How The New York Times Protects Indonesian Terror In East Timor
The rapid decline of the Indonesian economy in 1997 and 1998–by some estimates a one-third fall in GDP–coupled with the resignation of Suharto in May 1998, loosened Indonesia’s grip on East Timor, the former Portuguese colony that Indonesia had invaded in December 1975 and annexed the following year.
The aftershocks of these two closely related events opened up new possibilities of freedom in East Timor for a people who had suffered one of the most serious cases of "ethnic cleansing" since 1945. The West’s 32-year support for the military regime weakened in the wake of the economic and political crisis. At the same time, the West’s freedom- and human rights-loving members suddenly discovered that Suharto was a dictator, and with a mass opposition in the Indonesian streets the West gently pushed Indonesia toward a non-military transition. The West did not, however, call for a dismantling of the deadly army that had underpinned the dictatorship and killed vast numbers, and which would pose a threat to any democracy that ensued.
In this context, and with the West bombing Yugoslavia in the purported interest of human rights, the East Timorese resistance and its supporters were emboldened, student protestors once more ventured into the streets in Dili, and their cries became a bit more audible. In early June 1998, trying to convey the image of a reformer, Indonesia’s transitional president B. J. Habibie expressed a willingness to reconsider the status of East Timor. But within weeks, on June 30, 1998, the Indonesian army renewed its attacks on pro-independence Timorese when it fired on protesting students in Dili. Throughout the rest of the year, the army staged a series of troop withdrawals from East Timor, including one "ceremonial departure" in late July that was "witnessed by Catholic church leaders, government and military officials and about 100 local and foreign journalists who were flown into Dili by the military for the event" (Japan Economic Newswire, July 28, 1998).
But in October the London Independent and other news services acquired secret military documents leaked by the personnel section of the Indonesian military in Dili which showed that the summer’s troop withdrawals were a mirage–in fact, the troops had been increased to more than 21,500, up from 17,834 when the withdrawals were alleged to have begun. Most important, the Indonesian military continued to arm some 7,000-10,000 paramilitary militias and prepare them for use against any independence struggle. Major violence from the paramilitaries began in November 1998, and continued thereafter, sharply escalating in April 1999 when a referendum agreement was reached and a vote scheduled for August 8, 1999 on whether to accept or reject East Timor’s integration with Indonesia.
Clearly, the renewed terror was designed to make sure either that a vote would not take place or that the proper voting outcome would result. "Escalating violence in the former Portuguese colony threatens a crucial UN ballot in August on the future of the territory," runs the typical refrain of wire service dispatches from East Timor (AP, May 11). Annex III to the May 5 Agreement that scheduled the August referendum called on the Indonesian government alone to guarantee that "a secure environment devoid of violence or other forms of intimidation" be ensured–an arrangement that Jose Ramos-Horta, Timorese resistance leader and co-winner of the 1996 Nobel peace prize with fellow Timorese exile Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo, likened to "asking Saddam Hussein to ensure the safety of the Kurds." Although Annex III also gave the Security Council the right to introduce a UN Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) to oversee the fairness of the referendum, including some 300 lightly-armed civilian police monitors and a variety of observers, the UN wasn’t expected to deploy any monitors until mid-June at the earliest, leaving it little time to play a constructive role prior to the start of voter registration on June 20. The official excuse: a 1993 U.S. Presidential Decision Directive requires the chief executive to give Congress two weeks notice before it can contribute U.S. troops to any kind of UN peacekeeping mission, thus holding back the entire Security Council. But the more plausible reason is that Washington, having long ignored or actively supported Indonesian terror at home and abroad, and having long recognized the incorporation of East Timor into Indonesia, is none-to-eager to see the August 8 referendum lead to an independent East Timor. As White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said in response to the question of whether Washington supports independence for East Timor: "Not that I am aware of" (Federal News Service, April 6, 1999).
