that I came to see the Ambassador.

“Where are you from?” one of them asked.  “From the foreign office,” I answered.  They demanded the required paper.  I told them I had forgotten to carry it.  With that, I rushed to the door at the other side of the room.  The woman stood up and grasped me.  I pushed her down.  Two men barred my way into the room.  The third Vietnamese man went out to warn the police.

There was a young English girl combing her hair in a boudoir without a door on my right side.  I said to her quickly in English: “I need to meet the Ambassador.  Don’t fear, I am an honest man.”  But she was so frightened that she dropped her comb.  The two men chased me.  I ran to the table and lifted it up, making everything on the table fall to the floor.  Hearing the noise, three English diplomats came out.  One Vietnamese man said that I was a madman.  I said to the three Englishmen that I was not crazy, and I had important documents to give them.  I immediately ran in the back door.  The Englishmen followed me, closing the door.

I handed them my manuscript and told them about my prison life and the sufferings of my oppressed people under the  communist totalitarian yoke.  I begged them to have my poems published in their free country.  Finally, I asked whether I could stay in the Embassy.  They replied that I could not because the police were waiting for me outside.  They promised solemnly that they would arrange for my poems to be published.

Satisfied, I gave them three photos.  One was taken in 1958 with my parents and my niece and nephew; one was taken in the same year when I was nineteen years old, and the third one was taken in 1978, when I was thirty-nine.  I shook hands with them, said good-bye, and left the Embassy.  The Security Forces of the Socialist government of Vietnam arrested me in front of the British Embassy, and drove me to Hoa-Lo prison, which had been ironically called the “Hanoi Hilton” by U.S. pilots who had been shot down by Russian SAM missiles when bombing or flying reconnaissance over North Vietnam from 1967 until 1973.  The original handwritten manuscripts are in the protective custody of the British government in London.  They will be returned when Vietnam is free.

The Hoa Lo prison is the setting of my short stories which are based on real situations and people I knew when I was there for six years.  The first three years I was in a solitary cell, in darkness.  The second three years I was with common criminals.  Sometimes women were in cells nearby, but mostly prisoners were gender-separated in large rooms containing about 200 people each.  I was able to communicate with women when in cells, and especially enjoyed hearing them sing folk songs that I remembered from my youth.  I was in cell #14.  We would communicate with each other when the jailers were not there by yelling back and forth and by a system of “driving” items such as toothbrushes and other goods for trade by strings thrown to the next cell.  Each person was honor-bound to deliver the item to the cell of its intended recipient and not break the chain.

I survived the terrible ordeal of prison conditions because my companions in the Hoa Lo prison, even common criminals, admired my resistance to the communist authority.  They protected me as much as they could by giving up some of their small space to lie down so that I did not have to always sleep on my side.

In 1985 I was transferred from Hoa-Lo prison to B14, in Thanh-Liet village, eight miles from Hanoi.  I was living there in cells where Mr. Vo Dai Ton, a fighter for democracy, was living.  Other political prisoners at B14 included Hoang-Minh Chinh, Duong-Thu-Huong, Ha-Si-Phu, and Nguyen-Thanh-Giang. My health deteriorated badly due to more solitary confinement and malnutrition.  The interior fire of creation went out, and after 1988 I composed no more poems because I could not concentrate.

In the ten-year period between 1977 and 1988 I created 400 poems.  However, I forgot 100 of them when I was reciting them to myself after my release in 1991.  I spent one year after my release to call back to my memory the 300 poems that I would write down on paper on a single day after I came to the United States, November 1, 1995.

In 1988 I was transferred to Z10 in Ninh Binh Province, seventy miles from Hanoi, where a communist general named Chu-Van Tan’s several relatives were also jailed.  This was a segregated prison for Chinese supporters suspected to be spies.

Although isolated from society, I always found ways to communicate and get news from the newly arrested prisoners.  That is how I learned the events of the war as they unfolded.  Sometimes new prisoners were Communist Party members who had the courage to criticize their superiors.

