Tiger cages

Saturday - 16/07/2022 19:08
Since 1862, the French had used Con Dao as a place to imprison indigenous people who were anti-Government. In 1910, France began to build the first solid prison on Con Son Island. In 1955, Major Aloise Blank handed over Con Dao prison to the Saigon regime, ending nearly a century of barbaric crimes of the French colonialists. Not until the period under the U.S imperialism was this place developed into "Con Son Correctional Center" with 10 prisons and 2 Tiger Cages to brutally torture and kill prisoners
According to Tom Harkin, the reason that it was called the Tiger Cage is because "each cell of the prison is built with bars on the top. The warden will go along the corridor above the cells to control and monitor the prisoners kept in the cell below,  which is the same as keeping animals. Standing on the iron bars, the guards were always ready to use long sticks to beat the prisoners from above. On the top of each cell, there was a bucket of water and a bucket of lime. When the prisoners were thirsty, they poured the water down. If the prisoners were against them, they  sprinkle lime powder on the prisoners which made their eyes hurt.”
chuồng cọp

 The tiger cage was built by the French in 1940, with a total area of 5,475 m², the prison area of 1,408 m, the sunlit rooms area of 1,873 m, and empty space of  2,194 m². There were 120 solitary confinement rooms (divided into 2 zones, 60  rooms each). 

The tiger cage built by the US and the Republic of Vietnam in 1971, which is also known as Camp 7 or Phu Binh camp, has a total area of 25,768 m². The cells area is 3,800 m2, the dependent house is 673 m², the living house is 173 m², and the empty space is 22,369 m². Phu Binh camp has 384 solitary confinement rooms  (divided into 4 zones: AB-CD-EF-GH, each zone has 2 rows, and each row has  48 rooms).   
Chuồng Cọp Côn Đảo: Địa ngục trần gian

The American Tiger Cages were built at a cost of up to 400,000 USD105, which was implemented by American companies. In 1970, the US Navy Department signed a contract with the Companies of Raymond, Morrison, Knutson - Brown  Root and Jones to build 384 new Tiger Cages, smaller than the old ones.  Paradoxically, the money to build these new Tiger Cages comes from the program  U.S. Food for Peace. The Tiger Cages area with 1.5 x 2.7m cells. In the hot season,  there were 5-12 prisoners in each room, and in the cold season, there were only  1-2 people. All daily activities such as eating, drinking, bathing and urinating were limited within that cell. The health of prisoners got worse very quickly when they stayed in these solitary confinement rooms”.   
Chuồng Cọp Côn Đảo

Tiger cages were usually built in a secluded place, separated from other prisons by many walls and located far away from the normal life outside. In a cramped room with the size of 1.5m x 2.7m, each prisoner was only given an area about two extended hand length to lie down and live, the legs were cuffed to an iron rod and pulled up high (both days and nights, when they were eating, drinking,  bathing…). The Tiger Cage only had a small door which was closed all day, above it, there were horizontal and vertical iron bars. There was also a small path above the cells for the wardens to observe the prisoners. 

In the Tiger Cage, the prisoners were treated with extreme brutality. They had  meals twice a day at around 8am and 2pm, and water was given only twice a day at the same time with meals. The prisoners were rationed to rice, salted fish and stock fish. Moreover, prisoners had to "eat watery rice with rotten salted fish  having maggots and bitter and rotten stockfish. The dishes and chopsticks were  kept in a dusty bucket, which was licked by the dogs before the prisoners used  them for their meals”. When bathing, one prisoner used his amount of water together with the water of other four prisoners in the cell. Therefore, each prisoner  took turns to bathe once every five days. The water must also be reused three or four times: the "first time” water was used for bathing the head, the "second time"  water was for hands and feet. As a result, the "last" water turned to completely black. "This water was further used for washing clothes". 107During the year,  prisoners were not allowed to eat vegetables, so their teeth were severely damaged.  The prisoners had to eat "la cau" (leaves that were given for prisoners to use when they go to the toilet) or look for beetles (such as Holotrichia sauteri), stink bugs,  crickets. … which fell into the prison from outside. As a result, the prisoner's health got worse rapidly. 