Thus, although the Dili-based Foundation for Legal and Human Rights reports that militia terror has brought a renewed atmosphere of fear to East Timor (Age, May 23), and the likelihood of a "free and fair" referendum looked grimmer with the approach of summer than it did earlier in the spring, with the U.S. in the lead the West’s response to this violence has been minimal. This has once again allowed Indonesia to kill and terrorize in East Timor without penalty. In an opinion piece published by the International Herald Tribune (April 29), Jose Ramos-Horta expressed great indignation over the fact that while NATO was bombing Serbia in the alleged interest of human rights, the same western powers had continued supplying arms to the Indonesian military and imposed no economic sanctions whatsoever on that country in response to the new outrages in East Timor. Noting sarcastically Tony Blair’s call for a "new internationalism" in which "dictators know that they cannot get away with ethnic cleansing or repress their peoples with impunity," Ramos-Horta observed that "The NATO allies demand complete Serbian troop withdrawal from Kosovo and an international military presence." But, he continued, NATO "refuses to demand an Indonesian troop withdrawal from East Timor (for which Portugal remains the administering authority under international law) despite the fact that the territory is illegally occupied."
Arms Flows, TNC Advantage, and Press Coverage
Suharto stands alone as the world’s only known triple-genocidist, responsible for perhaps a million deaths in Indonesia (1965-1966), 200,000–a quarter or more of the population–in East Timor (1975-1999), and tens of thousands in West Papua, which shares a common border with the Irian Jaya province of Indonesia (1965-1999). But as his military regime and New Order moved Indonesia from Sukarno’s policy of non-alignment to fervent (and murderous) anti-communism and opened his country’s doors to transnational corporate investment–even if at a steep bribe entry price–the West has not only protected this premier human rights violator, it has given him tens of billions of dollars in economic and military aid.
With the U.S. establishment enthused over the Indonesian counterrevolution of 1965-1966 and its deadly results, the mainstream U.S. media also greeted these developments as a "gleam of light" (James Reston) and "positive achievement" (C.L. Sulzberger), and media suppressions and apologetics remained in close alignment with the West’s support of the dictatorship up to Suharto’s ouster. The media’s treatment of the invasion, occupation, and mass killing in East Timor from April 1975 onward has fit this pattern of protection of a favored regime very closely.
New York Times reporters, for example, have always relied heavily on Indonesian officials for information on East Timor, and treated that information source with great gullibility (see the accompanying Appendix). Thus, from 1975 to the present day these reporters have spoken of the 1975 Indonesian invasion as an intervention in a civil war, when in fact the very brief civil war had ended by August 1975 with a Fretilin victory, and was over long before the invaders landed.
From 1975 to the present Times reporters have also regularly called the East Timorese resistance fighters "separatists" even though the Indonesian incorporation of East Timor as a province has never been accepted by either the indigenous people or the United Nations. This of course follows the State Department line that we must accept "reality"–that "the reality [is] that Indonesia has possessed East Timor since 1975 and will not relinquish it" (as the State Department explained in 1992).
Times reporters have also repeatedly pretended that some kind of equivalence exists between the violence of the Timorese resistance and that of the Indonesian invaders, and in sharp contrast with their finding of Cambodian deaths in the years 1975-1978 to be the specific responsibility of Pol Pot, they have consistently failed to identify the source of the 200,000 East Timorese deaths since 1975. In a further notable mark of apologetics, Times reporters have also taken at face value a stream of expressions of regrets for violence and promises of reform by the Indonesian invaders.
Paralleling the steady language of apologetics, the Times’s coverage of East Timor, modest from the beginning of the invasion- occupation, declined to zero in 1977 and 1978 as Indonesian violence on the island reached its peak and the death toll skyrocketed. At that time, the Carter administration was supplying arms for the Indonesian terror, and administration officials like Richard Holbrooke were assuring congress that peaceful conditions had returned to East Timor. The Times policy of allowing news coverage of East Timor to drop to zero was a perfect complement to administration policy, helping cover up very serious human rights abuses that were potentially controllable through U.S. influence, but which continued without restraint because that influence was never exercised.
