New Exception to the Rulers, Part 2
by land, and bombed East Timor. The carnage was unbelievable. The killing was massive in
the first few days. Thousands of Timorese were killed. They would drag people out of their
houses, bring down their families to the harbors, Dili, the capital of East Timor, and
shoot people into the harbor as their family members counted them off into the sea. The
whole sea became red. People talk about it still today because it is only 22 years later.
In the next few weeks, even the State Department became concerned. Suharto met with
Ford and Kissinger because there is a bilateral agreement that Indonesia has with the U.S.
that they will get weapons from the U.S., but they will not use them for offensive
purposes. And here they were using them for offensive purposes. He wanted to make sure
that the weapons flow and all the support for the U.S. would not end when they invaded
East Timor. Well he got the go-ahead and he did it. The State Department knew that this
could get a little out of hand, that Congress would look at this, especially how bloody it
was and say, perhaps you shouldn’t be giving weapons to Indonesia. They sent some
high level memos back and forth to Kissinger. When Kissinger finally arrived back in the
U.S., he held a high level meeting with his top State Department officials and castigated
them, for putting down on paper what was happening in East Timor and said, we will not
kick our ally in the teeth and there will be no more paper trail about what is happening
That was in 1975. For the next 4 years, the killing got more and more intense. In 1979,
villages were moving up into the mountains, whole villages were just leaving because the
Indonesians were moving into villages and killing people. They would go up into the
mountains. The Indonesians would surround the mountains and starve them out. Those that
didn’t die would come down and they would be put into these settlement camps. They
wouldn’t be allowed to farm and they would simply die of starvation or of massacres
of which there have been many over of the years. In 1979 when hunger was at its worst, it
wasn’t because they couldn’t grow crops but that the Indonesians were not
allowing them to. Some aid workers got into East Timor and said that the malnutrition
there, that the starvation there was worse than even in Biafra. At this point, from 1975
on, Indonesia closed East Timor to the outside world and committed this genocide – one of
the greatest genocides since the Nazis in World War II.
In 1988, Indonesia was given so much pressure from the outside world that they decided
they would open East Timor, just a bit, but say that it was open. A few people got in. In
the summer of 1990, another journalist, Alan Nairn and I did go into East Timor and what
we found there was, you know, hell on earth with a complete totalitarian military
dictatorship. Everywhere we went Indonesian military followed us. Indonesian military are
in the streets, going into villages and tanks. Every market is watched over by Indonesian
police stations. All people are monitored. Every village has a house that has a list of
names of everyone in the village, people have to sign in and out when they go in and out.
When the Indonesians are not happy with a family, if they don’t drag someone out and
kill them and torture them, they will move into a house to keep control. Indonesian
soldiers will actually move into a family’s house to make sure that no discussions
are going on. It is to control the young people. To say the least, it is a very
One marketplace we went into, a young man came up to us in full view of the police just
to practice his English and right after we parted we were taken to the police station and
questioned for 20 minutes and he was arrested and interrogated overnight. People in East
Timor, if they are caught looking into short-wave radios are arrested. If they are caught
with a newspaper from the outside world they are arrested. When we would talk to people
sometimes they would dig up newspaper articles that they buried in their backyard.
That’s how intense the control is in East Timor.
Through this period of 22 years, again, they killed a third of the population – 700,000
people. In 1979, when the killing was at its worst, there wasn’t one mainstream press
article in the New York Times and the Washington Post – not one. In fact, ABC, NBC and CBS
evening news never mentioned the word East Timor and neither did Nightline or MacNeil
Lehrer between 1975, the day of the invasion, except for one comment of Walter Cronkite
the day after just saying Indonesia had invaded East Timor – it was a 40 second report –
until November 12, 1991.
In 1990, we left East Timor but in October, 1991, Alan and I went back. We went back
because, for the first time and at that time the 17 year occupation, Indonesia had agreed
to a U.N. request after a lot of pressure to allow a Portuguese parliamentary delegation
to go into East Timor to investigate the human rights situation. So Alan and I decided to
go back before the delegation came and see how the Indonesians were preparing for it. Be
there during the time of the visit, and then stay afterwards to see what happens to the
Timorese who spoke. We immediately went to Motael the main catholic church, the flagship
church in Dili. We went to mass and women were crying and I didn’t know if it was the
standard sorrow that is East Timor or if something else had happened. And after the mass
we learned that, the night before, the Indonesian military had surrounded the church and
shot into it killing a young man named Sebastiau Gomes; in fact, killing him at point
blank range when he came out. Why they did this is that young people around the country
were leaving school, they were leaving work, leaving their homes and taking refuge in the
catholic churches because they wanted to speak to the delegation that was later to come
and they were afraid that the Indonesian military would pick them up before the delegation
came and arrest them. And so they were taking refuge in the church. The church is the only
civilian institution left standing in East Timor. They outlawed all institutions where
people gathered. But the church still stands. So that’s where the greatest amount of
political activity and independent activities takes place. And no matter what people feel
in East Timor about politics in general running the gambit from conservatives to more
progressives. On one issue they are almost completely united. More than 99% of the people
obviously want the Indonesians out because of the just horrible devastation that the
Indonesians have brought. So, there they were at the end of October, 1991. Sebastiau Gomes
had been shot and the people were very, very afraid – as they always are. But this time,
even more intense because the Indonesians had violated the sanctity of the church.