Thanks to the collapse of the socialist regimes in Eastern Europe and the pressure of the Vietnamese Diaspora to call my situation to the attention of international opinion, I was released in October, 1991, after more than twelve years of imprisonment in my third period of being jailed without trial.  Eight of those years were in solitary confinement, and in very dim light.  When I was released I weighed only eighty pounds; today I weigh 139 pounds.

After my release from the third period of imprisonment, which I did not expect to survive, I knew that my poems had been published as promised by the Englishmen, first in October, 1980.  I learned this in prison when angry officials showed me a book and asked if they were mine.  I said that I was the author.  I was very happy because I had attained my goal.  They were submitted to an international poetry competition and awarded the International Poetry Award in Rotterdam in the year 1985.

All unknown to me, they were translated into several languages:  English, French, German, Dutch, Chinese, Spanish, Czech, and Korean.  The English translation by Huynh Sanh Thong was published as the first volume in the Lac Viet Series by the Council on Southeast Asia Studies at Yale University in that same year as Flowers From Hell.  In 1988 they were translated into German by Dr. Bui Hanh Nghi and published as Echo Aus Dem Abgrund, Tieng Vong Tu Day Vuc by R.G. Fischer Verlag with an introduction by the musician Peter Gabriel.  The Vietnamese musician Pham Duy who had found refuge in America set many to music as “Prison Songs” and performed them around the world.

All of this was unknown to me while I was in solitary confinement in my homeland for creating these verses with the rhymes and rhythms of freedom and resistance to tyranny.  My whereabouts and my condition, whether alive or dead, was unknown to the translators and publishers.  However, people all over the world were watching and I was given the “Freedom to Write” award in 1988.  Perhaps it was for this reason they did not kill me.

The last three years of my imprisonment, 1988 to 1991, saw annual changes in my location.  In my struggle for survival, it no longer mattered to me where I was.  The numbered camps, B14 and Z10, were for people considered dangerous.  In 1990 I was transferred to Ba Sao camp, in Ha Nam Province, very near to my natal village.  This was a transition for my return to the outside world in 1991.

From 1991 to 1995 I was living in Hanoi with my second sister’s Hao’s family at 65 Nguyen-Cong-Tru Street, under strict surveillance.  Everyone who came to see me was later threatened by the police.  After diplomatic normalization between the U.S.A. and Viet-Nam I was allowed asylum in the U.S.A. under the Humanitarian Operation program.  This was due to the efforts of humanitarian organizations and especially efforts of a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who lives in California, Noboru Masuoka.

The story of Col. Masuoka’s concern is an interesting one.  He was the admissions officer of the Air Force Academy in Colorado.  His own history includes incarceration at Heart Mountain, Wyoming, concentration camp in the United States during World War II.  All persons of Japanese descent, citizens or not, were moved from their homes and their land confiscated.  When “Nobby” met young Vietnamese students who had qualified for admission to the Air Force Academy, they told him of their South Vietnamese Army officer fathers who were still imprisoned in Vietnam.  He was able to arrange the release of two officers and their emigration to America.

When asked by a television reporter in San Jose if he could aid a poet to leave the country who had never been a military or civilian official it was a challenge.  But he worked with humanitarian organizations and government officials in Washington D.C. to get my release to improve my health.  This release finally came on November 1, 1995.  Upon my arrival I was asked to address the Congress of the United States, which I did in English, from my speech translated by Nguyen Ngoc Bich.  It has since been translated into French.  I also addressed the Parliament and the President of France, Jacques Chirac, in the year 2000.

During the last twelve-year period of detention I created about 300 poems.  I had to keep them in my head.  When arriving in the U.S.A. I hurried to write them on paper, fearing that the poems would leave my mind.  The new poems were translated by Nguyen Ngoc Bich, a scholar who has written and published extensively on Vietnamese history and culture.  He has been overseas for nearly forty years and his English is very good.  I had the poems published in 1996.