Thus the de facto news and editorial policy of the Times has hewed closely to that of the U.S. government. However, this has caused a certain amount of stress among the paper’s editors, resulting in occasional contortions and contradictions. The paper has had a number of editorials over the years criticizing Indonesian policy in East Timor, although, in marked contrast with its support of war crimes trials for Pol Pot and the "humanitarian" bombing of Serbia, until April 1999 it had never gone so far as to call for sanctions on Indonesia, much less military intervention. In a characteristic evasion cum apologetic, an April 25, 1987 editorial stated that the U.S. "has indulged Indonesia, selling it arms and shrugging off its illegal grab in 1975 of the former Portuguese colony of East Timor. That support, though sometimes questionable, has earned the United States a friend’s right to remind President Suharto that the surest recipe for violent change is to make peaceful change impossible." Support of the brutal dictatorship is only "sometimes" questionable, and it gives the U.S. as "friend" the right to "remind" the dictator, not of the outrageousness of his behavior and regime, but that his behavior might induce a popular reaction; and there is certainly no call for punitive action or even threats in the face of a complete denial of political rights and massive human rights abuses in both Indonesia and East Timor.
Equally interesting, the editors have repeatedly pointed out that "most of the world wasn’t looking" when Indonesia invaded East Timor (July 25, 1980), and that East Timor "was largely ignored until last November 12, when Indonesian troops killed 50 East Timorese" (January 21, 1992), as if their own news/editorial policies had not contributed to that result and made them a part of the problem.
The Times Protects Indonesian Terror Today
How, then, has the Times handled the renewal of Indonesian violence against the Timorese resistance in late 1998 and into 1999–violence that has already killed several hundred East Timorese, created a new atmosphere of terror, and threatened the freedom and fairness of the referendum on independence scheduled for August 8? The answer is that while the Times has not blacked out the terror as it did in 1977 and 1978, it still fails to give it compelling attention and it continues to inject Indonesia-protective biases and misleading frames of reference that it has used since 1975. This has caused the new terror to be seen as less than urgent business, helping to moderate any pressure on Indonesia to stop killing.
The Times had 19 news articles, two editorials, and one good Op Ed column on East Timor during the (roughly) six month period from November 1, 1998 to May 6, 1999–the day after the governments of Indonesia and Portugal joined the Secretary-General in signing a series of three accords at the United Nations that commit Indonesia to the August referendum. The editorial of April 23 did blame Indonesia for the militia terror, and went so far as to suggest that Washington threaten loan cutoffs unless Indonesia disarms and disbands its militias. But it did not criticize leaving Indonesia to bring order to East Timor or call for international forces to protect Indonesia’s victims, despite its recognition that Indonesia was sponsoring the renewed terror.
The paper has also not found the subject of East Timor worthy of front-page attention during the crisis period. Among the many missed opportunities was the case of East Timorese lawyer Aniceto Guterrez Lopes. On the very same day that the Times published an Op Ed column by Guterres Lopes that charged the Indonesian government with "unleashing the militias…to create the appearance of civil war" ("East Timor’s Bloodiest Tradition," May 5), the author’s home in East Timor was surrounded by Indonesian soldiers and he was threatened with physical violence. This dramatic incident, involving the Times as well as an important human rights and political issue, received only back page attention in the paper (Philip Shenon, "Accords Signed for Timor Autonomy Vote; Rights Lawyer Harassed," May 6, 1999, A4).
By contrast, and reflecting Times political priorities, the paper recently had two separate front page articles on defections of visiting Cuban baseball players (April 24, May 5), and it placed 12 separate articles covering the allegations of Chinese spying on its front page between November 1, 1998 and May 6, 1999. Even more interesting is the fact that while the Times never found terror on East Timor worthy of the front page, it had six front-page articles during that period on the Khmer Rouge and the possibilities of bringing its leaders to a war crimes tribunal. This parallels the paper’s earlier pattern from 1975 through 1980 of intensive and indignant coverage of Pol Pot and his depredations, and the dwindling to zero coverage of Suharto’s depredations in East Timor; the former a Communist enemy, the latter a U.S. "friend" for whom accusations of genocide are only "hyperbole" (Henry Kamm, February 15, 1981).
The Times has also continued to employ both language and imagery, and to frame the issues in a manner supportive of Indonesia and hostile to the East Timorese independence and freedom movement. While Pol Pot was a "despised killer," "mass murderer," and committed "genocide," and even Milosevic is now carrying out a "genocidal campaign" (Michael Kaufman, April 11) and "ravaging" Kosovo with "horrors" (John Kifner, May 29), Suharto has never been a "despised killer" nor have the words "genocide," "ravaging" or "horrors" been applied by Times reporters to Indonesian operations in East Timor, with the single exception of Anthony Lewis using the word "horror" in 1994. In Barbara Crossette’s words, Indonesia and Suharto have merely had "a troublesome reputation in human rights" (June 23, 1996).
