This is a tale about politics, influence, money
and murder. It began more than 40 years ago with a bloodletting so massive that
no one quite knows how many people died. Half a million? A million? Through
four decades, the story of the relationship between the United States and the
Indonesian military has left a trail of misery and terror. Last month it claimed
four peasants, one of them a 27-year-old mother. Unless Congress puts the brakes
on the Bush administration's plans to increase aid and training for the
Indonesian army, there will be innumerable victims in the future as well.
Speaking alongside Indonesia's defense minister in Singapore last month,
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the White House intends "to deepen
the strategic partnership" between the two countries.
Given what that partnership has led to over the past four decades, it was a
profoundly disturbing statement.
The Washington-Jakarta narrative begins in 1965
when the Tentara Nasional Indonesia (TNI) the Indonesian Army massacred
as many as a million Indonesian leftists in a bloodletting in which the United
States was a partner. According to the
U.S. National Security Archives, the United States not only encouraged the
annihilation of Indonesia's left, it actually fingered individuals for
the military death squads.
When Suharto, the dictator who took over after the 1965 massacres, decided
to invade the former Portuguese colony of East Timor in 1975, the Ford administration
gave him a green light. Out of a population of 600,000 to 700,000, the invasion
killed between 83,000 and 182,000, according to the Commission of Reception,
Truth, and Reconciliation. "As a permanent member of the Security Council
and superpower," the Commission
found, "the U.S... consented to the invasion and allowed Indonesia
to use its military equipment in the knowledge that this violated U.S. law and
would be used to suppress the right of self-determination."
The United States was not alone in abetting the invasion. Australian Prime
Minister Gough Whitlam "encouraged" the invasion, according to the
Jakarta Post. Japan, Indonesia's leading source of aid and trade,
stayed on the sidelines. France and Britain increased trade and aid in the invasion's
aftermath, and in an effort to protect Indonesia's Catholics, the Vatican
remained silent. Later, when the Suharto dictatorship short-circuited a 1969
UN plebiscite on the future of West Papua, neither the United States nor its
allies raised a protest.
A Dismal Record
Through six U.S. presidents Johnson, Nixon,
Ford, Carter, Bush, and Clinton the TNI had carte blanche to brutally suppress
autonomy movements and murder human rights activists in Aceh, Papua, and East
Timor. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the Justice Department,
and the State Department, the TNI also engaged in violence and oppression against
women, threats to civil liberties, child exploitation, religious persecution,
and judicial and prison abuse.
After more than 30 years of either encouraging or turning a blind eye to the
savagery of the TNI, the Clinton administration and the UN finally intervened
to stop the rampage unleashed on the Timorese when they had the effrontery to
vote for independence in 1999. However, before the force of mostly Australian
troops could land, TNI-sponsored and led militias killed some 1,500 people,
destroyed 70% of East Timor's infrastructure, and deported 250,000 Timorese
to Indonesian West Timor.
Indonesia has refused to hand over any of the TNI officers currently charged
for crimes against humanity for leading the 1999 pogrom or taking part in the
brutal suppression of East Timor from 1975 to 1999. Indeed, many have been reassigned
to places like West Papua, where Indonesia is attempting to crush a low-level
independence insurgency. Col. Burhanuddin Siagian, indicted for crimes against
humanity for his actions in East Timor, was recently appointed a sub-regional
military commander in Papua.
"It is shocking that a government supposedly committed to military reform
and fighting impunity would appoint an indicted officer to a sensitive senior
post in Papua," Paula Makabory, spokesperson for the Institute for Human
Rights Study & Advocacy West Papua
told the Australian Broadcasting Company. A coalition of human rights organizations
is demanding that Indonesian President Susilo Yudhoyono withdraw the appointment
and suspend Siagian from duty.
Friends in High Places
Starting in 2001, Indonesia began a multi-million
dollar lobbying campaign abetted by the White House to lift the ban on
military aid to Indonesia. A leading force in that campaign is Paul Wolfowitz,
disgraced former head of the World Bank and ambassador to Indonesia from 1986
The lobbying worked, and sanctions were gradually relaxed. Military aid more
than doubled from 2001 to 2004. In 2005,
saying that "a reformed and effective Indonesian military is in the
interest of everyone in the region," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
lifted the last restrictions on military aid. Part of the "reforms"
Rice referred to require the TNI to divest itself of its vast economic network,
accounts for 70-75% of the military's funding. The TNI runs corporations,
mining operations, and cooperatives.
Although a 2004 law indeed requires the TNI to divest itself of its holdings
by 2009, a loophole allows the military to keep "foundations" and
"cooperatives." According to Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono, 1494
out of the TNI's 1500 businesses are "foundations" or "cooperatives."
"The core problem with addressing impunity [of TNI commanders] is that
the civilian government has no control over the military while they do not control
their finances," Human Rights Watch researcher Charmain Mohamed
told Radio Australia, "and on this key issue Yudhoyono has clearly
While the military continues to resist efforts
to reform, anger at the TNI's penchant for violence is growing. In late
May, Indonesian Marines opened fire on East Java demonstrators, killing four
people and wounding several others, including a four-year-old child whose mother
was among the dead. The protestors claimed that the TNI was illegally seizing
The shootings have angered some important political figures. Djoko Susilo,
who sits on the powerful Defense Committee, accused the military of using "weapons,
bought with money from the state budget to kill their own brothers," and
the important Islamic Crescent Star Party denounced the killings. Abdurrahman
Wahid, a former president and the leader of the National Awakening Party, says
his organization intends to file civil suits against the Navy. The Missing Person
and Victims of Violence organization
is petitioning the government to move the case from military to civilian
The TNI's track record has also angered some in the U.S. Congress. Representatives
Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Chris Smith (R-NJ) are currently leading a campaign to
cut the Bush administration's proposed aid package because of Jakarta's
failure to prosecute human rights violations. But the Bush administration has
been lining up allies to contain China. And there is more than 40 years of U.S.
cooperation or acquiescence to the brutality of the Indonesian military. Such
a blood relationship is hard to sever.