The U.S. Congress Sends Mixed Message On Indonesian Military

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The U.S. Senate voted against giving the human rights abuses countering the House’s vote to reinstate funding and training for the Indonesian military.

President George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice had been pushing for a full restoration of all military ties to Indonesia because of the ongoing terrorist threat but the persistence of human rights abuses and the corrupt nature of the Indonesian military and political system are problematic when considering the legitimacy of such an idea.

"The Indonesian military has a long way to go before it becomes an accountable institution that respects human rights and civilian authority," states Karen Orenstein of East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN)

The U.S. House of Representatives had passed a bill in June restoring full military aid to Indonesia. On this, Republican congressman from West Michigan, Pete Hoekstra says, "U.S. policy towards Indonesia focuses on assisting and providing humanitarian assistance. Lingering concerns exist regarding human rights issues and violence in places such as Aceh and West Papua. In 2005 the Secretary of State (Condoleezza Rice) certified that Indonesia has met the requirements for International Military Education and Training [IMET)."

IMET parallels the School of The American’s now The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation both training schools having reputations for churning out soldiers and police that frequently turn up on lists of human rights abusers or worse. While IMET training takes place in the U.S. another program, Joint Combined Exchange Training [JCET] sends Special Forces teams to other countries, particularly Indonesia. Chalmers Johnson, in his book "Blowback," cites JCET training as a direct link to Indonesian rapes and murders of civilians in Indonesia. Johnson’s more recent book, "The Sorrow of Empire," gives an updated account of U.S. Empire.

The U.S.’s historical relationship with Indonesia is a sordid one. It first came to light when Alan L. Pope, an American pilot, was shot down while on a bombing run over the Indonesian archipelago, after "Rebels" had bombed a church and an outdoor market on May 18, 1958. The U.S. had orchestrated B-26 bombing and strafing raids on the civilian population in an attempt to destabilize the Sukarno government. The numbers of civilians’ deaths appear to have been significant but actual numbers have never been established.

In 1962 the Kennedy administration informed Sukarno that the U.S. would support the Indonesian military’s invasion and occupation of West Papua. Seven years later the Nixon administration recognized the results of a rigged, fraudulent vote in which 1,022 people voted to join Indonesia, in a population of over 800,000. The U.S. recognized this as a legitimate agreement of the Papuan population to join Indonesia. In government documents declassified last year and available on the National Security Archive web site it is shown that the Indonesian takeover of West Papua and fraudulent vote, dubbed a "free choice" by Indonesia and the U.S. was illegitimate and a deception. For 36 years now West Papua has been exploited and abused by the Indonesian military, International Corporations and almost continuous support of the U.S. government. Murders and rapes and forced removal from their land at the hand of the military was becoming commonplace. A U.S. corporation with close ties to the military and notoriety because of its treatment of its workers and the surrounding population in Papua is Freeport, a copper and gold mining company associated with Henry Kissinger.

In 1965 the U.S. played a significant role in the overthrow of Sukarno and the subsequent murders of over 500,000 people. In one of the worst mass murders in world history within a short period of time huge numbers of people, sometimes-whole families were rounded up and evacuated. Many were members of the PKI; Indonesia’s Communist party, with an estimated 1 million members, others were random victims. Hundreds of thousands became political prisoners. One of those, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, who was sympathetic with the PKI, was placed in an island concentration camp for 17 years. Pramoedya is Indonesian’s most famous writer. To this day, those involved in this crime against humanity remain free.

The military and Suharto had said their justification for their massive crime was an imminent takeover of Indonesia by the PKI. In recent years documents have proven this excuse to be a fabrication. From 1965 until 1999 the Indonesian dictatorship had received the support of the U.S. government.

Ten years after the mass murder of over half a million leftists, East Timor, having just received her independence from being a Portuguese colony was invaded by the Indonesian military, and again, with the blessing of the U.S. government. Gerald R. Ford and Henry Kissinger gave the green light and subsequently shipped the Indonesians M-16 rifles and other military equipment. Result, forcible takeover of a small country of 800,000 people, mostly very poor. Within a short period of time 200,000 civilians were killed in the takeover largely with the U.S. supplied rifles. The U.S. supported the events in East Timor until 1991. When an infamous massacre occurred that was covered by the world press only then did the U.S. government restrict some weapons from going to the Indonesian military. In 1998 an Australian newspaper, The Age, had a small report of the discovery of oil in East Timor territorial waters. In 1999 when East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia the U.S. and Australia, Britain and the U.N. supported its move for independence. The Indonesian response was to burn down and destroy as much of the newly independent country on their way out.

Aceh in Indonesia’s northwest is a mostly poor, primarily Muslim area that was hardest hit by last year’s Tsunami. Fishing was the primary source of income for many Acehanese when the Tsunami hit. Over 100,000 were said to be lost in the area.

About 30 years ago oil and natural gas deposits were discovered in the Aceh region but the people never saw any of the benefits. An Aceh independence movement was formed called GAM. That has been battling the Indonesian government since 1976 with over 10,000 deaths related to the conflict. A peace agreement was just signed but it is unknown if it will hold. No doubt the U.S. and Australia have a keen interest in access to the large oil and natural gas deposits in the area.

The Bush administration and those in congress who wish to fully normalize relations with the Indonesian government and restore weapons sales and training to the Indonesian military would be to help in propping up and giving assistance to a corrupted system. This would not be anything new. The U.S. has been doing this with Indonesia for 50 years. The approximately one million deaths in Indonesia committed by the Indonesian military from 1965 on, in a large part had to do with U.S. hegemony, hubris, and greed. It is time for some decency, not business as usual. For updates on Indonesia check out etan.org or tapol.gn.apc.org.

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