It is well known that photos are important in arousing interest and mobilizing public sentiment. The Times has had a stream of photos of Khmer Rouge victims over the years–six just in the period from November 1, 1998 through May 6, 1999. But there were no pictures of East Timorese victims during that period, although there were wire service reports of a mass grave that had been uncovered in late April in the town of Ermera (AP, April 1), and a Reuters dispatch described the retrieval of bodies from the Bay of Dili on April 25, 1999. Times reporters never made it to these gravesites. In fact, we were unable to locate a photo of Indonesian victims shown by the Times for anywhere in the Indonesian archipelago for 1998 and 1999. This is true despite the fact that a coalition of 17 Indonesian human rights group issued a statement on October 10, 1998 accusing Mobil Oil Indonesia of providing earth moving equipment used to dig mass graves for the burial of victims of army violence in Aceh. Six gravesites have already been uncovered in that area and photos are available; but although photos and the story appeared in Business Week ("What Did Mobil Know," December 28, 1998), they did not make it to the Times.
The Times has also avoided any comparisons of the treatment of human rights violations in East Timor and Kosovo. The Op Ed column of May 5 by Guterres Lopes deals only with the violence in East Timor. By contrast, as noted earlier, the more famous East Timorese activist Jose Ramos-Horta has insisted on pressing the hypocrisy and double standard of the West’s treatment of Kosovo and East Timor. Perhaps this explains why, although Ramos-Horta was in New York and had been interviewed there on Canadian radio on April 23, the New York Times has not allowed this East Timorese voice to be heard.
Instead of a human rights framework in dealing with East Timor in which an aggressor and massive human rights violator is being opposed by a repressed people, the Times has used a more "objective" and "neutral" one in which two sides–"integrationists" and "separatists" are fighting for control, with an uncertain outcome. This is, of course, not neutral at all but an Indonesia- protective framework. One characteristic Times headline reads, "In East Timor, Separatists Attacked By Militias" (April 18, 1999), which uses the negative "separatists" instead of language that would portray the East Timorese as fighting for freedom and survival against a murderous occupying power. Note also that the "militias" are not identified as Indonesia-sponsored; the lethal character of their "attacks" is completely elided; and the design to prevent a free and fair vote in the upcoming referendum is ignored in the paper’s heading. The contents of the article follow closely the agenda indicated in the title.
Seth Mydans to the Barricades for Indonesia
The most substantial Times article to have appeared through the end of April on the renewed violence in East Timor, Seth Mydans’s "With Peace Accord at Hand, East Timor’s War Deepens" (April 26, 1999), displays well both the institutional continuity of Times policy on the coverage of East Timor and the various forms of apologetics the paper has repeatedly used on this subject.
As always, Mydans and the Times accept Indonesia’s absorption of East Timor as a province, despite its basis in aggression, the continued resistance of the indigenous people, and the refusal of the UN to recognize this act. (Security Council Resolution 384, still in effect and dating back to December 22, 1975, affirms the right of the East Timorese to "self-determination and independence" and calls on Indonesia "to withdraw without delay all its forces from the territory.") Imagine how the Times would have reacted had an ally of Saddam Hussein recognized his 1990 absorption of Kuwait as the "19th province" of Iraq. The Times would have been aghast at this "rewarding of aggression" in defiance of the will of the "international community" and its rejection by the UN. But with its government willing to reward Indonesian aggression, the Times blithely does the same. Thus, Mydans’s article is datelined "Dili, Indonesia," rather than Dili, East Timor; and his article repeatedly refers to the East Timorese resistance as a "separatist" rather than liberation movement fighting to affirm its people’s right to self-determination and independence.
