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Tuesday, December 10, 1996 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES | NEXT: Massacre, the Story of East Timor, continued
1996-12-10

Massacre, the Story of East Timor

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Amy Goodman and Allan Nairn visited East Timor for the first time in the summer of 1990, 16 years after the invasion. They interviewed people, and excerpts of their stories are broadcast in this segment. They traveled to East Timor in order to be present for a historic event: a special delegation from United Nations and Portugal was due to visit East Timor. Despite threats and a dramatic increase in the number of disappearances, torture and deaths, the Timorese had prepared to speak up. With the pressure of the United States, the visit by the delegation was called off. On November 17, the two-week memorial of a young man who was killed by the army while taking refuge in a church, people came to the streets and chanted and held out banners against the government. Indonesian troops attacked the crowd and kept shooting until no one was standing. Amy Goodman and Allan Nairn were badly beaten, but not executed, when they kept shouting they were from America. [includes rush transcript]

Segment Subjects (keywords for the segment): East Timor, Indonesia, massacre

Guest Names:

Allan Nairn

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Two men bound by a dream of freedom and democracy received the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize today for their resistance to Indonesia’s occupation of their homeland, East Timor. Exiled activist José Ramos-Horta said his prize comes with hope that Indonesia will seek a peaceful solution to the annexation. Roman Catholic Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo accepted his award in the name of is church and his people.

Indonesia has denounced Ramos-Horta as a traitor and allegedly warned Bishop Belo to temper his criticism in Oslo or face possible exile or other repercussions at home.

We now turn to today’s special. I produced it with journalist Allan Nairn based on our three trips to occupied Timor.

JOSÉ RAMOS-HORTA: I lost one sister and two brothers.

EAST TIMORESE WOMAN: It was 10 days before I was to give birth. The army was shooting people, and they would die at our feet, but you couldn’t stop to help them.

JOSÉ RAMOS-HORTA: I know families that were totally wiped out.

EAST TIMORESE MAN: Two American newsmen badly beaten: Mr. Allan Nairn and Miss Amy Goodman.

AMY GOODMAN: The Indonesian army converged in two places.

ALLAN NAIRN: Hundreds and hundreds of troops coming straight at the Timorese.

AMY GOODMAN: When they came, they opened fire on the people.

PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH: We pride ourselves, and I think properly so, in standing up for human rights.

RICHARD BOUCHER: Military assistance programs expose the trainees to democratic ideas and humanitarian standards.

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: I’m very concerned about what’s happened in East Timor. We have ignored it so far in ways that I think are unconscionable.

AMY GOODMAN: Massacre: The Story of East Timor. I’m Amy Goodman.

JAMES BAKER: Big countries with powerful military machines should not be permitted to invade, occupy and brutalize their peaceful neighbors.

AMY GOODMAN: With these words, former Secretary of State James Baker explained why the United States was going to war against Iraq. Yet, 16 years earlier, another big country, Indonesia, invaded a much smaller one, East Timor, with the support of the United States. What followed was one of the greatest genocides of the 20th century. It is estimated that up to one-third of the Timorese population has been killed through a policy of army massacre and enforced starvation. Many of those who are left have been imprisoned and tortured by a military armed and trained by the United States.

East Timor, a quiet farming nation on a mountainous island about 300 miles north of Australia, had been a Portuguese colony until 1974, when there was a democratic revolution in Portugal and the new government decided to disband its empire. Neighboring Indonesia, a military dictatorship more than 200 times East Timor’s size, began attacking Timor in an effort to prevent the island nation from completing its move toward independence. On December 7, 1975, Indonesia launched a full invasion. Timorese shortwave radio, monitored by reporters in Australia, was heard putting out desperate calls for help.

TIMORESE SHORTWAVE RADIO: A lot of people are being killed—I repeat—indiscriminately. More than a thousand troops have been added.

AMY GOODMAN: The night before the invasion, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and President Ford were in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, toasting General Suharto, the Indonesian ruler.

PRESIDENT GERALD FORD: Our relationship involves a common concern for the right of every nation to pursue its destiny on its own independent and sovereign course. On behalf of Mrs. Ford and myself, I raise my glass and propose a toast.