That night a brave young person from that church as the Indonesians were surrounding
it, ran up into the steeple and started to ring the bell. And that alerted people in Dili
and they ran from all their homes at 12:00 or 1:00 in the morning to protect the church.
There is an unwritten curfew in East Timor. You don’t go out at night. Ninjas are out
at night; the Indonesian military wearing all black, terrorizing people. You just
don’t go out. But hear they heard their church was in need. They surrounded the
church but it was too late. The Indonesian military killed Sebastiau Gomes.
When we arrived, we saw the fresh blood on the steps where he had been killed. Bishop
Belo ,who just won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996, along with Jose Ramos-Horta, officiated
at the mass for Sebastiau Gomes that was late in the afternoon. A thousand people came to
the Motael church for this. Many of them who didn’t know Sebastiau Gomes but all
understanding why he died and all understanding the threat to all of them what this
represented. After the mass was held, the family of Sebastiau carried the coffin in the
street and the people marched. More than a thousand people, holding up their hands in a V
sign shouting "Viva East Timor", "Viva Sebastiau", "Viva
Independence". Now this is unheard of in a place where there is no freedom of
assembly, where there is no freedom of speech, there is no freedom of the press. This was
the boldest act that the Indonesian military had ever seen in, at that time, the 17 years
of this occupation. "Viva Independence." "Viva East Timor." They
The Indonesian military lined the route of the procession that wove their way, to the
Santa Cruz cemetery to bury Sebastiau. As long as the soldiers didn’t do anything,
the people obviously were peaceful. They marched that way holding up their hands. They got
to the cemetery. They sang hymns, they chanted more, they buried Sebastiau and they ran
home. They were afraid, exhilarated for what they had done, the defiant act they had just
engaged in, but absolutely terrified. It was getting dark. Again, you don’t go out
after dark and so people ran home.
For the next two weeks, we went around the country talking to people about how the
Indonesian military was preparing for the delegation. Everywhere we heard the same story.
The Indonesians went into every village and told people that if you speak the delegation,
we’ll kill you after they leave. We’ve already dug mass graves to put your
bodies in. So that was the kind of nationwide death threat that was issued against the
people of East Timor. We met with Bishop Belo in Dili and Bishop Belo said the line that
was commonly used for the Timorese was "we will kill your family to the seventh
Somewhere within that two weeks news started to be passed from one person to another
that the delegation wasn’t going to come. Something had happened and the Portuguese
were not coming. Now to say the least, this was a tremendous letdown to the people, not to
mention the young people who had taken refuge in the churches, because the delegation was
their only protection. They were willing to risk their life to speak to this delegation.
Now they had risked their lives and there would be no chance that the delegation would
even hear what they had to say.
We later learned that the delegation decided not to come at the behest of the U.S. I
mean, after all, people then around the world would learn about the U.S. complicity in
this genocide. The fact that when the Indonesian military invaded, 90% of the weapons used
were from the U.S. That was under Ford. Then came Carter. Mondale went to the capital of
Indonesia and the military asked for Bronco planes and helicopters because they were
having trouble with the terrain of East Timor. They had occupied, they were continuing to
kill people, but the people were running up into the mountains. And they wanted to strafe
them out of the mountains. And so Mondale actually made a phone call back to Washington
and expedited the shipment of weapons to the Indonesian military. And then, of course,
Reagan and Bush continued that policy and President Clinton was not doing anything
different after 1992, but this is right before 1992 and President Bush was in power.
People in East Timor follow U.S. politics more perhaps than many Americans. They know
when every new bill, is in Congress. They hear about it despite the fact that they have
almost no mainstream information flow . They just get it by word of mouth. They get it
through underground sources.
So there we were in 1991 in November and the delegation wasn’t going to come. Two
weeks after the Santa Cruz funeral for Sebastiau Gomes the Timorese decided to hold a
memorial procession for him. A mass held 6:00 in the morning at the Motael church and many
of the people retraced the steps from the church to the cemetery. But this time, more than
a 1,000 people showed up at the church. And as they went into the streets young people
took out bed sheets that they had snuck under their shirts that said things like,
"Portugal we are your responsibility, why the Indonesian military shoot our
church" and they held up these banners. For in addition to holding up their hands in
a V sign, they unfolded banners and thousands of people marched to the cemetery. Again the
Indonesian military lined the street. It was a cross-section of Timorese society. On one
side of the banner you would have an old woman in traditional Timorese garb and the other
side a high school girl wearing her catholic school uniform. And in that way they marched
up to the cemetery.
The Indonesian military were everywhere because all they had to do was come out of the
buildings they were in. Every other building in Dili is some kind of military or police
installation or a home of a general or an officer who is holding a Timorese in the back.
There are torture houses throughout Dili. All the Indonesian officers have to do is come
out of their buildings and they line the streets .
The Timorese march to the cemetery. The young kids, the boys who are like 6 and 7,
would run ahead putting their hands up in a V sign and the older boys would line up trying
to hold them back and shout "diciplina, diciplina" to try to keep people
disciplined as they march to the cemetery. By the time they got to the cemetery there were
3,000 or 4,000 or 5,000 people. On one side of the road is the people’s cemetery and
on the other side was the Indonesian military cemetery and on both sides of the road were
high walls. Alan and I were interviewing people in the middle of the road as they got
there. Some young people climbed on these walls and they were holding up banners. They
were chanting. Some were singing going in to where Sebastiau was buried and putting
flowers on his grave.
