Tiger Cages

Con Dao Islands

Con Dao, Vietnam - December 30, 2016: Con Dao Prison on Con Son Island, Vietnam. The prison was built by French colonialists. The most infamous site is the 'tiger cages'. The prison is now a museum. ; Shutterstock ID 573062662; your: Bridget Brown; gl: 65050; netsuite: Online Editorial; full: POI Image Update


The notorious cells dubbed 'tiger cages' were built in 1940 by the French to incarcerate nearly 2000 political prisoners; the USA continued using them in the 1960s and 1970s. There are 120 chambers with ceiling bars, where guards could poke at prisoners like tigers in a Victorian-era zoo. Prisoners were beaten with sticks from above, and sprinkled with quicklime and water (which burnt their skin and caused blindness).

The tiger cages were deliberately constructed away from the main prison, out of sight, and only accessed by an alleyway. They were unknown to the outside world until 1970, when a US congressional aide, Tom Harkin, visited Con Son and saw evidence of the brutal torture of the prisoners he met there. Harkin had been tipped off about their existence by a former inmate and managed to break off the pre-arranged tour. Using a map given to him, he discovered the tiger cages behind a vegetable garden, and photographed the cells and prisoners inside. The images were published by Life magazine in July 1970.