The Other Aftershock

The Bush administration seeks normalization of ties with Indonesia and its brutal military

Tim Shorrock

Soldiers parade during the 58th military anniversary in Denpasar, Indonesia.

The Bush admin­is­tra­tion and the Pen­ta­gon are lever­ag­ing warmer post-tsuna­mi rela­tions with Indone­sia to con­vince Con­gress to lift its restric­tions on full mil­i­tary ties with the world’s largest Mus­lim nation. But law­mak­ers and human rights groups say the Indone­sian gov­ern­ment must first account for its past abus­es in East Tim­or and end its repres­sive mil­i­tary tac­tics in sec­tions of the coun­try seek­ing independence.

Many of my col­leagues and I firm­ly believe that now is not the time to advance efforts toward nor­mal­iz­ing mil­i­tary rela­tions,” wrote Rep. Lane Evans (D‑Ill.), a mem­ber of the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, in a Jan­u­ary 18 let­ter to Adm. Thomas Far­go, the com­man­der of the U.S. Pacif­ic Com­mand who is lead­ing the Pentagon’s efforts. Evans’ views are wide­ly held in Con­gress, where even Repub­li­cans are wary of the Indone­sian army, known as the TNI, and its record of cor­rup­tion and brutality.

The administration’s push began in Jan­u­ary, when Deputy Defense Sec­re­tary Paul Wol­fowitz vis­it­ed Aceh province, where an esti­mat­ed 220,000 peo­ple were killed by the tsuna­mi. The U.S. mil­i­tary relief effort marked the high­est lev­el of U.S.-Indonesian coop­er­a­tion since 1991, when Con­gress imposed a ban on U.S. train­ing of Indone­sian offi­cers under the State Department’s Inter­na­tion­al Mil­i­tary Edu­ca­tion and Train­ing (IMET) pro­gram. Upon his return, Wol­fowitz urged Con­gress to reeval­u­ate the IMET restric­tions. We can have more pos­i­tive influ­ence that way,” he told PBS’s Online News Hour.”

The con­gres­sion­al ban, which also includes restric­tions on U.S. arms sales to Jakar­ta, was extend­ed in 2000 after mili­tias trained by the TNI ram­paged through East Tim­or on the eve of the country’s his­toric inde­pen­dence vote, killing hun­dreds of peo­ple and wreck­ing the cap­i­tal city of Dili. Under leg­is­la­tion passed last fall, Con­gress declared that IMET train­ing can­not begin until the State Depart­ment con­firms that the Indone­sian gov­ern­ment has ful­ly coop­er­at­ed in the FBI’s inves­ti­ga­tion into the August 31, 2002 mur­ders of two Amer­i­can employ­ees of the min­ing giant Freeport McMoRan dur­ing a mil­i­tary-style ambush in West Papua province.

After her tele­vised con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings, Sec­re­tary of State Con­doleez­za Rice told Con­gress that the admin­is­tra­tion is cur­rent­ly eval­u­at­ing whether to issue the required deter­mi­na­tion.” But she was unequiv­o­cal on the train­ing funds. IMET for Indone­sia is in the U.S. inter­est,” she said in a writ­ten response to ques­tions posed to her by Sen. Joseph Biden (D‑Del.). IMET, she added, will strength­en the pro­fes­sion­al­ism of mil­i­tary offi­cers, espe­cial­ly with respect to the norms of demo­c­ra­t­ic civ­il-mil­i­tary rela­tions such as trans­paren­cy, civil­ian suprema­cy, pub­lic account­abil­i­ty and respect for human rights.”

But recent actions by the TNI have not helped the administration’s cause. At the time of the tsuna­mi dis­as­ter, Aceh had been closed to out­side observers and human­i­tar­i­an groups since May 2003, when mar­tial law was declared. By all accounts, TNI’s fight­ing with the Free Aceh Move­ment (GAM) — the armed group seek­ing inde­pen­dence — has been savage.