Then we saw an Indonesian truck pull up with about 50 soldiers and they got out and
that didn’t look very good. We were asking people, why are you here? why are you
doing this? And everyone said, well, we’ll risk anything for our freedom. Just over
and over they would say that. And then from the direction that the Timorese procession had
come, came hundreds of Indonesian soldiers marching up, weapons in the ready possession.
The weapons being U.S. M-16s. Hundreds of them marching up and full uniform, marching up
about 12 to 14 abreast.
Alan and I were standing in the middle of the crowd talking to people and when we saw
that very ominous sight I took out my headphones and put them on and I held up my
microphone like a flag and I took my tape recorder out. And Alan put the camera above his
head. We never brought our equipment out in East Timor because of how dangerous it would
be for those who we were talking to. But this time we wanted to make it very clear who we
were because we thought somehow maybe we could overt an attack just by our presence by
being Western journalists. We knew they had committed many massacres in the past but never
in front of Western journalists.
In the time leading up to December, 1975 when the Indonesian military invaded, there
were 5 Australian and British journalists who were covering the events leading up to the
invasion. They were in a small border town between West and East Timor, and they put up a
big sign on their house that said "press". And the Indonesian military would
come over the border from West Timor. They lined them up against the house and they
executed all of the journalists. There was one journalist left to cover the invasion on
December 7. His name was Roger East. He was from Australia covering it for the world, for
all the news wires. He had been at a radio station in Dili when the Indonesian military
dragged him out as they dragged so many others out in that first day of the invasion. As
they dragged him out he shouted "I’m from Australia, I’m from
Australia". They shot him into the harbor.
After doing a documentary on everything that’s happened in East Timor, I got a
letter from one of the journalist’s wives, Shirley Shackleton, the wife of Greg
Shackleton. He did a very moving report the night before he was executed. He was sitting
with some Timorese and he said "they were just asking, why, why are the Indonesian
doing this and why isn’t the world coming to our rescue"? And he said I’d
tell them that "No, Australia won’t help them but perhaps the U.N. could prevent
this kind of aggression. I am Greg Shackleton reporting to you from a village I will never
forget in the middle of East Timor". And the next day he was executed. Shirley sent
me a letter, his wife, just a few years ago after I did the documentary and she said, you
got everything mainly right but in terms of the execution he wasn’t just shot. They
cut off his genitals, shoved them in his mouth and he smothered to death.
That’s what happened to the journalists in 1975. But this is now 1991. You have
the 17 years of, at that point, there is total U.S. support for the Indonesian military.
And we felt that U.S. journalists, the Indonesians would be less likely to do something if
they saw that we were there. We started to walk to the front of the crowd. There was a
young man behind me named Kamahl Madhadj from New Zealand and he was working with an
Australian aid organization doing some translation and we had just met briefly the day
before and I said, do you want to come forward with us because I felt the greater the
Western presence the better. He had a camera. But he chose to step back. So, we went to
the front of the crowd. The Indonesian military were marching up. It got very, very quiet
because no one could run away. People in the very back thousands back could run but right
now in the front thousands of people were trapped by the high walls of the cemetery. So it
got very quiet. We could just hear the beat of the boots as they walked in unison toward
the people and the whispering of the kids behind us. Alan and I stood there I was holding
out my mic and recording.
The Indonesian military marched up again 12 to 14 abreast. Marched up, turned around
the corner and without any warning, without any hesitation or provocation open fired on
the crowd. Gunning people down from right to left. We were in front of the crowd. They
went right through us. A group of them enveloped us, took me. They started to shake my mic
in my face as if to say this is what we don’t want. And slammed me to the ground with
their rifle butts and their boots and started to kick me. At that point Alan had gotten a
photograph of them open firing on the crowd but he threw himself on top of me to protect
me from further injury. And they took their U.S. M-16s like baseball bats and they slammed
them against his head until they fractured his skull.
As we were lying on the road everyone around us was being killed. About 12 of them were
lined up, took the U.S. M-16s and put them to our head and they were screaming,
"politic, politic" saying we were political. Because, of course, anyone – any
Westerner who was witness to something like this and any journalist to them was political.
Alan was covered in blood. His whole body was in spasm, and he couldn’t protect
himself anymore because he had been beaten so badly. All I could say was "we’re
from America … we’re from America". And as each person joined in this firing
line when we said "we were from America" to make it very clear who we were. They
would say, "Australian? Australia?" We knew what happened to the Australian
journalists and we said, "no, America." They stripped us of everything but I
still had my passport. I threw it at them and they saw we were from the U.S. They still
screamed and held the guns to our heads but then eventually they decided to pull the guns
away. And we think that it was because we were from the same country their weapons were
from. They would have to pay a price for killing us that they had never had to pay for
killing the Timorese.
They moved on and they killed the Timorese who were moving, not able to run away but
not yet dead. The dragged an old Timorese man next to us and they beat him into the sewage
ditch behind us. Every time he could get up he would put his hand in a prayer sign and
they take their rifle butts and smash them into his face. He would still climb up out of
the sewer and try again to get out and they would beat him down. Every time we picked up
our heads to look it seemed that that more infuriated the Indonesian soldiers so we kept
our eyes to the ground. The whole road had become a killing field … had become an
extension of the cemetery as hundreds of people were dead around us.
