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US Aided Indonesian Military Terror-- Blocking Further Aid Could Save Lives
John M. Miller is the Media and Outreach Coordinator for the East Timor Action Network, which advocates for democracy, sustainable development, justice, and human rights, including women's rights, for the people of East Timor and Indonesia (www.etan.org).
The East Timor Action Network (ETAN) has accused former Secretary of Defense William Cohen of misleading the September 11th Commission and trivializing state terrorism in his testimony.
Cohen, who served as Secretary of Defense from 1997-2001, accused Congress of blocking "cooperation with countries whose support was critical in counter-terrorism efforts" by preventing the International Military Education and Training (IMET)
If terror is the use of violence against civilians for political ends, then the Indonesian military (TNI) should be considered the major terrorist organization in the archipelago. In the space of a few words, the former Secretary of Defense sought to cover his own complicity in the terrorization of the Indonesian and East Timorese peoples.
"Former Secretary Cohen misses the point that some would-be partners in the war on terrorism are notorious human rights abusers who have employed terror against their own people," said Ed McWilliams, a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer who served at the US Embassy in Jakarta from 1996-1999. "The lesson of the irresponsible attempts in the Reagan and Bush Administrations to build ties with Saddam Hussein appear lost on Secretary Cohen...some would-be partners are inherently dangerous: the Indonesian military conspires with Islamic fundamentalist groups such as Laskar Jihad, responsible for killing thousands inside Indonesia."
Claims that resumption of IMET for the Indonesian military would encourage reform ignore history: More than four decades of close contact with the US military failed to improve the TNI's dismal record. Congress understood this when it initially voted to withhold further aid.
A 2002 study for the US Naval Postgraduate School noted that the Indonesian army had become "a major facilitator of terrorism" due to "the radical (sic) Muslim militias they had organized, trained, and financed...The army financed Laskar Jihad with money embezzled from its defense budget, estimated to be about $9.3 million."
It's unfortunate Secretary Cohen didn't pursue the logical conclusions of his October 1, 1999 statement in Thailand, when he told the media, "when the kind of instability and terror that we saw take place in East Timor goes unaddressed, then that has a potential for having very wide-spread consequences." If he had been as forthcoming in his testimony to the commission, he would have admitted that aid to Jakarta's out-of-control military continues to be a very bad idea.
Congress first voted to restrict IMET for Indonesia in response to the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre, where Indonesian soldiers wielding US-supplied weapons killed more than 271 peaceful East Timorese demonstrators. Over the next seven years, Congress -- and the Clinton administration, in response to Congressional pressure -- imposed further restrictions.
While in Jakarta in January 1998, Secretary Cohen praised Kopassus, the military's notorious Special Forces unit, for its "very impressive... discipline." Kopassus has been implicated in numerous atrocities in East Timor, Papua, Aceh and elsewhere. Between December 1997 and May 1998, Kopassus' soldiers kidnapped and tortured at least nine Indonesian pro-democracy activists.
In April 1999, in the face of escalating violence in East Timor by the military and its militia proxies, Admiral Dennis Blair of the US Pacific Command, visited Jakarta. Rather than telling Indonesia's General Wiranto "to shut the militias down, [Blair] instead offered him a series of promises of new US assistance," according to a classified cable on the meeting. Blair's visit took place just days after at least 59 refugees sheltering in a church in Liquicia were murdered. Shortly after Blair's visit, militia rampaged through Dili, killing at least a dozen pro-independence supporters. During these massacres, Indonesian security officials either actively participated or stood by.
In early September 1999, following East Timor's vote for independence, President Clinton suspended military ties and economic assistance to Indonesia in response to the Indonesian military's scorched-earth destruction of East Timor. Indonesian military withdrawal from East Timor and the entry of an international peacekeeping force soon followed. In November, the US Congress restricted most military assistance to Indonesia, with renewal contingent upon the safe return of East Timorese refugees and effective prosecution of military and militia members responsible for crimes against humanity in East Timor and Indonesia.
Following some steps toward renewing military cooperation with Indonesia, in September 2000, Secretary Cohen again announced a full suspension of military assistance to Indonesia after East Timorese militia murdered three UN aid workers, including a US citizen, in West Timor, as Indonesian security personnel stood by.
The Indonesian police have also implicated the Indonesian military in the murder of three teachers (including two US citizens) in Papua. Early this year, Congress, under pressure from ETAN and other supporters of a just peace in Indonesia and East Timor, again banned IMET until Jakarta fully cooperates with investigations into these killings.
Representatives Lane Evans (D-IL), Chris Smith (R-NJ), and Tom Tancredo (R-CO) are circulating a Dear Colleague letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld urging him to reconsider resuming normalized US-Indonesia military-to-military relations. To sign on, congresspeople should contact Kevin Gash in Rep. Evans office. The deadline for the letter is late June or early July. The Congressional switchboard number is 202-224-3121; ask for your Representative's office. Then ask to speak with the foreign policy aide. If you don't know who your Representative is, go to www.congress.orgto find out. See the text of the letter at www.etan.org/legislation/04lowwlf.htm.
For more ideas about how to support East Timor, including a campaign
to protect East Timor's oil from theft by Australia, see
the www.etan.org website.