Genocide in East Timor
U.S. role in the recent catalog of horrors in East Timor is deep and far
reaching, the culmination of over three decades of nurturing the Indonesian
fascist regime. Just as the U.S. mainstream media has attempted to suppress the
clear connection between the Indonesian military and its militias in carrying
out genocide in East Timor, the U.S. government and its corporate sponsors
vigorously deny any role in the slaughter and devastation there.
alternative sources of information are still available to those who take the
trouble to seek them out.
In Jakarta on
September 30, U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen declared that the
Indonesian military "aided and abetted violence in East Timor."
self-righteous denunciation was a far cry from a visit in 1998, when he spent
quality time at the headquarters of the Indonesian army’s notorious special
forces, Kopassus, in the company of its then commander, General Prabowo Subianto.
According to journalist Allan Nairn, who reported this in the April 20, 1998, Nation,
Cohen and the general "watched the U.S. trained killers execute maneuvers
for their sponsor from Washington" for three hours.
reported that "Prabowo is Suharto’s son-in-law, the Indonesian business
partner (through his wife) of Merrill Lynch, and one of the key sponsors of the
U.S.-Indonesian Society, an influential pro-Suharto U.S. front group launched in
1994 and backed by ABRI [the Indonesian military], U.S. corporations, and former
Pentagon, State Department and CIA officials."
A 1994 Amnesty
International report on Indonesia stated, "Army personnel and members of elite
military units, such as the Special Forces Command (Kopassus)…have been
responsible for the most grave violations against suspected political
opponents." Because of the well-documented record of human rights violations
by Kopassus and other elements of the Indonesian military, in the early 1990s
the U.S. Congress cut off funding for training of Indonesian military personnel
by U.S. forces
But the Pentagon
did an end run around this prohibition by quietly pushing through Section 2011
of Title 10 of the U.S. code. This law allowed the Pentagon to send U.S. Special
Forces to other countries, not as congressionally forbidden trainers, but
ostensibly to be trained by foreign military personnel. This fine distinction
was more fiction that fact. In Pentagon doublespeak, even training foreign
soldiers under this program was considered a form of training for the U.S.
trainers. The program was dubbed Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET).
Indonesia was one
of the prime beneficiaries of this program. In his 1998 Nation article,
Allan Nairn reported that "at least thirty-six [JCET] exercises" in
Indonesia "with fully armed U.S. combat troops … including Green Berets, Air
Force Commandos, and Marines."
reported that "By far the main recipient of the U.S. special training has been
a force legendary for specializing in torture, disappearances and night raids on
civilian homes. Of the twenty-eight Army/Air Force exercises known to have been
conducted since 1982, Pentagon documents indicate that twenty have involved the
dreaded Kopassus Red Berets."
Nairn wrote that
U.S. exercises with Kopassus included Sniper Level II, Demolition and Air
Operations, Close Quarters Combat, and Advanced Sniper Techniques.
In July 1998, the
Washington Post ran a major series on JCETs. In a lead story in its July
12 edition, the Post confirmed Nairn’s assertions: "In Indonesia
[U.S.] special operations forces have conducted 41 training exercises since
1991…. Most of the exercises involved Indonesia’s elite Kopassus troops,
whom U.S. officials have accused of involvement in kidnaping and torture of
The Post article
also reported an October 1997 exercise in Jakarta conducted by "12 U.S. Army
Special Forces troops" for "60 troops from… Kopassus and the Jakarta area
military command." The mission: "Find the enemy somewhere in a warren of
plywood rooms, blow a hole in the wall and kill or capture as many as
possible…," "how to plan and conduct close-quarters combat and other fine
points of urban warfare."
"We just showed
them how we do it and they adopted what they want," a U.S. participant in such
exercises told the Post.
Less than two
years later, just exactly how these lessons were adopted exploded into the
world’s view in the streets of Dili, East Timor’s capital in September 1999.
Throughout East Timor thousands were murdered, hundreds of thousands made
homeless, entire cities burnt to the ground. There is ample evidence that the
U.S. government knew this was coming, and that their trained killers would play
a leading role.
Largely due to
Nairn’s and then the Post’s articles, Congress also prohibited JCETs
in late 1998. At the end of October, the East Timor Action Network, another
major player in bringing about this change, reported that Indonesian military
confidential documents it had obtained revealed a troop buildup in East Timor.
This included "one Kopassus company and Kopassus intelligence and headquarters
units still in the territory. Indonesia claims that all Special Forces have been
The report also
stated that "the documents contradict the claim by Indonesia that paramilitary
groups are not under ABRI’s command," and quoted an Australian group that
released the documents as stating that "these forces are perceived by ABRI’s
administration to be part of their operational structure."
by pro-Indonesia militias in Dili in April 1999, Human Rights Watch put out a
report on the connections between the militias and the Indonesian military. The
report stated that Eurico Gutteres led Aitarak, the militia responsible for the
attacks. The report described Gutteres as "a leading figure in Gardapaksi,"
a pro-independence youth gang whose "members were reported to receive military
training and non-lethal equipment from Kopassus."