At that point a civilian jeep pulled up and we were able to get into it and the driver
picked up the old man in the sewer and brought him into the jeep and we drove down the
road until dozens Timorese hailed down the truck begging to jump in. They jumped on top of
us on top of the truck, hanging off the spare tire in the back because the entire area was
fare game for the Indonesians now because the cemetery was in a residential area and they
were sealing of the whole area and killing everyone inside or at least directing them. So
everyone was trying to escape.
We drove like that, as a human mass, to the hospital. In the hospital we saw the lucky
Timorese. The Timorese who were wounded but not yet dead … the Timorese who had their
arms shot off … whose backs were blown open but they were there. The first little boy to
go down … the first person as the Indonesian soldiers had open fired right behind us…
was about 6 or 7 and he had his hands up in the V sign as they just shot him until he
exploded. This was the first kid to go down. In the hospital were the ones just hanging
on, friends dragging them in to be operated on.
When the doctors and nurses saw us they started to cry because, although we were not as
in bad shape as the other people, they saw Americans both as the supporters of their
killers but the American people as their only protection. And with the blood on the shield
they realized they just had no hope. At that point I was sure that the Indonesian military
would raid the hospital which was where the wounded Timorese would go, the Timorese who
were at the massacre site. This would be a logical place for them to come, so we decided
to go into hiding.
We went into two places of hiding that morning deciding what to do. We realized the
only way the killing would stop because even in these other places we continued to hear
shooting in other parts of Dili. Tanks were now rolling through the streets. The whole
city was closed down. The only way the killing could stop would only come from outside
pressure. Nothing would do it inside East Timor. In this site that is truly hell on earth
we decided to make a dash for the airport. The only plane out that day was about 1:30 in
the afternoon. The massacre happened about 8:00 or 8:30. We decided to just try to get on
this plane and get out. We got into a cab. The question is do you get a Timorese driver or
do you get an Indonesian driver. And we ended up with a Timorese driver. We had about 5
minutes to get to this airport and the ride would take about 15 minutes but he raced to
the airport. He knew immediately as soon as he saw how critical it was to get us on this
Alan had been covered in blood. We got him cleaned up enough. The blood was pouring out
of his ear. It was under his hair. The blood was like a bathing cap over his head. But if
we cleaned it enough and get to the airport quick enough and get on the plane they
wouldn’t see that we were at the massacre site. That was critical we felt. That they
wouldn’t know this. So we got him another shirt and then raced as fast as we could.
At the airport we told the young Timorese man to wait because we thought they might chase
us out of the airport but not if he was in danger. He should just leave. And we would try
to get on. We went to a counter in the airport which is all run by the military. We went
up and said we want to leave right now. We had nothing. I was covered in dirt. Alan was
very messed up. They said, where is your luggage? They had already surrounded the hotel,
so there was no way we could go back to it.
I took Alan’s shirt that was covered in blood because I knew that they would say
that this had never happened as they continually had denied for 17 years. And I wrapped it
under a towel and had it around my waist. And I though this was the only evidence we would
have. But we also got someone while we were in hiding to take 18 pictures just of me and
Alan. Because if they would deny that this had taken place well then they would have to at
least account for what had happened to us. I had that film and tucked it away and we said
we wanted to get on the plane. We fought back and forth about it first they gave us the
tickets. Then they ripped them away. They said, let us see your documents. All I had was
my ticket. Somehow I still had my ticket and my passport. But I couldn’t show them my
passport because Alan had had his confiscated. And so if I showed mine they would ask for
his. So I said, my documents are these, waving my Continental ticket, and I wouldn’t
let them see it. And I said, we have to get on this plane. And eventually we did get on
the plane. I don’t know if it was because they had decided not to kill us so now they
wanted us out or if there was a gap in communication between the military at the massacre
site and the military here.
There was a film maker at the massacre site named Max Stahl who was doing a documentary
for Yorkshire TV. He was inside the cemetery when the shooting started and he filmed the
Timorese running through the tiny portal in the cemetery wall. Those who could escape the
shooting. And this is a videotape that has now been seen around the world because Max
videotaped for 10 minutes at a time and then he would bury his videotape in a fresh grave.
Videotape and then bury the videotape because he knew he would be taken, as he was.
Arrested with many others who were inside the cemetery. He was interrogated for 9 hours.
He unlike the many Timorese who got killed that day later in police headquarters, got out
that night. He went back to the cemetery, dug up the videotapes, had them smuggled out of
the country and that videotape aired that night in Holland and in Japan. And then it made
it all over the world. So that was extremely important evidence but this was before that
happened and before he got out.
We made our way to the plane and then we flew from East Timor to West Timor to Bali.
