The Authority of Pain

In April 1970—between the fall of Prince Sihanouk's government and the American and South Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia—the young Sean Flynn, war photographer and son of Errol Flynn, deliberately drove into a Vietcong roadblock in Cambodia. He wanted to report the war from the communist side but was captured and accused of spying for the CIA. Since the Vietcong army was not officially in Cambodia, they handed Sean over to the fanatical Khmer Rouge. Transferred through several prison camps to avoid American bombs, Sean lasted for 14 months before contracting a severe case of malaria. With no medical aid available in the jungle, he was given a fatal injection, became comatose, and was buried while still alive. His death was horrific. But he avoided the fate of most other prisoners who—forced to kneel and ordered to "Stay still! Heads forward! Do not tuck your neck in between your shoulders!"—had their heads hacked off with several blows of a hoe. No one ever survived the Khmer Rouge, who killed 30 Westerners and several million of their own people —except Frangois Bizot, the only one who lived to tell the tale. He, too, was falsely accused of being a CIA agent, and his story has some eerie parallels with Sean's.

In March 1969, Bizot had been living in Cambodia for four years and was fluent in Khmer. Lon Nol, who supported American intervention, seized power. The Khmer Rouge and the Vietcong,...

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