AMY GOODMAN: João Carrascalão, the brother of the former governor of East Timor and himself a political leader now in exile, was working for the Indonesians at the time.

JOÃO CARRASCALÃO: I arrived at Jakarta one hour before President Ford and Henry Kissinger landed in Jakarta. And on the same night, I was informed by Colonel Suyanto—he was a top officer in the Jakarta administration—that America had given the green light for Indonesia to invade Timor.

AMY GOODMAN: The United States, Suharto’s main backer, supplied 90 percent of Indonesia’s arms. The story of East Timor is a story few know about, except those who have lived through it. Six foreign journalists who were there as Indonesia attacked were executed by the Indonesian military. Australian TV correspondent Greg Shackleton sent this report the night before the frontier town where he was visiting was seized by the Indonesian troops.

GREG SHACKLETON: Why, they ask, are the Indonesians invading us? Why, they ask, are the Australians not helping us? Who, they ask, will pay for the terrible damage to our homes?

My main answer was that Australia would not send forces here. That’s impossible. However, I said, we could ask that Australia raise this fighting at the United Nations. That was possible. At that, the second in charge rose to his feet, exclaimed, “Camerado journalist!” shook my hand, the rest shook my hand, and we were applauded, because we are Australians. That’s all they want: for the United Nations to care about what is happening here.

The emotion here last night was so strong that we, all three of us, felt we should be able to reach out into the warm night air and touch it. Greg Shackleton in an unnamed village, which we’ll remember forever, in Portuguese Timor.

AMY GOODMAN: And it was to be a report Australians would remember. The following day, Indonesian troops moved in and executed Shackleton and his crew. Though the government of Australia ended up siding with Indonesia, the U.N. Security Council denounced the invasion of East Timor and passed two resolutions like those later passed against Iraq, calling on Indonesia to withdraw its troops without delay. But United States lobbying prevented any U.N. action, and as Indonesia began to execute the Timorese en masse, Washington doubled its military aid.

I first arrived in East Timor in the summer of 1990. Almost 16 years after the Indonesian army first came to shore, they were still occupying East Timor. I was there with journalist Allan Nairn, a correspondent for The New Yorker magazine.

ALLAN NAIRN: Dili, the capital city, was honeycombed with army bases and torture houses. There were soldiers on the street corners, secret police watching the market stalls and the public parks. Timorese could be hauled away to the torture houses if they were found speaking to foreign tourists or listening to foreign shortwave radio. There, people would be given electroshock, beaten with iron bars. And at night, soldiers wearing hoods would roam through the neighborhoods terrorizing the Timorese.

AMY GOODMAN: We did not have to go far to learn the story of East Timor. When they thought the army wasn’t looking, people would approach us, speaking in their native tongue, Tetum, Portuguese or English. They were anxious to somehow get word to the outside world, but begged us to keep their names secret. We have disguised their voices.

UNIDENTIFIED EAST TIMORESE MAN: Every village, they kill 10 people, sometimes 11, 12. They kill the people every day. My brother killed by the army. I saw them, myself, be killed in front of many people. And the army, they forbid all the people, "Don’t cry." Brothers or sisters killed, but nobody cried. If cries, they shoot.

AMY GOODMAN: Traveling in the countryside, we heard of how the army had driven people off their farms. As the Timorese fled, the army bombed and strafed them from low-flying Bronco planes and other aircraft provided to Indonesia by the Ford and Carter administrations.

UNIDENTIFIED EAST TIMORESE WOMAN: [translated] It was 10 days before I was to give birth. The army was shooting people, and they would die at our feet. But you couldn’t stop to help them. Some were still alive. We just had to keep running.

AMY GOODMAN: The Timorese were herded into prison and resettlement camps. In one rural village teeming with camouflaged troops, an older man told quietly of how the army had withheld food and how hunger still ravages the young.

UNIDENTIFIED EAST TIMORESE MAN: [translated] Lack of nutrition for the children, all these consequences, children growing up not to normal in their intellectual capacity. So many people have been killed because they will be looking for food, so they have to get out of their village and are just killed outright.