In addition to starvation, prisoners of the Tiger Cage also received harshest  tortures. The force suppressing prisoners was the "nguoi tu trat tu108" (which means warden). They used brutal forms of torture such as using iron rods to hit the prisoners' pressure points, using American F8 iron cuffs with sharp teeth to shackle prisoners. Every time they moved, their legs were stabbed by the sharp teeth of the cuffs, which made the prisoners in agony. For a long time, the teeth cut deep into the prisoner's leg, which was a torture whenever they turn their body to lie on one side or on their back. This was also the place where the US  imperialists used the most malicious conspiracy tricks compared to those in other camps. They poured dirty water, lime powder, and starved the prisoners. The prisoners were shackled individually or as a group... The Tiger Cage - like a place for “smelting” people, became the terror of Con Dao prisoners. Therefore, the  prisoners also called the Tiger Cages the real " sheaths of areca trees ". Because when people were kept here, their skin color turned from bright to dark, the enemy used the most brutal methods to force the prisoners to tell them the secrets, which were against their conscience. 

The Tiger Cage is considered a prison located inside another prison because it is located between two prison rows, each row has its own gate, so only normal cells can be seen. Here, the French and the U.S. authorities detained main political prisoners who were resilient Communist soldiers. Prisoners in the Tiger Cage never felt at ease. They were always observed and controlled and beaten at any time. The warden bet them daily from the morning till the evening. The prisoners were beaten when they went to clean the toilet, had lunch. When the wardens got drunk, they tortured the prisoners to relieve their stress. When they got promoted,  they bet the prisoners to celebrate. When they were rebuked by their managers,  they bet them for revenge. They caused the health of the prisoners to become worse by beating them. If there was anyone with good health, they would torture the prisoners with good health to make them exhausted and cause the ones who  were sick to die. The barbaric beating of the wardens on the night of March 27,  1961, at the Tiger Cage caused 5 people to die on the spot. They were Ngo Den,  Pham Thanh Trung, Hoang Chat, Nguyen Cong Toc, Cao Van Ngoc; Mr. Hoang  Son was dying and died the next day, Mr. Nguyen Van Dinh was severely injured and died 16 days later. Mr. Huynh Van had 11 ribs and 2 collarbones broken; Mr.  Phan Trong Binh had 2 ribs broken and 3 vertebrae damaged. 

The U.S. imperialists stopped at nothing to abuse and torture the prisoners. In the summer, they confined up to 9-11 people in one cage (1.8 - 2.5m), which was cramped and stuffy. In winter, they separated the prisoners and splashed water into the cage all night, once an hour. On Christmas Eve 24/12/1961, 44 buckets of cold water were poured over the head of the shoemaker Luu Chi Hieu until he got frozen and died.  Following the example of Tran Trung Tin, Luu Chi Hieu, Cao Van Ngoc, the remaining five were: Nguyen Duc Thuan, Phan Trong Binh, Pham Quoc Sac,  Nguyen Minh and Le Van Mot, who persistently led the fight against the secession in the Tiger Cage to victory. When Ngo Dinh Diem's government was overthrown,  the puppet government stopped forcing the secession from the Communist Party and learned to denounce the communists. The five people were honored as good examples for all political prisoners to follow.

Following the example of Tran  Trung Tinh, Luu Chi Hieu, Cao Van Ngoc and hundreds of comrades and compatriots who heroically sacrificed themselves at the Tiger Cage in the fight  against secession, all political prisoners detained (but not committed any crime)  rose up to fight against the flag raising ceremony, and the entire prison’s rules.  After a 23-day hunger strike, starting from June 6, 1964, the US purged nearly  500 political prisoners and sent them to Tiger Cage to replace the recently released soldiers who fought against the political separation. 