And at Bali we got on an American flight on Continental Airlines to Guam. Once we got on
the flight on Continental and we took off, you know, we could say to the flight attendant
what had happened and that Alan needed help because he was in a very bad situation right
now. We decided we wouldn’t stop anywhere in Indonesia for medical help so they
wouldn’t stop us. When we got to Guam there were naval doctors on the flight
vacationing in Bali and they wanted to take him to the military hospital. But we were
quite sure that if we were taken to the U.S. military hospital, they would cut off all
access to us saying they were protecting us and they were just treating us. So we went to
the small provincial hospital in Guam, Guam Memorial Hospital, where we were able to use
the emergency room really as a switchboard. They had 5 lines in and then all the media was
calling. For the first time in 17 years the international media was interested in what had
happened in East Timor. When we were in Bali we were able to make one call to the West
before getting on the plane, calling a friend in Washington to tell the press that a
massacre had taken place in East Timor.
Kamahl Madhadj, the young man who had stepped back, he was found by the Red Cross a
couple hundred yards down the road that morning waving his New Zealand passport. They got
him into the jeep. He had been shot. They tried to get him to the hospital. The Indonesian
military demanded that they throw out his body and they said that they wouldn’t and
he did make it to the hospital but he died 20 minutes later. He bled to death. He along
with more than 250 Timorese died that day and who knows how many more in the ensuing days.
So many Timorese who were wounded and got out of that area chose not to go to the hospital
because it was raided and they knew that they would be found and so they went into the
mountains. They were just being kept by friends and family and they died in various places
throughout East Timor.
One of the most moving sites of that day is in that film where he was behind the
gravestones filming the Indonesian surrounding the whole area. A very deliberate massive
operation that they conducted there. They surrounded the whole area. They didn’t let
in any religious people or medical people to perform first aid or last rites. They were
clearly out to kill. Out to kill this group of people, the cross-section of Timorese
society that simply said, "Viva East Timor" "Viva Independence"
"Viva Sebastiau". But, in this film we see these young kids who were running
through the cemetery. They are high school kids. A lot of the girls in the catholic school
uniforms. They were also wearing T-shirts they had made that said things like Free East
Timor and the ripped them off as they were running so they would be in regular dress as
they ran and they couldn’t be identified.
But you’d see these young people jumping over each other to run through the
cemetery. The elder ones couldn’t even possibly make that. But they had also stopped.
You’d see a young man who was laying there with his guts hanging out because he had
been shot and his friend stopping and holding him. And he knew that he was going to be
taken but he would not leave his friend. And this is incredible bravery scene as he sat
with his friend until he died. And over and over again you would see this. You had little
girls in the crypt inside the cemetery singing the Ave Maria as they were huddled in the
corner. They were 5 and 6 year old girls and they were taken off by the military. They
were all lined up and the hands were fastened with plastic and they were taken off and we
heard about the stories of torture and killings inside of police headquarters in the next
few days as they took hundreds and hundreds of people away. Max described being in one of
those trucks where you couldn’t tell the people were dead or alive. They were piled
up 10 on top of each other and he felt that the ones that were alive wouldn’t dare
move pretending to be dead and just couldn’t tell who was alive and who was dead.
That’s what happened on that day in East Timor. Again, we have names of 271 people
who were there who are no longer there. We came to the U.S., held a news conference at the
National Press Club and the place was packed with cameras from all the major networks and
news reporters, but not one television station ran a report that night. This was right
after the massacre. It took three days for us to get back to the U.S. and to Washington.
The press did cover it in the Washington Post and the New York Times but not on television
which had the greatest impact on American society. They said to us it’s because we
didn’t have pictures. There has to come a time when the first-hand eye witness
accounts of victims and witnesses have to count for something. Otherwise it will encourage
dictatorships and regimes like Indonesia to beat journalists, to kill journalists and to
ban journalists to prevent them from getting what they have out. And they say there’s
no pictures – no story.
Max Stahl’s videos did get out 10 days later. After it aired in Britain a poll was
taken. The people of Britain said the one foreign policy story they would like to hear
more about was East Timor and the Indonesian occupation. The CBS correspondent in Britain
seeing it there and seeing the impact it had told Dan Rather, we have to do this. And so
that videotape of Max Stahl’s aired on CBS evening news about 10 days later. Alan was
interviewed at that time within that piece but it was really just the pictures of the
massacre site and it was basically a good story. Alan kept inserting that these were U.S.
M-16s. Alan, at that point, had his head bandage after they had fractured his skull.
I had a chance to question Governor Clinton who was running for President the following
fall. He gave a major foreign policy address in New York after which I asked him
"would you consider cutting off aid to Indonesia considering the massacre that took
place of more than 200 Timorese gunned down; the beating of Western journalists with U.S.
weapons? Would you consider cutting off aid?" He said "well we would have to
look at the situation. We would have to study it."
I said "what would it take, a hundred, a thousand, the journalists killed?" And
he said "no, we would have to look at it and I think that the problem in East Timor
is unconscionable". And he made quite a strong statement actually. He clearly seemed
to know about it. That was before he became President.
The Bush White House had condemned the massacre and called then called for an increase
in military aid to Indonesia. An increase in IMET funding. IMET funding is international
military education and training money that goes to cement the relationship between the
Indonesian military or whatever country it is and the U.S. military. But, because of
tremendous grassroots pressure from a group that grew out of the massacre called the East
Timor Action Network – which has become very significant today in terms of any type of
grassroots faction in this country – thousands of calls were generated around the country
using church lists and activists lists, student lists. And, in fact, at the time the head
of the House Foreign Operations Subcommittee said they got more calls on the issue of East
Timor than any other foreign policy issue. By the fall they had cut off military training
aid to Indonesia for the first time in 17 years.