Even more outrageous, Mydans refers to the "long separatist war" and a "generation of insurgent warfare," thereby subtly making the killing in East Timor a result of the stubborn behavior of insurgents and separatists, not the Indonesian invader. In fact, he never mentions an Indonesian "invasion" per se, only that East Timor was "annexed by Indonesia in 1996 [sic] after its colonial ruler, Portugal, withdrew…." Nor does he mention any "long and brutal war of pacification" carried out by the Indonesian army, only that East Timor has become a "tropical island with little joy," rife with "violence and terror," where the "atmosphere" has been "dulled and brutalized" by decades of fighting. Imagine how the Times would respond to an analysis of Kosovo that spoke of the Kosovo Liberation Army’s "separatist war" and the "KLA insurgency," but never mentioned the fact of any brutal Serbian actions that caused damage or hurt people. Once again, the Times would be aghast at such crass apologetics–but their own is far worse, as the Serbs have not invaded a sovereign country and their level of terror before the NATO bombing was minor compared to the murderous performance of Indonesia in East Timor.
In keeping with a rich Times tradition, Mydans does mention that the "long-running war has taken as many as 200,000 lives," but without identifying any agent responsible for the killing. This is the same Mydans who was crystal clear and extremely indignant at Pol Pot’s personal responsibility for the excess deaths in Cambodia during his years of rule. But Mydans has never found Suharto responsible for the mass killings in Indonesia, nor can he seem to locate any Indonesian responsibility for deaths in the "long separatist war" in East Timor. Even in discussing the renewed killings in East Timor, which he rightly attributes to the "militias" (more accurately, paramilitary forces fighting as proxies on behalf of the Indonesian military), he balances this with the statement that "Separatist guerrillas have also used brutal tactics against their enemies during the conflict." But by failing to provide any evidence or comparative data on "brutal tactics," Mydans makes it seem that there is a rough equivalence between Indonesian and Indonesian-sponsored terrorism and that of the "separatists."
Mydans downgrades the role of Indonesia in the current round of violence in virtually reflexive apologetics. Only in the 13th paragraph does he point out that Indonesia has begun the "Timorization" of the war (meaning the substitution of locally recruited mercenaries for Indonesian soldiers), and then in traditional Times fashion he suggests that the military may not have accepted Habibie’s offer of self-determination and may be behaving as rogues to disrupt the independence vote process. But he never explores the implications of the important fact that the Indonesian army supports the militia terror; Allan Nairn, not Mydans and the Times, located a paramilitary leader willing to acknowledge a "license to kill" by the Indonesian army (The Nation, May 31, 1999); Mydans never treats militia operations as the renewal of the campaign of Indonesian pacification and terror; and he fails to spell out its significance as a means whereby Indonesia may continue its 23-year denial of East Timorese basic human rights. Mydans even converts the Timorization process into the basis of some future civil conflict between the "integrationists" and "separatists," and expresses grave concern over the possible future victimization of these "potential targets of separatists."
Mydans never suggests, directly or by choice of source, that perhaps the United States, United Nations, or NATO should step in and force [emphasis on force] Indonesia to call off its murderers and death squads. No, this is a distant conflict in a "sad and battered territory" between "separatists" and "militias" in a case where issues are murky and the wisest counsel would be to turn our backs and let the murderers go about their dirty work. This is exactly what the United States and "international community" have been doing for 23 years, with reliable Times support.
Appendix: Dossier Of The Standard Forms Of Apologetics On Indonesia And East Timor Used By New York Times Reporters
1. Gullibility on Indonesian Official Truth: Indonesia refused to let reporters visit East Timor "because of the government’s belief that they will not be objective." (Barbara Crossette, March 20, 1988). Citing an Indonesian official, Henry Kamm reported that "Because of continuing insecurity, the former colony remains a restricted area." (April 19, 1978. Note also that Kamm interprets the Indonesian occupation as non-colonial.) Claims of terrible things going in East Timor are qualified by the fact that "the bulk of the testimony has come from highly partisan members or supporters of Fretilin…" (Kamm, Feb. 15, 1981. Note that in reporting the reason for restrictions on entry given him by Indonesian officials in 1978 Kamm never suggested that this was from a "highly partisan" source.)