AMY GOODMAN: When we met with the army intelligence chief, Colonel Gatot Purwanto, he confirmed that the army had killed 200,000 East Timorese and that there was widespread hunger among the survivors.

Journalist Allan Nairn and I returned to East Timor in order to be present for a historic event. A special delegation from the United Nations and Portugal was due to visit East Timor. The Timorese hoped the visit would finally lead to U.N. action and enforcement of the Security Council resolutions calling on Indonesia to withdraw from East Timor.

ALLAN NAIRN: We were told in place after place that the army had been holding neighborhood and village meetings to warn the Timorese that if they tried to speak to the U.N. Portuguese delegation, they and their families would be killed. And Bishop Belo, the bishop of East Timor, told us that the threat was: “We will kill your family to the seventh generation.”

AMY GOODMAN: But despite the threats and a dramatic increase in disappearances, torture and deaths, Timorese had prepared to speak out. They had met in secret, making banners and petitions for the delegation. When the army tried to hunt them down, many had gone into hiding and sought refuge inside churches. But under pressure from the United States, the visit of the delegation had been called off. Three days later, with the world’s spotlight removed, the army stormed the Motael, Dili’s main Catholic church, and killed a young man named Sebastião Gomes, who had taken refuge there.

And then came the morning of November 12, the two-week commemoration of Sebastião’s funeral. A memorial mass and procession were planned to lay flowers on Sebastião’s grave. After the mass was held at the Motael, people, young and old, came out into the street, and in a land where public speech and assembly had been forbidden over a decade, they started chanting. The Timorese then held up banners drawn on bed sheets. They had been prepared for the delegation that never came. The banners called on Indonesia to leave East Timor and said things like “Why the Indonesian army shoot our church?” The Timorese were facing a gauntlet of troops that stretched the length of Dili. It was the boldest act of public protest occupied Timor had ever seen.

ALLAN NAIRN: More and more Timorese joined the procession. They came from huts and schools and offices along the way. And there was this building feeling of exhilaration, as well as fear, among the Timorese. And when they reached the cemetery, the crowd had swelled to maybe 5,000 people. Some went inside to lay flowers on Sebastião’s grave. Most of the crowd was still outside. And then suddenly, someone looked up, and we saw that marching up along the same route that the Timorese had come came a long column of Indonesian troops, dressed in brown, holding M16s in front of them, marching in a very slow, deliberate fashion, hundreds and hundreds of troops, coming straight at the Timorese.

AMY GOODMAN: Allan suggested we walk to the front of the crowd between the soldiers and the Timorese, because although we knew that the army had committed many massacres, we hoped that we, as a foreign journalists, could serve as a shield for the Timorese. Standing with headphones on and microphone and camera out in full view, we went and stood in the middle of the road, looking straight at the approaching troops. Behind us, the crowd was hushed as some Timorese tried to turn away, but they were hemmed in by cemetery walls.

ALLAN NAIRN: The soldiers marched straight up to us. They never broke their stride. We were enveloped by the troops, and when they got a few yards past us, within a dozen yards of the Timorese, they raised their rifles to their shoulders all at once, and they opened fire. The Timorese, in an instant, were down, just torn apart by the bullets. The street was covered with bodies, covered with blood. And the soldiers just kept on coming. They poured in, one rank after another. They leaped over the bodies of those who were down. They were aiming and shooting people in the back. I could see their limbs being torn, their bodies exploding. There was blood spurting out into the air. The pop of the bullets, everywhere. And it was very organized, very systematic. The soldiers did not stop. They just kept on shooting until no one was left standing.

AMY GOODMAN: A group of soldiers grabbed my microphone and threw me to the ground, kicking and punching me. At that point, Allan threw himself on top of me, protecting me from further injury. The soldiers then used their rifle butts like baseball bats, beating Allan until they fractured his skull. As we sat on the ground, Allan covered in blood, a group of soldiers lined up and pointed their M16s at our heads. They had stripped us of all of our equipment. We just kept shouting, “We’re from America!” In the end, they decided not to execute us.

ALLAN NAIRN: The soldiers beat us, but we actually had received privileged treatment. We were still alive. They kept on firing into the Timorese. We were able to get onto a passing civilian truck, went into hiding, but the Timorese, who had been with us there on the cemetery road, most of them were dead.