As you go into one of the many orphanages in Timor. The place is filled with young kids
whose parents have been killed and older kids. And they all describe being in the
mountains and seeing U.S. planes flying overhead. Jose Ramos-Horta ,one of the Nobel Peace
prize winners of this year, the spokesperson for Xanana Gusmau who was the rebel leader of
East Timor who is currently in jail outside of Jakarta in Indonesia. Horta describes how
three of his brothers and sisters were killed by U.S. weapons. One by Bronco helicopter,
one by U.S. M-16. And this is the story of East Timor. Very sad picture to see this
country connected to our country by a U.S. M-16, by a Bronco helicopter, by a bomb that is
dropped from a U.S. plane. But that is the story.
So for the first time there was progress made. IMET was cut. And this sent very serious
ripples through Indonesian military. Because they saw that their relationship with the
U.S. is threatened in some small way. Not that the executive branch had anything to do
with it but because the congressional branch had something to do with it and they were
getting pressure from their constituents. And it was bi-partisan. It was republican and
democrat. You had some religious congress members, you had some republicans who felt
strongly about this like Frank Wolf of Virginia who is a conservative republican but feels
strongly about the issue of human rights, as well as Tony Hall who has long been an
anti-hunger activist and also been a champion of the people of East Timor. Clairborn Pell,
who was born in Portugal and feels very guilty about what has happened in East Timor
because they gave up all responsibility in 1974, has been a strong supporter of the
Timorese in the Senate.
When things started to happen there was very little press coverage but a lot of
grassroots activity. Through the years there were attempts to link human rights to arm
sales. That has been a movement that is very important. They new Wisconsin senator Russell
Feingold introduced an amendment that would link arm sales to human rights. This had
captured a lot of interest from arms control groups because it was the first time that
weapons sales anywhere would be linked to human rights. You may have heard about the code
of conduct that was first introduced by Senator Mark Hatfield, now retired republican of
Oregon, and Cynthia McKinney , the democrat from Georgia. The idea is that we do not sell
weapons to dictators. You do not sell weapons to human rights abusers. And this is
something they are getting more and more votes on, its gaining a conscious collective that
the arms contractors don’t quite know what to do with. And, in fact, just last week
while I was in New York at a MOVE conference held by Cynthia McKinney and five Nobel Peace
Prize winners, Jose Ramos-Horta of East Timor, Eli Weisel, the Dali Lama, Betty Williams
of Ireland and groups that have won the Nobel Peace Prize like the AFSC and the
International Positions for the Prevention of Nuclear War. And each stood up and said the
U.S. had got to stop selling weapons to dictators.
This is bigger than a story of weapons. This really goes to the heart of corporate
power in this country because the arms contractors really represent that corporate power
while Lockhead Martin, Boeing … all of the arms contractors. This is their daily bread,
selling weapons to places like Indonesia, so they fight this extremely hard because they
see even if you do only one case, in the case of the Feingold amendment, for example, it
will balloon out of control. Suddenly the arms contractor will be looked at through a
moral telescope which they have managed to relate because the media works together with
them. They very much manage not to get that kind of pounding, daily pounding that you
would get in a moral society. If you look at what the military contractors are doing. Kind
of what the U.S. government is doing. Let’s not forget, it’s not just private
deals. Even when you have a private weapons contractor selling weapons to a country like
Indonesia. The U.S. government spends something like $500 billion a year promoting U.S.
weapons of private contractors abroad. You’ll have people like the former defense
secretary, William Perry, standing on a nuclear submarine made by Boeing at some arms
bazaars in Saudi Arabia pressing countries to buy this particular weapon … this
particular aircraft or submarine and saying "we won’t listen to you unless you
work with compatible equipment." That’s how they put it in foreign policy terms.
And basically they are just being the advance men, the sales people for U.S. weapons
contractors. Unfortunately, Ron Brown, the former Commerce Secretary, was really king of
this and championed this.
There has been advances made and more and more people know about East Timor in this
country. Not so much through the mainstream media but a lot from the alternative media.
Certainly Noam Chomsky has hammered away at the issue of East Timor since the invasion. In
1994, we went back to Indonesia. Now, after the massacre of 1991, two weeks after, the
Indonesian military held two news conferences in Jakarta and announced that Alan and I
were banned from returning to Indonesia or East Timor. They called us a threat to national
security. Probably because we survived the massacre and talked about it. In November,
1994, President Clinton was going to Indonesia for APEC, the Asian Pacific Economic
Cooperation Summit. And he was going to meet with Suharto and other Asian-Pacific leaders.
This was the biggest moment for Indonesia and Suharto 30 year history. The world spotlight
would be on him. They cleaned the streets meaning they had about a month before APEC.
Suharto’s military went through the streets of Jakarta in a big military hardware
show, simply threatening everyone saying if you dare to hold a demonstration during this,
this is what will happen to you. It was very blatant. They called it Operation Cleanup. We
now know that when Clinton went to Indonesia he was meeting with his campaign
contributors, for example, James Riatti and others there.
