Of Dogs and Fleas
By Conn Hallinan
The problem of lying down with dogs, goes the old saying, is that you end up with fleas. Over the years, the U.S. has run with some nasty brutes, from the Congos Mobutu to Iraqs Saddam Hussein. One would think we learned a few lessons from those kinds of alliances, but in its worldwide crusade against terrorism, the Bush Administration is about to bunk down with the Indonesian Army, a pack of junkyard canines with a record of murder and mayhem second to none.
Shortly after Sept. 11, the White House, led by Dep. Sec. of State, Administration superhawk, and former ambassador to Indonesia, Paul Wolfowitz, began maneuvering to loosen restrictions on military aid to Jakarta. The latter was cut off by the Clinton Administration during the Indonesian Armys 1999 rampage in East Timor that killed thousands of civilians and destroyed 70 percent of the tiny countrys infrastructure.
But Bush Administration officials argue that the Indonesian Army has reformed since those bad old days (two years ago) and now needs our help in its struggle against terrorism by separatist movements in several provinces. In any case, they claim, U.S. intelligence says Osama bin Ladin and Al Qaeda are active with extremist groups in Java. These days all you have to do is mention Al Qaeda and the Marines start tooling up. But if we arent careful, the U.S. is likely to find itself in the middle of several very nasty civil wars, which have little to do with jihad, but quite a lot to do with very worldly things like gold, copper, and oil.
The Indonesian Army, while small by regional standards, has done a stunningly efficient job of massacring its own people over the years. Since the press these days has been imitating a bunch of stenographers with amnesia, a little history about the outfit to which we are about to sell helicopters and communication equipment seems in order.
The Army got off to a good start on the business of killing its own when it suppressed an uprising in 1965 by murdering some 500,000 leftists, many of them fingered, according to recently declassified documents, by the US Embassy in Jakarta. Oh yes, weve run with these guys before, supplying them over 90 percent of their military hardware over the past 30 years.
Indonesia put those to deadly use in 1975 when it invaded tiny East Timor, a former Portuguese colony on Indonesias eastern edge. That invasion, according to the same documents, had the full blessing of then President Gerald Ford and Sec. of State, Henry Kissinger.
According to the United Nations, Indonesias 24 years of occupation resulted in the deaths of over 200,000 Timorese, or one third the pre-invasion inhabitants. In terms of percentage of the population, not even Pol Pot managed that kill ratio.
When Timor voted for independence in a 1999 UN-sponsored referendum, the Indonesian Army and its militia allies systematically destroyed the country, killing at least 2,000 people, and forcing 250,000 more into concentration camps in West Timor.
The Indonesian Army is presently engaged in suppressing two other independence movements, one in Sumatras Aceh Province and the other in Irian Jaya on the countrys eastern edge. The campaign in Aceh has killed over 6,000 people, 1,500 in the last year alone. In Irian Jaya, which makes up the western side of Papua New Guinea, the Army has been jailing pro-independence supporters, and firing on demonstrators. In November, Kopassus, the Indonesian Armys equivalent of the [Nazi] SS, invited one of Irian Jayas independence leaders to a dinner. He ended up strangled to death on the side of the road.
Not worried about human rights
From all indications, that violence is likely to escalate. In a recent speech to military cadets, Indonesian President Magawati Sukanoputri told them You can do your duty without being worried about human rights, a green light to unleash the full fury of the Armys repressive skills. No more Mr. Nice Guys.
While Jakarta says its civil wars are about terrorism, whats really at stake are billions of dollars in raw materials. The seizure of East Timor allowed Indonesia to claim part of the Timor Gap, a channel between Timor and Australia, estimated to contain anywhere from 1 to 6 billion barrels of oil. While the Indonesians have finally left East Timor, they are hanging onto the Gap.
In Iryan Jaya (recently renamed West Papua) the Army is deep into logging, as well as protecting the investments of the U.S. operated Freeport-McMoran gold and copper mine and the Atlantic Richfield oil company.
Indonesias problems are caused by greed, not terrorism, and by the nature of its own army. Both Aceh and Iryan Jayas independence movements were peaceful until Army repression sparked a violent response. As Sidney Jones, the Asia Director of Human Rights Watch put it, The brutality of the army created the mass base for separatist movements.
In the name of fighting terrorism, we are about to bed down with this outfit. Bad idea the first time around, bad idea the second.
San Francisco ExaminerFebruary 8, 2002