AMY GOODMAN: Inside the cemetery walls, Max Stahl, a filmmaker on assignment with Yorkshire TV, had had his video camera running.

MAX STAHL: The soldiers began at that point to encircle the entire cemetery. I saw soldiers as they gradually moved towards the middle, picking out people who were wounded or taking refuge between the tombstones, and when they got to them, they beat them and assembled them in the back of the cemetery. People were stripped to their waists. They had their thumbs tied behind their backs, and they were made to look at the ground. And if they looked up, they were immediately beaten, usually with a rifle butt.

AMY GOODMAN: Max Stahl was filming near a crypt in the middle of the cemetery. Some of the wounded and those too scared to run were huddled inside praying. As Stahl filmed, he buried his videocassettes in a fresh grave. Then he was arrested by the troops.

MAX STAHL: Whilst I was being interrogated, I observed these trucks driving by with more people in them. These people were clearly in a kind of paralysis of fear. They were not able to move. Some of them, at least in the cemetery and, indeed, even in the trucks, when I saw them going by, were barely breathing. When people are that terrified, it’s quite often difficult to tell if they’re dead or alive.

AMY GOODMAN: After nine hours in custody, Stahl went back to the cemetery under cover of night, dug up his videocassettes and had them smuggled out of the country. Allan Nairn and I had managed to leave East Timor a few hours after the massacre. From a hospital on Guam, we reported what had happened to dozens of newspapers, radio and television outlets around the world.

PACIFICA REPORT: From Washington, this is the Pacifica report for Tuesday, November 12, 1991. A massacre in East Timor. Among those injured were two journalists, including a news editor of Pacifica station WBAI in New York.

AMY GOODMAN: They beat me and dragged me over and started slamming me with rifle butts and kicks and punches, and then Allan jumped on top of me, and they beat him very badly. But that was the least of what they did. They opened fire on the people, and these were truly defenseless people...

MONTAGE OF WORLD NEWS FOOTAGE: When Indonesian troops opened fire on a crowd—This is CBC Radio—The massacre of 100 unarmed Timorese by the Indonesian military—Photographs of the bloody massacre during a fight for freedom—This is the CBS Evening News.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to Democracy Now! We’ll be back in 60 seconds.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to Democracy Now!, as we go back to Massacre: The Story of East Timor. I’m Amy Goodman.

AMY GOODMAN: In the face of the massacre story, even Suharto’s longtime allies were compelled to condemn the killings and came under public pressure to cut back their aid to Indonesia. In Australia, large crowds marched on the capital and surrounded Indonesia’s local consulates. The European Parliament voted for sanctions against Indonesia, and the European community later canceled a scheduled trade pact. There were even open protests inside Indonesia where student demonstrators were beaten and arrested.

Back in the United States, the Bush administration continued to ship weapons to Indonesia.

PRESS SECRETARY: Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: The only time President Bush mentioned East Timor publicly was months after the massacre, when asked about it by a Portuguese journalist.

PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH: A lot of discussion is going on on the tragedy in East Timor. We have expressed ourself in terms of the pure human rights part of it. We pride ourselves, and I think properly so, in standing up for human rights, and I think we’ve made clear to the parties that are interested there the U.S. position. I don’t know how it will come out...

AMY GOODMAN: That position: to call for an increase in U.S. military training aid. It’s called IMET, International Military Education and Training. State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher.

RICHARD BOUCHER: Think that a continued and well-focused military assistance program for Indonesia can contribute to the professionalization of the Indonesian military. And these kind of programs expose the trainees to democratic ideas and humanitarian standards.

AMY GOODMAN: More than 2,600 Indonesian officers have been trained under IMET since 1975. They include those who planned the invasion and have overseen the policy of mass slaughter. Immediately after the massacre, General Try Sutrisno, the National Commander of the Indonesian Armed Forces, gave a speech to a military gathering. He said of the Timorese who dared to oppose the Indonesian Armed Forces, "They must be shot," adding, "and we will shoot them."

Meanwhile, a movement to change U.S. policy towards Indonesia was growing in the U.S. Congress. After the massacre, 52 senators sent a letter to President Bush supporting self-determination for East Timor. And in the House, members began working to cut off the IMET training aid.