Indonesia decided that they would demonstrate openness by saying that Alan and I could
come into the country while President Clinton was there. It just so happened that
President Clinton was arriving on the day after the anniversary of the massacre. He was
arriving on November 13, 1994. And the anniversary of the massacre of 1991 is a very big
event in East Timor. There are protests every year. So we flew in on November 11 at night
and the headlines in the Jakarta Post were that we were coming in. We didn’t realize
that it was that big a deal. We thought we could just slip in quietly. We went to the
Jakarta Convention Center which is like any convention center in a big city, like the
Javis Convention Center in New York, we were just walking around at night and we walked
into the American Embassy booth. There were thousands of journalist organizations from
around the world there. And each one had booths in the convention center. And so when we
walked into the American Embassy one they said "oh, you have arrived". We
didn’t know anyone knew we had come until they showed us these headlines.
We decided to sort of quickly, before anyone noticed, to get into East Timor the next
day on November 12, the anniversary of the massacre. We had to get our press credentials.
Immediately the head of the credential and office came right over to us knowing who we
were. And he said to us "so have you finally calmed down a little"? And Alan
said "have you finally stopped killing?" The official walked away.
The next morning we took a flight from Jakarta. We had bought our ticket in the U.S.
because we knew they would try to prevent us here. The tickets were from Jakarta to Bali
to West Timor. You can not buy a ticket to East Timor in the U.S. so we didn’t have a
ticket for the last leg. We got to the Jakarta airport and said we were going to Bali they
said there was no plane. The problem was we saw people all lined up for the plane. We
talked our way onto the plane. We did make to Bali. And from Bali to West Timor even
though there they said there was no plane to West Timor. We said, then what is this line
of people doing on this plane that says to West Timor. We made our way there but in West
Timor, each airport getting smaller, we saw there really was no plane. And the Indonesians
just decided not to fly the plane. If we would fight to get on it they just really
wouldn’t have one. And so in West Timor, they didn’t have a plane that was going
to East Timor that day.
We started to go into the bus station and try to drive into East Timor. It’s about
a 10 hour drive. There was a bus to Delhi. It took us to a tiny frontier town between West
and East Timor were we had to inside this little candy shop, really remote site, and buy
tickets just to go over the border into East Timor. We went in. We said, hi, we’d
like to get two tickets. And this women took out a little piece of cardboard that had our
names written, mis-spelled, on it and said no. And she said, furthermore and we turned
around and military men took us into a bus and brought us to the military compound there.
We were able to make a phone call. We made two phone calls to the American Embassy in
Jakarta and we said we want you to know exactly where we are. And we wanted to get out of
here. And a call to the press because we knew that the American Embassy would probably
work to keep us there. But at least we knew that they would know where we were. We then
were put back on the bus to the capital of West Timor. We drove all night and when we got
to the city instead of going to the bus terminal where the bus would take us, we were just
driving into this area that I realized was a military compound because it was surrounded
by soldiers. They opened the door and said get off. And I said, well we’re not
getting off. Indonesians civilians were there on the bus and they kept their heads down.
Indonesians are afraid also.
In 1965, in Indonesia, Suharto rose to power and killed between 400,000 and 1,000,000
Indonesians. One of the other great genocides of the 20th century. He came to power,
killing all Communists, which was the leading opposition party, and any kind of dissidents
or anyone that the U.S. CIA fingered. It has come out since, that the CIA worked closely
with Suharto in writing lists of names of dissidents. And the Indonesian military would go
out, kill the people on the list and the CIA would just cross off the names of the
Indonesians as they died. This was all revealed by a crusading reporter named Cathy Kadain
who went to journalism school because she had talked to a CIA agent who told her about
this. A high level CIA guy in Indonesia. She wasn’t a journalist and she decided to
go to journalism school so she could write the article. And she spent the entire year
writing this article. And it came out. I think it was the Washington Post that published
it. The New York Times slammed it. But all the facts have not been disputed now.
That was 1965. So here are these Indonesians in 1994 in the bus with their heads down,
very afraid, and I was torn because I knew that they were now in danger, being brought
into this military compound. Then one of the Indonesian military said "you’ll be
safe. Don’t worry." And I said "yeah, the last time we were in your hands
we weren’t exactly safe." But eventually we decided there was no hope on this
bus anyway so we got off the bus and the bus drove off immediately and we were put into
military detention. They had INTEL around us, that’s military intelligence of
Indonesia. At that point, we demanded to be able to use a phone. We should be able to call
our embassy. They forbid us to do that. But at a point late in the night when the Intel
had gone off ,they were keeping us in a room and only one guy was there and he had dozed
off, we tiptoed out over to a phone putting our stuff in front of him so he wouldn’t
shoot us in the back. Saying, we weren’t leaving but we didn’t want to wake him
up. We went over to the phone. Once again, called the embassy and the press to say exactly
where we were.
Through that day they questioned us and said that a top official was coming from
Jakarta so we wouldn’t be able to leave. This was on the day of the anniversary of
the massacre, November 12. Eventually because they got so many press calls in the military
compound once we had gotten the number out, and they have never gotten press calls, they
got scared. President Clinton was coming the next day. This was their biggest moment at
APEC and now it didn’t look very good that people knew we were there. So, they put us
on a plane. We flew back to Jakarta. It was then that we learned that 29 Timorese had
jumped the wall of the U.S. Embassy demanding to talk to President Clinton. Now the
ambassador was to low for them. They decided to demand to meet with President Clinton.