The Human Rights
Watch report also stated that a letter sent threatening Australian journalists
and diplomats in Indonesia "was faxed from a hotel in Jakarta where Gutteres
and other militia leaders were meeting with President Habibe."
in East Timor, Besi Mara Rutih, was said to be responsible for massacring dozens
of people in a church in Liquica in April. The report stated that the group
"claimed by early February  to have a membership of 2890 and was going
on joint patrols with Battalion 143 of the Indonesian army." A week after the
church massacre, this militia attacked the convoy of Nobel Peace Prize winner
Bishop Belo. The Human Rights Watch report stated that "Eyewitness accounts
from both attacks indicate that troops from the Liquica district and Maubara sub
district commands were present at the time of the militia attacks and far from
trying to prevent violence provided active support to their operations."
further stated that yet another militia in East Timor, Suka, "is led by Sgt.
Jaonico da Costa of…Kopassus, and most of its members worked as guards or
logistical support for the army."
all hell broke loose in East Timor in early September following the announcement
that 78 percent of voters chose independence from Indonesia, the U.S. media by
and large reported this as the reaction of militias gone mad. But there was a
method not solely of their own in this madness.
On September 11,
Melbourne, Australia, newspaper The Age reported that, before the
elections were held, Australian "intelligence services have warned that the
Indonesian military was orchestrating a violent campaign to hold on to the
territory." The Age reported that Australian intelligence had
intercepted mobile and satellite phone communications between militia and
military leaders and "intercepted ‘damning’ conversations."
In addition, the
newspaper reported that "In July leaked Indonesian Government documents
predicted a win for independence supporters "in East Timor," outlined a
scorched-earth plan," and "said Jakarta should put the army on alert and
consider increasing its support for the militia groups."
government learned of these documents too, and passed on all this information to
the UN—and presumably to the U.S. as well. But despite this, the UN decided to
believe the Indonesian government’s promises of controlling violence in East
Timor. A few examples of the horror that followed should suffice to demonstrate
the terror unleashed by the U.S. trained and armed Indonesian forces. All are
from reports by The Age. The Melbourne newspaper reported on September 17
the eyewitness testimony of Joao Brito, 15, of Ermera in East Timor: "He told
of events on 3 September, the day the result of the 30 August autonomy
referendum was announced."
"An hour after
the announcement, two trucks of Kopassus special forces arrived in Ermera. The
men were dressed in the black T-shirts of the Aitarak militia. Militia members
recruited in West Timor accompanied them. Joao and others watched their arrival
from a hillside coffee plantation."
armed with automatic weapons and carrying cans of petrol, were after
house-to-house and they burned out the political leaders," Joao said. "When
the houses burnt, they let the women and children out, but they pushed the men
back into the fire where they died."
terrorists marched through the village, burning buildings, shooting, and
slashing people with machetes. "After they cut with machete, they shouted and
danced because they are happy they kill people," Joao said. "They say ‘you
dogs. You do not have the right to independence’."
On September 12, The
Age reported that on September 5, Inge Lempp, an election observer with the
International Federation for East Timor (IFET), intercepted "radio
communications between Indonesian arm operatives and militias around the town of
Same in East Timor."
from IFET. Take them out of the car and kill them," ordered the army leader,
"then throw their bodies in the river."
bodies in the river.’ I heard that repeated three times to different militia
heads," Lempp reported. Lempp escaped safely, but thousands of East Timorese
were not so fortunate. The Age reported that on September 8, the Timorese
wife of an Australian aid worker saw stacks of corpses in police headquarters
"in a building once used as a torture cell for political prisoners." In
Indonesia the police are part of the military.
"My wife told
me she saw bodies stacked high, thousands of them," Ira Bainbridge said.
"She smelt the bodies…. My wife saw arms and legs and dripping blood."
The U.S. has not
been alone in supporting the Indonesian fascist regime. As recently as August
27, The Age reported that Australia’s government "will maintain its
close links with Indonesian military forces despite evidence that he military
has committed atrocities throughout Indonesia during the past nine years."
contact will include the controversial practice of joint exercises and training
exercises with Kopassus, the Indonesian elite Special Forces most heavily
implicated in the atrocities." Following the September atrocities Australia
canceled these plans.
Sun reported in 1997 that "Canada is currently considering a series of
requests by the Indonesian armed forces to establish closer ties potentially by
agreeing to train Indonesian officers in Canada," since this practice had been
banned in the U.S. The article went on to note that "From the perspective of
Canadian investment and the safety of the 5000 Canadian expatriates living on
the islands, that decision might make sense…. Canada’s business prospects in
Indonesia are extremely bright, with exports exploding from $350 million in 1991
to $825 million in 1996."
Fascism proved to
be very good for business until the economic collapse of recent years. Through
it all the main sponsor and beneficiary has been the USA. Now that the recent
horrors in East Timor have finally pricked the world’s conscience, it is the
height of hypocrisy for Clinton and Cohen to condemn the bloodbath that was the
end result of a policy of protecting U.S. interests and investments in Indonesia
at all costs. After all, the Indonesian fascists have only learned their
masters’ lessons all too well.
Steinberg is an investigative journalist based in Durham, NC. He is the author
of Millstone and Me: Sex, Lies and Radiation in Southeastern