I lived with my brother Gian’s family in Herndon, Virginia, until 1998, when I went to France at the invitation of the International Parliament of Writers.  During three years in France (1998 – 2001) I wrote six stories of life in Hoa-Lo prison, where I had been incarcerated following my arrest outside the British Embassy in Hanoi from 1979 until 1985.  These stories were not fiction; they were based on real experiences.  Many incidents are of my own life in prison.

They were published in Vietnamese by Canh Nam publishers in Arlington, Virginia, in 2001.  They have been translated into English by several friends who volunteered their energy and skills and I am seeking their publication in America.

In 2001 I moved to southern California, to live in the warm weather and the largest population of Vietnamese Diaspora in America.  California’s climate and associations with friends has improved my health.  I live as a lodger in a Vietnamese family home.  I learned English and became a citizen of the U.S.A. on October 20, 2004.  I give lectures and readings especially to remember the people imprisoned with me and those who are still imprisoned.  I intend to write a very thorough and lengthy memoir in my original language, Vietnamese.

During my twenty-seven years of imprisonment, with no books or magazines to read, I devoted all my spare time (especially at night) to create my poems, learning them by heart.  It would have been too risky, too dangerous to write them on paper.  For me poetry was no luxury, it was the cruel realities of life of war and prison, the sound of sobbing of my oppressed and mercilessly tortured compatriots.  It was the memory of my parents, who are always in my mind, and their love and sacrifice for their children, especially their youngest who was born to them so late in their lives and caused them such tribulation.  It was not hate, but hope that kept me alive.  It was the remembered sights and sounds of the street vendors and lovely girls, the coffee shop of my youthful friends wasting time in a careless way that became the hope of my miserable life.  It was the remembered sights of sunset and dawn and the landscape of my homeland, sometimes only seen while laboring in the dreary concentration camps but always beautiful in the darkness of my solitary cell and unshackled imagination.

Yet the solitude continues as I am away from so many friends in my homeland, and grows deeper as they grow old and pass away. Since living in the United States, I often make telephone calls to inquire about my family, my friends. In January, 1997, on a Saturday evening, my friends gathered at the home of Captain Kieu Duy Vinh waiting for my phone call.  Right at the beginning of our conversation, Le Quang Dung, the poet, told me that the poet Phung Cung, who had lived with me in prison where we had made life bearable for each other had just passed away on Friday at his home, after two weeks of severe illness. My friends were about to go to his funeral. I was thunderstruck and heartbroken. So he had gone forever and I would never have the chance of seeing him again, of watching his pensive look, of drinking a cup of tea with him and listening to his poetry.

Death is inevitable, but still I could not help feeling an excruciating sense of loss and I wept! That night, I lay down, my face against the wall. I remembered the months and years we were together. I recalled the day we met for the first time at Phong Quang, on a sombre winter day when he was standing before a red pepper plant, gazing at the leaden grey sky with an equally leaden look on his face. Then, on the day when I said good-bye to him to leave for Saigon on my way to the United States, he had held my hands not wanting to let go, his eyes brimming with tears.  Very early in the morning, drifting into a doze, I dreamed of the stars, the azure blue sails flying with the wind on the Milky Way, taking his soul to the Merciful Almighty!  One day, when returning to Vietnam, there will be nothing I can do but to stand in silence before a cattle-trodden mound at the end of a hamlet, where his body has been laid to rest.

I have always thought it was a miracle and destiny that I could survive.  Many friends of mine, much healthier and stronger than I, died from hunger, cold, and hard labor.  Graves are everywhere on the hills around the camps.  Over one million people have left our homeland for Europe, Australia, and America.  At least half that number additionally have died in the attempt to escape from the communist regime.