Here you have the world cameras on these brave 29 Timorese young men instead of on
President Clinton flying in. I talked to someone inside the embassy and they said they
wanted to kick them out immediately. Although you’re not supposed to do that because
embassies are traditionally places of refuge. And they couldn’t quite do it because
there were about 24 cameras lined up through the bars. You could see the Timorese on the
inside. And, of course, the INTEL cameras were going as well and they were harassing these
young students and they were shouting at them. But they were protected by the wall. And
they knew what they wanted. They demanded the release of Xanana Gusmau who had been
captured in 1992, and there be a referendum in East Timor. A U.N. sponsored referendum so
they could decide their own fate, whether they wanted to be "integrated" with
Indonesia, as Indonesia calls it, or whether they would be free. And they knew that they
had to go to the site that controls Indonesia the best, and that was the U.S.
This got a lot of attention. It was on the front page of the New York Times. In fact, I
think it was CBS that did a report on the evening news and they showed the shots of the
Timorese. The only problem is that it said, as for why they jumped the wall of the U.S.
Embassy, it was not clear. It was just the nearest embassy to them. It had nothing to do
with the fact that it was the U.S. government. So you see, if they’re going to cover
a story and they are going to talk about atrocities, they are not going to link to the
34 other young people had tried to jump the wall with these 29 but they got dragged up
by military intelligence. And another 30 saw them being dragged off and they ran away. But
these 29 young people certainly captured the attention of the news media. As they were
doing this, in East Timor, people were arrested all over the country. The Indonesians had
killed another Timorese and they were protesting all over. About 250 of these Timorese
were put into jail.
We went back to the Jakarta Convention Center. And so many press were asking to
interview us, to talk about the massacre 3 years before. We said, we’ll do this all
at once. We’ll do it on Sunday night, we’ll do it in the lobby in the convention
center where all the press was and then we can go about doing our work. We’ll just
say it once. Out of my computer we just typed out ‘Amy and Alan will speak at 6:00
over, you know, down the hall.’ And we started to give it out to people, thinking
nothing of it. As we started to give it out, Indonesian security came over only this time
they had showed their Indonesian military uniform. They were now the security of this
convention center looking like civilians. They surrounded me and Alan and started to drag
us off. This was in the middle of the Jakarta Convention Center. While we would have
attracted about 20 people, instead we had 200 journalists running with a bank of cameras
to photograph this and to video this and to scream at the Indonesians, what are you doing,
these are journalists. One journalist remarked, "they are so clumsy these
Indonesians. They don’t know how to do it." I said "no, no, no. They know
how to do it. They don’t know how to do it when they’ve got 20 cameras on them
and they have got Westerners who are screaming at them to let other Westerners go. But
they certainly know how to do it in the streets of Jakarta and in the streets of East
Timor." So yes, it was clumsy. As the cameras rolled, the journalists said, okay,
have the press conference here and as the Indonesian security was grabbing my neck, we
told the story of what happened over the last 24 hours which obviously didn’t compare
to what the Timorese had done in Jakarta and to what the Timorese were doing all over East
Timor. And then told the story of the massacre as they tried to rips the papers out of our
hands and drag us away. Finally, the head of security came with 30 other security and he
marched up, and in front of our cameras he said "you cannot hold a press conference
at…" I said "in the press center?" He said "that’s right,
unless you have my permission." I said "well sir can have your permission. He
shouted "No! Absolutely not!" This was all capture and broadcast. Somehow, for
the first time, this world press, or particularly the U.S. press said, there is a problem
in Indonesia. You know, U.S. journalists, they tried to walk them away in the press
The next day we wanted to do what the journalists were doing which is covering the APEC
Summit. In particular, wanted to get a chance to question Suharto and President Clinton
who were both at news conferences. We went over to sign up for the news conference and the
White House Press liaison said, you know, you won’t be allowed in. And I said, well,
why not? – Already we have seen signs from the U.S. Embassy saying, Goodman and Nairn have
not been arrested, they are fine, through our whole ordeal. They knew exactly where we
were, and because of very frantic parents of both of ours, they told them exactly where we
were at every point, but told the press it wasn’t true. Told them that nothing had
happened. We had just gone on a trip. And it then turned out that we had to get approval
from these embassy personnel to go the press conference.- And they said, no. And so I said
to the person, "well, I don’t understand I’m a journalist." She said,
"you weren’t on the White House press plane. Only the journalists on the White
House press plane can go to the news conference." And so I said "well how much
would it cost to go $5,000? $10,000? Had to be more than that." And she said
"what do you mean by that." I said "I just want to know how much it costs
to ask President Clinton a question." She said "I really resent that." And
I said "I do, too." And she said "I worked for NPR." I said "It
doesn’t surprise me." And she has now become the White House press liaison.
Then Suharto was holding a news conference so we went to ask, well how do we go to
this? We had to go to the White House embassy liaison who would decide what American
journalists got to go to Suharto’s news conference. And so we understand why whether
President Clinton is standing in the rose garden or standing Jakarta next to Suharto he is
asked always the same questions. And even independent journalist who might be located in
Jakarta, who certainly would know a lot more about what’s going on in Indonesia. They
couldn’t go because they weren’t flying on a White House press airplane.
As a result we could not cover any of these activities, so we decided to try to get
back into East Timor.