Last Novem­ber, Human Rights Watch said it had sub­stan­tial evi­dence” that Indone­sian secu­ri­ty forces have engaged in extra-judi­cial exe­cu­tions, forced dis­ap­pear­ances, tor­ture, beat­ings, arbi­trary arrests and deten­tions, and dras­tic lim­its on free­dom of move­ment in Aceh.” The watch group also cit­ed the mas­sive inter­nal dis­place­ment” of tens of thou­sands of civil­ians [who] have fled their homes or been forcibly relo­cat­ed by the mil­i­tary for oper­a­tional reasons.” 

A sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion is unfold­ing in West Papua in the east­ern part of the arch­i­pel­ago. In Jan­u­ary, the TNI launched an offen­sive against the Free Papua Move­ment (OPM) — the group fight­ing for inde­pen­dence there — dri­ving an esti­mat­ed 14,000 peo­ple from their homes in the Cen­tral Highlands.

The TNI respond­ed to the tsuna­mi like it was an exten­sion of war. Inter­na­tion­al aid agen­cies arriv­ing on the scene object­ed to the military’s severe restric­tions on human­i­tar­i­an oper­a­tions and its demands that all relief flow through the army. The TNI made the sit­u­a­tion worse by launch­ing attacks on GAM units and with­hold­ing relief from civil­ians sus­pect­ed of sup­port­ing the fight­ers. (In mid-Jan­u­ary, the TNI said it had killed 120 rebels and accused them of try­ing to derail aid efforts, a charge denied by GAM lead­ers.) Appar­ent­ly stung by inter­na­tion­al crit­i­cism, the new­ly elect­ed gov­ern­ment of Susi­lo Bam­bang Yud­hoy­ono sent a del­e­ga­tion to Fin­land on Jan­u­ary 28 to open talks with GAM’s leadership.

Many U.S. law­mak­ers are still deeply uneasy about links between ele­ments of the TNI and fun­da­men­tal­ist Mus­lim groups inside of Indone­sia. More­over, the Indone­sian government’s actions in West Papua, the site of the 2002 killings, is rais­ing more ques­tions about the TNI’s ties to vio­lent mili­tia groups.

Last July, Attor­ney Gen­er­al John Ashcroft announced that a Wash­ing­ton grand jury had indict­ed Antho­nious Wamang in the attack on the min­ing employ­ees. Ashcroft iden­ti­fied Wamang as an oper­a­tional com­man­der” of the mil­i­tary wing of the OPM. Rice, in her com­ments to Con­gress, said that the FBI had uncov­ered no evi­dence indi­cat­ing TNI involve­ment” in the murders.

But accord­ing to Elsham, an inde­pen­dent human rights group in Papua that has inves­ti­gat­ed the attack, Wamang has close ties to the Indone­sian mil­i­tary. John Rumbi­ak, Elsham’s direc­tor, told In These Times that Elsham has evi­dence that Wamang was armed, wined and dined” by TNI offi­cers and was once flown by the mil­i­tary to Jakar­ta, where he stayed in lux­u­ry hotels cour­tesy of the TNI — his osten­si­ble enemies. 

The truth behind the killings of the two Amer­i­cans is that the TNI was involved,” Rumbi­ak says. The issue is, were these mil­i­tary peo­ple oper­at­ing as indi­vid­u­als or as an institution?”

Pat­sy Spi­er, a teacher who lost her hus­band in the 2002 Papua attack and was her­self seri­ous­ly wound­ed, said in an inter­view that she has no doubt” that the FBI — which col­lect­ed its own foren­sic evi­dence in Indone­sia — had enough evi­dence to bring a case against Wamang. But who ordered [the attack], and who sup­plied the guns and the ammu­ni­tion?” she asks.

Spi­er says the FBI has offered to return to Indone­sia to help appre­hend addi­tion­al par­tic­i­pants in the attack and assist in issu­ing indict­ments, but Indone­sia hasn’t respond­ed.” This case should remind us why the train­ing funds were held up in the first place,” she said. They’ve got to be will­ing to bring to jus­tice those peo­ple who are still in ser­vice for crimes com­mit­ted in Aceh, Papua and East Timor.”

Tim Shorrock is a Wash­ing­ton-based jour­nal­ist who grew up in Japan and South Korea. He is the author of Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intel­li­gence Outsourcing.
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