But the U.S. State Department remained firmly on Suharto’s side. I questioned Larry Dinger of the State Department’s Indonesia desk during a public forum.

AMY GOODMAN: A third of the population has been killed, about 200,000 people. More than a hundred people, with U.S. weapons, were killed on November 12th. What would it take for the State Department to say, "We should cut off aid"?

LARRY DINGER: What does it take to cut off aid? As I understand it, American law says that if a nation is classified as a gross violator of human rights, then aid should be restricted to basic human needs deliverance. The State Department, including the human rights bureau of the State Department, does not consider that Indonesia qualifies for that classification. It has never considered that, and it doesn’t today.

AMY GOODMAN: After the massacre, repression got worse in East Timor. The Timorese bishop, Carlos Ximenes Belo, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize co-winner, revealed that many of the wounded were executed in their hospital beds. Hundreds were beaten, shot and stabbed, and finished off with lethal injections. A dozen massacre survivors were jailed, getting sentences up to life for organizing the procession or expressing enmity toward Indonesia.

As this was going on, the United States was secretly commiserating with Suharto’s generals and helping them evolve a strategy of damage control. Internal State Department documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that on December 10th, 1991, five years ago today, less than a month after the massacre, U.S. officials told a meeting of Indonesian generals and admirals that while Washington, quote, "understands Indonesia is under considerable pressure from the world at large, we do not believe that friends should abandon friends in times of adversity.

The documents show that in another meeting, two weeks later, Suharto’s senior adviser, Dr. Widjojo, thanked the U.S. for its support in the massacre’s wake, and contrasted that stand with that of other nations that had threatened to cut off aid. Indonesia tried to fend off aid cuts by transferring out two generals and court-martialing low-level soldiers, ostensibly for disobeying orders during the massacre. But one of the generals purportedly being disciplined was sent to the United States, with Indonesia announcing that he would study business at Harvard. While in Massachusetts, the general, Sintong Panjaitan, was sued by the family of a massacre victim, Kamal Bamadhaj, a New Zealand citizen. Panjaitan was found guilty by default in a U.S. federal court and was ordered to pay $14 million in damages. He declared the verdict a joke and fled back to Indonesia. Panjaitan’s successor, General Mantiri, the regional commander for East Timor, announced the massacre had been proper because the Timorese had been demonstrating against the state. Abílio Osório, the Indonesian-appointed governor of East Timor, then said that the army should have killed more Timorese on November 12th.

In the wake of such statements from senior Indonesian officials that it is policy to kill dissident Timorese, critics in the U.S. Congress, like Democratic Representative Tony Hall of Ohio, were unimpressed by Jakarta’s moves.

REP. TONY HALL: Under Indonesian rule, there is no justice for East Timor. I see no reason why we should reward Indonesians’ armed forces with more military aid.

AMY GOODMAN: In October 1992, almost a year after the massacre, Congress voted to cut off IMET aid, a move spearheaded by the House.

HOUSE SPEAKER: Those in favor, let it be known by saying "aye."

REPRESENTATIVES: Aye.

HOUSE SPEAKER: Those opposed, "no." In the opinion of the chair, the ayes have it.

AMY GOODMAN: The vote came in the face of an intensive lobbying campaign to keep the aid, mounted by the Suharto government, the U.S. State Department, Pentagon, and U.S. multinational companies, like General Electric and AT&T. Those lobbying to cut the aid included human rights, peace and church groups and a new national grassroots movement in support of East Timor. Congress Member Tony Hall and Rhode Island Republican Ron Machtley led the fight against the aid in the House.

REP. RON MACHTLEY: Here, in East Timor, we have the power to bring about a change.

AMY GOODMAN: Although the IMET cutoff marked a breakthrough in U.S. policy, to this day Washington continues to arm the Suharto regime. But there is now a growing movement in Congress to stop further U.S. weapons sales and to pressure the new Clinton administration to dramatically change the course of U.S. policy. Much of the congressional action has been in direct response to the growth in the U.S. of grassroots Timor activism. Charlie Scheiner is coordinator of the East Timor Action Network.