My dearest wish was, is, and will be to see everyone wake up to the fact that Communism is a great catastrophe of mankind, as people have awakened to the Nazi scourge.

Autobiography © 2005 Nguyen Chi Thien, author and Jean Libby, editor


Contributor’s Note: Jean Libby

Jean Libby prepared the Autobiography with Nguyen Chi Thien.  She is a social activist from the 1960s civil rights movement, when she edited periodicals for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE, 1963 – 1965), and the Palo Alto-Stanford NAACP (1966 – 1969).  Jean later graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, with a degree in Social Science (1986). She also holds an A.A. degree in Professional Photography, and an M.A. in Ethnic Studies from San Francisco State University (1991).  She went on to teach courses on U.S. History and Ethnic Studies at community colleges in northern California.  She retired from active teaching in early 2005, and now works with textbook publishers on curriculum materials and VietCommunications, Inc. to examine reconnection between the generations of Vietnamese Americans.

In 2003 a statewide petitioners group organized a protest of the firing of the only Vietnamese American staff member at the Oakland Museum of California, which was preparing an exhibit “California and the Vietnam Era.”  Jean Libby became one of the Southeast Asian Community Advisory Committee to the Oakland Museum.   Jean Libby organized a seminar, “Vietnamese American Achievement in California Textbooks” at the request of community groups in October 2004, inviting the dissident poet Nguyen Chi Thien to be the keynote speaker.  Since then Jean has worked with Thien on his Autobiography and to arrange lecture/readings around the country.

Source : Viet Nam Literature Project

Nguyễn Chí Thiện (1939-2012) : L’auteur des “Fleurs de l’enfer” s’en est allé

Nguyen Chi Thien, l’auteur des Fleurs de l’enfer est décédé le 2 octobre à l’âge de 73 ans en Californie. Pour son attitude critique vis-à-vis du régime, il passa 27 ans de sa vie dans les geôles du Viêt Nam communiste. A l’occasion de sa disparition, Mémoires d’Indochine reproduit ci-après sa fiche biographique parue dans The Viet Nam Literature Project. Composés de mémoire pendant les différentes périodes d’incarcérations de Nguyen Chi Thien entre 1960 et 1991, les poésies du receuil les Fleurs de l’enfer ont été traduites en langue anglaise et éditées à plusieurs reprises. Elles furent interprétées au Théâtre du Ranelagh à Paris en 1987 par Stanislas de la Tousche et Katharina Wittkowska. Une façon pour les éditions Đường Mới La voie nouvelle de rendre hommage au poète contestataire alors qu’il était encore emprisonné au Viêt-Nam.



Nguyen Chi Thien

There is nothing beautiful about my poetry
It’s like highway robbery, oppression, TB blood cough
There is nothing noble about my poetry
It’s like death, perspiration, and rifle butts
My poetry is made up of horrible images
Like the Party, the Youth Union, our leaders, the Central Committee
My poetry is somewhat weak in imagination
Being true like jail, hunger, suffering
My poetry is simply for common folks
To read and see through the red demons’ black hearts

1975 – from Flowers of Hell by Nguyen Chi Thien translated by Nguyen Ngoc Bich

Nguyen Chi Thien was born in 1939 in Ha Noi.  His father worked as an official in the municipal court and his mother sold small necessities in the neighborhood.  At the end of 1946, when the war between France and Vietnam broke out, his family fled to their native village in the countryside.

The family returned to a more stable Ha Noi in 1949 and Thien started school in private academies. After the defeat of the French in 1954 he cheered the Viet Minh revolutionaries as they also returned to the city, proud to invite soldiers home to supper.

The drama of Nguyen Chi Thien’s life begins in Haiphong, the strongly Communist port city of northern Viet Nam.  When Thien contracted tuberculosis in 1956 his parents sold their house for money to treat their son and moved with him near his sister and her family there.