Since 1965, political prisoners against the U.S. flag raising ceremony and previously imprisoned in the stone cellars of Camp II, Camp III were also taken to the Tiger Cage. The Tiger Cage was a gruesome disciplinary area under a  specialized committee led by the evil warden Le Van Khuong. The number of prisoners against the flag raising ceremony increased to 180 in February 1967,  500 in October 1969 and developed into a joint movement against the flag raising and supporting anti-slavery in August 1970 with over 4,000 participants. 
In the years 1968 - 1969, the Tiger Cage regime was extremely cruel. Since the  Tet Offensive (1968) started, foreman Nguyen Van Ve ordered that all prisoners at the Tiger Cage be handcuffed. All were forced to lie still in silence. Anyone who sat up or talked was suppressed by the security guards. They stood above the cell and used their sharp pole covered with copper and poked the prisoners. Ve also ordered prisoners to have less rice, less water, no bathing, no vegetables in 3  months. Prisoners were severely malnourished. Dysentery, constipation, eodema caused many prisoners to collapse, muscle atrophy, paralysis. They were no longer able to stand or walk. The demands and the struggles of the prisoners were responded to by beating and lime. 

The U.S. imperialists also relied on the physiological characteristics of women to set up barbaric punishments. The female prisoners were not allowed to clean the toilet, bathe, and were not given water for personal hygiene. During menstruation,  they had to tear the pants to make sanitary napkins, then used their own urine to wash them. When all the torn pieces of clothes were used up, they had to stay naked, squatted on plastic pieces, and occasionally emptied them by putting them into the toilet bowl. The Tiger Cage was the place to expose the barbaric, and disgusting crimes of the U.S. imperialists. That is why people were stunned and hurt when part of the truth about the Con Dao Tiger Cage was exposed to international public opinion. 

On 7/7/1970, many Western news agencies such as UPI, AP (USA), AFP (France),  Reuters (UK)... published a series of news and pictures from the press conference of 2 American congressmen Augustus Hawkins and William Anderson and the journalist Don Lucc who had just witnessed the terrible reality that political  559  prisoners were suffering in Con Dao Tiger Cage. In reporting to the press, two US  congressmen affirmed that they had seen with their own eyes: 

“About 500 people in the Tiger Cages... There are Buddhist monks... There are many women between the ages of 15 and 70, there are old women who are blind...  They are detained just for fighting for peace... They are starved and thirsty, they are locked up like animals in the Tiger Cages... They suffocate because people throw lime powder on them to punish them... in 7 months they could only eat vegetables 3 times... Many of them had been shackled for so long that they couldn't stand on their feet anymore... It is the most horrible treatment for human  beings we have ever seen…” 

Congressman Anderson criticized the staff of the US AID agency for advising the  Vietnamese government and the prison regime. Congressman Hawkins, one of 12  members of the Investigating Committee of US House of Representatives, coming  to Vietnam announced his resignation to protest that this Committee had covered up the truth about the crimes of the advisors of the U.S. and the Saigon puppet regime in Con Dao, especially in the Tiger Cages. Hawkins said that in the 70-  page report of this Committee, there was only one paragraph about Con Dao prison. The accusations of the two US congressmen are valid. However, that is only a small part of the truth about the crimes of the U.S Imperialists that the two men had witnessed with their own eyes. However, that crime has awakened the conscience of Americans and the progressive humanity. They finally know that the US government was waging a war of aggression full of crimes and filthy tens of billions of dollars in annual aid were used to protect a brutal, inhuman puppet government. 

In the middle of July 1970, under the pressure of public opinion, the US were forced to remove part of the tile roof, and destroy the iron bars and partitions of the  Tiger Cage II. They asked reporters to film, take pictures and propagate that  "There is no problem called Tiger Cage - It's just an illusion under the French colonial rule (?!)", despite the gruesome crimes in "French Tiger Cages" that once made the whole world indignant only started when the U.S imperialists used their tricks to denounce and destroy the communists. 

Con Dao is the largest prison system in Southeast Asia. It was built during the  French colonial period (in March 1862) and used to exile and torture Vietnamese revolutionaries. In particular, the Tiger Cage is considered the place to detain and torture prisoners with the most barbaric ways. This place is considered the "hell on earth" of Vietnamese prisoners during the resistance war against the American puppet government. In the prison system, the Tiger Cage is considered the place to detain and torture prisoners with the most barbaric ways. Coming to Con Dao,  visiting the Prison – the Tiger Cage, you will not be able to hold back your tears when thinking about the sacrifices of the forefathers who had died for today’s independence and freedom. 

Source: Department of Culture and Sport of Ba Ria-Vung Tau Provice, Photo: Internet

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