2. Indonesian Killings Lack An Identified Agent: "More than 500,000 Indonesians are estimated to have died in a purge of leftists in 1965." (Seth Mydans, May 21, 1998. Note that Mydans, who was quite clear that Pol Pot personally was responsible for deaths in Cambodia, also identifies the victims killed as "purged," not murdered or slaughtered, and as "leftists," although many thousands were merely peasant farmers.) "More than 100,000 of the province’s original 650,000 people are believed to have died between 1975 and 1980 as a result of civil war, invasion, the resistance of Timorese Fretilin guerrillas and famine." (Colin Campbell, November 28, 1982. Note that Campbell doesn’t even mention Indonesians, or the murderous post-invasion pacification, although explicitly blaming the victims for resisting.) Suharto "has been accused of using murder and torture to quash dissent" (Philip Shenon, May 9, 1998. The evidence thus far has not been adequate to push Shenon beyond acknowledging the accusation; imagine him saying Pol Pot was "accused" of using murder).
3. Suharto Never a Mass Murderer: Whereas Pol Pot was a bloody killer who committed genocide, Indonesia and its triple genocidist Suharto only suffer from "a troublesome reputation in human rights." (Crossette, June 23, 1996). He is a "forceful leader" (Mydans, June 21, 1996). His terror is acceptable at home: "Many critics [unnamed], recalling the years of racial and political violence and economic disaster, do not quarrel with President Suharto’s rationale in forging unity with firmness." (Crossette, February 2, 1987). Under him, "secessionist movements have collapsed" (Crossette, Jan. 28, 1987. Crossette does not mention mass killing as an instrument of such "collapse"). Protests "degenerate into hyperbole–accusations of ‘genocide’ rather than mass deaths from cruel warfare and the starvation that accompanies it on this historically food-short island" (Kamm, February 15, 1981). Suharto himself is a "profoundly spiritual man" (Nicholas Kristof, May 17, 1998), a "reforming autocrat" (Steven Erlanger, May 22, 1998), with benign motives: "It was not simply personal ambition that led Mr. Suharto to clamp down so hard for so long; it was a fear, shared by many in this country of 210 million people, of chaos," and in the end he simply "failed to comprehend the intensity of people’s discontent" (Mydans, June 2, 1998).
4. Suharto A Stabilizing Influence. "Throughout Mr. Suharto’s rule, Indonesia has been a bulwark of stability in Southeast Asia" (Mydans, January 10, 1998). "Stability and a constitutional succession are desired even by Mr. Suharto’s harshest critics [unnamed]" (Erlanger, November 11, 1990). Things may look undemocratic, but Indonesia operates under "the President’s philosophy of opposition by consensus…. Ms. Megawati’s outspokenness breaks the rules of Indonesian-style consensus politics." (Mydans, July 28, 1996). Whereas the Sukarno government was "a military threat to its neighbors and an international bully," under Suharto "Indonesia has become a stabilizing influence" (Crossette, April 20, 1986). In contrast with Saddam Hussein, "Mr. Suharto isn’t hoarding anthrax or threatening to invade Australia" (David Sanger, March 8, 1998. Note that neither Crossette nor Sanger regard Suharto’s invasion and murderous occupation of East Timor as international bullying or equivalent to a "threat" to invade another country.)
5. Indonesians Really Love Their Army, Which Is Above the Battle: "Since independence came in 1949, the Indonesian Army has strived to save the country from suspected designs on state power from left and right." (Kamm, June 17, 1979). The role of the armed forces "includes political responsibilities, enshrined in national doctrine [i.e., the ideology and rules of the dictatorship] as the military’s ‘dual function': to defend the country from all threats, external and internal [e.g., popular efforts to obtain democratic government], and to take part directly in domestic political life and development. (Erlanger, October 11, 1990). The army is "the one institution that enjoys broad support among most Indonesians," and is seen "not as a threat but as a promise of stability." (Mydans, February 15, 1998, June 2, 1998. Eventually, Mydans admitted that Suharto’s control was based "mostly on the fear he was able to instill" [June 9, 1998], but he never explained why this did not apply to the army which was Suharto’s instrument of control.) General Wiranto "a reliable supporter of President Suharto…is described by associates as a thoughtful soldier who would ultimately put the interests of the nation and the military ahead of the interests of the Indonesian President." (Shenon, May 14, 1998. Shenon does not question the reliability of his informants, nor the possibility of a conflict between the interests of "nation" and "the military," if in fact he sees any conflict.)