CHARLES SCHEINER: After the Santa Cruz massacre in November 1991, it seemed like there was an opportunity to maybe change not only U.S. policy toward Indonesia and East Timor, but to change the Indonesian policy and get the Indonesian military out of East Timor, because there was a lot more public awareness and attention being paid to it than had been paid for about 15 years. So, I and some other people formed this grassroots organization in the U.S., the East Timor Action Network, as a way for people who felt the same way we did to put their awareness, put their energy, into some kind of pressure on the U.S. government and on the Indonesian government.

AMY GOODMAN: In the fall of 1992, activists made East Timor an issue in the Wisconsin senatorial campaign between Bob Kasten, the Republican incumbent, and Russell Feingold, his Democratic challenger.

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD: My opponent, whom I defeated, Senator Kasten, was the leading proponent of providing the arms and continuing American military aid to Indonesia last year. And another Wisconsin congressman, Congressman Obey, led the fight to stop that aid. So I became aware of it during the campaign and was contacted by a number of people back in Wisconsin, who continue to contact me about the human rights violations. So it came from Wisconsin, but now it’s become very relevant to what I do as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

AMY GOODMAN: Once in the Senate, Feingold became a leader on Timor policy.

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD: My feeling is, is that this is just the tip of the iceberg of places where in the past American foreign policy has done just the opposite of what American values would dictate. And it makes me want to get in there and root out this, what I consider to be borderline corruption of our foreign policy, and to find it in the East Timor situation and find it in other places, so that the United States—people of the United States are not paying for this kind of thing.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Feingold’s talk of corruption proved to be unwittingly prophetic, for this past October, after 21 years of being largely ignored by the corporate press, the issues of East Timor and Indonesia suddenly burst on the national scene. Today, the Nobel Peace Prize winners, Bishop Belo and José Ramos-Horta, are receiving their awards in Oslo, Norway. When the Nobel Prizes were announced in October, a national campaign scandal broke over contributions to the Democrats by the Riadys, an Indonesian business family closely aligned with Suharto. In a scandal that’s still unfolding, it’s now known that the Riadys and their associates gave more than a million dollars to the Democrats, and apparently, in return, were treated to dozens of White House meetings, at one point helping to broker a sit-down meeting between Suharto and President Clinton. But though James Riady, the Indonesian billionaire, had direct access to the Oval Office, Clinton has so far refused to meet with José Ramos-Horta. I questioned White House press spokesperson Mike McCurry about this.

PRESS SECRETARY MIKE McCURRY: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: By your own admission, James Riady visited the White House dozens of times over the years of the Clinton administration, talking on many occasions about policy. Yet, you said that—

PRESS SECRETARY MIKE McCURRY: I didn’t—I never said that many occasions that they talked policy.

AMY GOODMAN: Talking a number of occasions.

PRESS SECRETARY MIKE McCURRY: I never said on a number of occasions that they talked policy.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, it’s come out, talking about—talking about policy sometimes.

PRESS SECRETARY MIKE McCURRY: If you know that to be true. I don’t know that to be true.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, by your own admission, James Riady has come to the White House.

PRESS SECRETARY MIKE McCURRY: By the President’s own admission Friday, he knows James Riady and has known him for a long time and has seen him on a number of occasions.

AMY GOODMAN: On dozens of occasions. Yet you say, when it comes to the Nobel Peace Prize winners from East Timor, that there are no plans for them to meet with President Clinton. Is it because they haven’t made a campaign contribution—

PRESS SECRETARY MIKE McCURRY: No.

AMY GOODMAN: —or that those who have don’t want them here?

PRESS SECRETARY MIKE McCURRY: They’ve been—Bishop Belo has been here at the White House, met with Tony Lake several times.

AMY GOODMAN: Has not met with President Clinton, has not with President Clinton.

PRESS SECRETARY MIKE McCURRY: Has he got any plans to be here anytime soon?

AMY GOODMAN: José Ramos-Horta is here in Washington this week.

PRESS SECRETARY MIKE McCURRY: Does Bishop Belo have any plans to be here? That’s what I asked.

AMY GOODMAN: What about José Ramos-Horta, the other Nobel Peace Prize winner?

