Saturday, 2 November 2013

Sat 26th - Back in Hanoi - Hoa Lo Prison

The Hanoi Hilton is the ironic moniker given to this macabre attraction. Like Alcatraz, this former penal institution is now a bit of a draw for those seeking less frivolous ways of enduring their vacations.

Built by the French colonists in the late 19th century, the architecture isn't unappealing, at least from the outside. The interieur is a very different matter. All the wrong'uns from Indochine were incarcerated here, one leg held in heavy iron stocks for most of each day.

A large communal cell accommodated most of the male prisoners, a single latrine raised on throne-like dias at one end of the dark room. For those less well behaved, solitary confinement, awaited, though here, the leg irons were fixed to a slightly inclined floor. No release was given for thirty or sixty days, not even for ablutions, two small windows for air, but not much light. Other cells held groups of female prisoners, and female prisoners with children. In a display cabinet was a small electric generator, a bunch of wires, a thick cane and a glass bottle; all referred to as instruments that were used to torture female revolutionaries here.

Worse still, Madame guillotine, and the particularly grim half dozen cells that made up death row here. On the wall a photograph taken in 1906 of three displayed heads of executed prisoners, convicted of an insurgent poisoning plot, displayed in wicker baskets, two of which showing multiple lacerations to the face. 

After the french were finally booted out in '54, the tables were turned when the VC took it over and used it to hold American PoWs including one John McCain, former presidential candidate. His accounts of being tortured here are curiously not referred to in the displays and guide which emphasise instead how humanely the prisoners were treated, being allowed sports and entertainment and appropriate religious holidays etc. 

Another part of this museum is devoted to photographs of international reactions against the American invasion and in support of Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh; including the American student who self immolated, the mothers of deceased GIs publicly ditching their medals and Bertrand Russell tearing up his party membership card. It's a tad one-sided, but that's the victor's prerogative.

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