The authorities already held Thien in suspicion, because his brother had joined the National Army moving to South Vietnam.  One day in December, 1960 Thien unwittingly stepped over the line while covering the high school class of a sick friend.

Thien noticed the history textbook taught that the Soviet Union had defeated the Imperial Army of Japan in Manchuria, bringing an end to World War II.  Oh no, he told his students, the United States defeated Japan when they dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Nguyen Chi Thien paid for this remark with three years and six months in labor camps, on a sentence of two years.  He met other literary men in jail, composed poems in his head and learned them by heart.  In 1966 he was returned to prison after a short release.

This time the police charged him with composing politically irreverent poems that circulated in Ha Noi and Hai Phong.  He denied it, and spent another eleven years and five months in labor camps.

Authorities never brought him to trial, for lack of evidence, but they had the right man.  The tubercular youth had become an outlaw whose every step and breath counted the beat of verses, poetry against oppression.

In 1977, two years after Saigon fell, Thien and other political prisoners were released to make room for officers of the Republic of Viet Nam.   He had been composing poems all the while, and now seized the opportunity of freedom to write them down and bring his art to the world.

Two days after Bastille Day, on July 16, 1979, Thien dashed into the British Embassy at Ha Noi with his manuscript of four hundred poems.  He had prepared a cover letter in French, but the embassy of France was too closely guarded.

British diplomats welcomed him and promised to send his manuscript out of the country. When he got out of the Embassy, security agents waited for him at the gate.  Dragged to Hoa Lo prison, the famous Ha Noi Hilton now empty of US flyers, he spent another twelve years in jail and prison camps, often in stocks in solitary darkness.

It came to a total of twenty-seven years’ imprisonment.  But meanwhile, the British diplomats kept their word.  Nguyen Chi Thien’s manuscript collection Flowers of Hell appeared in Vietnamese in two separate editions overseas.

Nguyen Chi Thien had the great satisfaction of seeing a copy of his book waved in his face by his angry captors.  He didn’t know that his poems also were translated into English, French, German, Dutch, Chinese, Spanish, and Korean.  They were set to music by the great Pham Duy and sung around the world.

While their author lay in irons, Thien’s poems won the International Poetry Award in Rotterdam in 1985.  Six years later the poet was released from jail, as the socialist world collapsed in 1991.  He lived in Ha Noi under close watch by the authorities, but his international following also kept an eye on Thien.

Human Rights Watch honored him in 1995.  That year he emigrated to the United States, due to the intervention of Noburo Masuoka, retired Air Force colonel, a career military officer who was drafted into the U.S. Army from an internment camp for Japanese Americans in 1945.

After the normalization of relations with Viet Nam, Masuoka was able to arrange special asylum for the poet in the United States.  Thien went to Virginia, the home of his brother, Nguyen Cong Gian, whom he had not seen for forty-one years.

Gian himself had lived America only since 1993.  A lieutenant colonel in the Army of the Republic of Viet Nam, he had been taken to a re-education camp in the North right after the fall of Saigon in 1975, to remain for thirteen years.

As if released from prison once more, Thien wrote down another book’s worth of poems from memory.  The three hundred Vietnamese poems and some select English translations were published in 1996.

In 1998, The International Parliament of Writers awarded Nguyen Chi Thien a three-year fellowship in France.  He lectured around Europe while he wrote and published a collection of short stories, rooted in the reality of his years in Hoa Lo prison.

Nguyen Chi Thien returned from France to Orange County, California, where he took the oath of American citizenship in 2004.  He continues to improve his health and speaks regularly on humanitarian issues of interest to the Vietnamese community.

Source : Fiche Nguyen Chi Thien sur VNLP


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En 1987, Stanislas de la Tousche et Katharina Wittkowska interprétaient une sélection de poèmes des Fleurs de l’Enfer traduits par Jean Maïs et Bui Xuan Quang.

Voir aussi l’article que lui a consacré Radio Free Asia : Defiant Vietnamese Poet Dies