PRESS SECRETARY MIKE McCURRY: I am not aware of any plans for the President to see him. Yes?

AMY GOODMAN: Why not?

PRESS SECRETARY MIKE McCURRY: He’s—

AMY GOODMAN: He just won the Nobel Peace Prize.

PRESS SECRETARY MIKE McCURRY: The President’s got a big schedule, and that’s not one of the items that’s on the schedule.

AMY GOODMAN: When José Ramos-Horta was in town just a few weeks ago, I asked him about the Riady scandal and about any invitations to the White House.

JOSÉ RAMOS-HORTA: I find it just extraordinary that an Indonesian businessman should be discussing with President Clinton the situation in East Timor. What [inaudible] Riady, close to the regime, has to do with discussing American politics towards East Timor? It is just beyond my comprehension. The Indonesian businessmen, they’re all very well connected with the military. Somehow, directly or indirectly, they are also responsible for the crimes of the regime in Indonesia and in East Timor. So I find it just bewildering that President Clinton should even allow him, this so-called Riady, to talk policy methods in terms of foreign policy, in terms of human rights, because certainly Riady was not briefing the President about the human rights situation in Indonesia on East Timor. He probably was urging the President to stop raising human rights concerns regarding East Timor.

AMY GOODMAN: He has been invited to the White House. He has been to the White House dozens of times over the last few years. Have you gotten an invitation, as the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize winner, to meet with President Clinton?

JOSÉ RAMOS-HORTA: No, I have not received an invitation. I hope that sometime in the near future we will be able to meet with President Clinton. I do not want the same honor of Mr. Riady. You know, I don’t want to compare myself with Mr. Riady. I’m a poor person. The money that I give—I get from the Nobel Peace Prize, I could not contribute also to the National Democratic Committee. If I could, if I had more, extra money, I might do that, but unfortunately, I have to apologize, we are too poor to contribute to anyone. And the money is going to a foundation, called Peace and Democracy Dom Martinho da Costa Lopes. That’s the former bishop of East Timor, to honor his memory and to do something, you know, that he always wanted to do, and that is to support the struggle for self-determination, to support humanitarian efforts of our people, to give scholarship [inaudible] who lost their scholarship in Indonesia, to East Timorese prisoners, their families, orphans, and so on. The foundation will be set up in Portugal. All the money that is my share will go to that foundation. So, I’m sorry. You know, I feel embarrassed to be poor, because if I were rich or a bit like Mr. Riady, maybe I could help also the National Democratic Committee.

AMY GOODMAN: Indogate has generated a great deal of partisan heat, with Republicans promising hearings and even talk of impeachment in the air. Recently on the Sunday morning talk show This Week, Sam Donaldson questioned Republican Senator John McCain and Democrat Bill Bradley. This is McCain.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: There is no doubt that there was a 180-degree shift in United States policy towards Indonesia from candidate Clinton in 1992 to President Clinton in 1996. I mean, that’s a fact. The question is, is what caused that change in American policy towards Indonesia, for which two individuals just got the Nobel Peace Prize in their struggle for human rights there.

SAM DONALDSON: Senator Bradley, are we chasing a partisan will-o’-the-wisp here, or is there something down the road that is labeled "impeachable offense"?

AMY GOODMAN: So far, the debate has focused on narrow, traditional Washington questions: campaign corruption, bribery and lying to the press. But the deeper issue of the U.S. policy of propping up regimes like Suharto’s has yet to be raised by most politicians or the corporate press. This fall, as the scandal broke, the East Timor Action Network organized a Washington press conference, which featured Constancio Pinto, the former leader of the Timorese civilian underground, now exiled in the United States. Pinto organized the cemetery procession that the military massacred in 1991 and has just written a memoir of his life and the resistance. The book is called East Timor’s Unfinished Struggle, and it’s published by South End Press. Pinto recalls his experiences as a youth fleeing from the 1975 Indonesian invasion of his country, and then under attack from U.S.-supplied planes, being placed in a concentration camp.

CONSTANCIO PINTO: Many people die. As my own experience, I saw at least 15 people die every day. They die of starvation and diseases. And besides of that, there were also prosecution, arbitrary execution, rape and torture.