6. Indonesia Intervened in East Timor to Settle a Civil War: East Timor "was taken by force by Indonesia in 1975 as separatists were trying to proclaim independence" (Shenon, September 17, 1992. In fact, the civil war was over three months before the invasion, and Shenon makes the East Timorese "separatists" even before the Indonesian aggressors had illegally absorbed the area). Indonesia annexed East Timor "in the confusion that followed the withdrawal of Portugal in 1974" (Clyde Haberman, October 13, 1989).
7. No East Timorese Liberation Movement or Freedom Fighters: Only Separatists: From 1976 onward Times reporters have uniformly accepted that East Timor is "Indonesia’s disputed province" (Crossette, March 20, 1988), and that the indigenous freedom movement is "separatist." One headline reads "Indonesia Reduces Separatist’s Prison Term" (August 15, 1993). The Times did publish a letter by Law Professor Roger Clark (March 7, 1993) which quotes UN General Assembly Resolution 31/53, of December 1, 1976, Paragraph 5, that "Rejects the claim that East Timor has been integrated into Indonesia, inasmuch as the people of the territory have not been able to exercise their right of self-determination and independence." But international law and an international moral consensus cannot prevail in Times usage against the rule of force where U.S. interests are at stake.
8. Don’t Underestimate the Brutality of Separatist Terrorism: Indonesia’s forces in East Timor have "created an atmosphere of terror. An often brutal separatist insurgency has battled the forces and tens of thousands of lives have been lost" (Mydans, June 11, 1998). "Separatist guerrillas have also used brutal tactics against their enemies during the conflict. ‘If the pro-independence groups win, we will be the first to die,’ a pro-integration leader told the National Commission on Human Rights" (Mydans, April 26, 1999). So a kind of standoff between two violent parties, with source of loss of lives unclear).
9. U.S. Role Merely Acquiescence and Helping Indonesian Self-Defense: The U.S. "furnished most of the weapons that Indonesia used for its invasion–although the United States intended that these weapons be used only for Indonesia’s self-defense" (Kamm, February 15, 1981. Kamm later says that although President Ford and Secretary Kissinger visited Suharto on the eve of the invasion, there is no evidence that they discussed the invasion with him. But beyond this remarkable naiveté, Kamm does not say how he knows U.S. weapons-use intentions; and he fails to mention the contradictory fact of a quadrupling of the U.S. flow of weapons after the invasion and during the savage pacification that ensued).
10. Indonesia Means Well and Is Trying to Amend Its Ways: "Indonesia Seeks to Atone for a Massacre" (Shenon, September 17, 1992); "Jakarta Says Most Political Prisoners Will Be Free in ’79" (Kamm, April 12, 1978. Kamm failed to follow up on whether this claim was met). "Jakarta Promises an Investigation Of Army Shooting in East Timor" (Crossette, Nov. 14, 1991. Crossette did not follow up on this promise). Since 1975, prodded by international criticism, "the tone of official behavior has changed, with an emphasis on reconciliation, development and progress" (Erlanger, October 21, 1990).
11. Mass Population Transfers Bold: Over the last 25 years "more than five million Indonesians have been uprooted as part of a bold plan of the government to relieve severe population pressures on the island of Java." (Shenon, October 8, 1992. Would such a population transfer by Castro or the Sandinistas be described as "bold"?).
12. Growth Offsets Any Repression: "It has been Indonesia’s remarkable prosperity that has cemented his [Suharto's] control" (Sanger and Mydans, Jan. 18, 1998. This insight on "cemented control" preceded Suharto’s downfall by four months). "The signs of success are everywhere in this increasingly prosperous nation of 190 million people" (Mydans, June 21, 1996). "As Indonesia Crushes Its Critics, It Helps Millions Escape Poverty" (Shenon, August 27, 1993. A Wall Street Journal article of July 14, 1998 showed, however, that in reality the "trickle-down" of Indonesian growth never took place and that the government and World Bank claims of a giant poverty reduction was a big lie, never questioned by the Times and other mainstream media).
Edward Herman is an economist, media analyst, and regular columnist for Z magazine. David Peterson is a freelance journalist living in the Chicago area.