AMY GOODMAN: Pinto said it was a shock to learn that a country he admired was arming and backing the invaders who were killing off his people.

CONSTANCIO PINTO: I joined my parents, and we went into the jungle, where we spent three years in the jungle. For three years, we were persecuted every day—sometimes every day, I will say—by the Indonesian military. We were burned by OV-10 fighters, American tanks and ships and AR-15 rifles. I didn’t know that that was—all of those military equipments were—belonged to United States. I came to understand when—when the guerrilla fighters capture some of those weapons from Indonesia, and it says very clearly, "Made in the United States. Made in U.S." And it was surprise to us to see United States as a democratic country, which stands on human rights, supporting Indonesia to conduct the genocide in East Timor.

AMY GOODMAN: Pinto says the real scandal that Americans should focus on now is the fact that the U.S. still continues to arm Suharto’s troops and to prevent the U.N. from organizing a free referendum in East Timor. His comments echoed what Bishop Belo had told Allan Nairn and me in November of 1994, when we returned to East Timor for the first time since the massacre. After the massacre, Suharto’s government had banned us as, quote, "threats to national security." But they announced that we could return to Indonesia for the occasion of the APEC summit. When we took them up on the offer and then tried to enter East Timor, we were arrested twice by Indonesian military intelligence. The first arrest took place on the anniversary of the massacre, at the same moment that, in East Timor, uprisings were breaking out in the streets. And at the U.S. embassy in Jakarta, a group of young Timorese had courageously scaled the compound’s fence and staged a dramatic protest sit-in. When, on the third try, we succeeded in entering East Timor without the army’s knowledge, we found checkpoints everywhere and an atmosphere of intensified terror. When one night we showed up unannounced at Bishop Belo’s residence, he said the terror was worse than it had been since 1983.

BISHOP CARLOS FILIPE XIMENES BELO: We still have this number of the military, the security forces. We have still the pressure on the population, without freedom to speak or to have different opinion. And then the security forces are everywhere.

AMY GOODMAN: Bishop Belo repeated his call, first made in 1989, for a U.N.-supervised referendum, under which the Timorese would freely determine their future political status. But Belo stressed that the United States and President Clinton held the key. He recalled the U.S.’s historic role.

BISHOP CARLOS FILIPE XIMENES BELO: Important also to pay attention for the East Timor people, and President Clinton should be more stronger in his statements. If in 1975 President Ford gave order to Indonesian troops to enter East Timor, I think that now it is the right time for President Clinton to say the Indonesia withdraw from East Timor.

AMY GOODMAN: During a news conference Clinton held when he was running for president in 1992, I asked him about his stance on East Timor.

GOV. BILL CLINTON: I think it’s something we have to look very carefully at. I’m very concerned about what’s happened in East Timor, and I think we have to review it. I’m not prepared at the present time to say categorically we should cut off all aid. We have ignored it so far in ways that I think are unconscionable. I think we have to engage the government on the question of how those people are being treated, and I certainly wouldn’t rule out the prospect of cutting aid.

AMY GOODMAN: This was the first and only time in the campaign that Clinton mentioned Timor. Today, some in Washington are trying to claim that Clinton started out tough on Suharto, but then, as the Riady money came in, reversed course and turned pro-Jakarta. In fact, Clinton was never tough on Suharto. His policy has been a continuation of Washington’s longstanding and bipartisan support for the regime.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to Democracy Now!, our special, Massacre: The Story of East Timor. We’ll be back in 60 seconds.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: There have been important changes in U.S. policy since the massacre, but they were all as a result of grassroots pressure, despite what President Clinton said in his first post-election news conference just a few weeks ago.

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Indeed, look at the difference in my policy and my predecessor’s policy. We changed our policy on arms sales, because of East Timor, not to sell small arms. And we co-sponsored the resolution in the United Nations in favor of greater human rights for East Timor.

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, these measures represented a defeat of the Clinton White House, State Department and Pentagon by a bipartisan coalition in Congress responding to pressure from the grassroots. These grassroots victories began with the military training aid, or IMET, cutoff of 1992; then the reversal of the U.S. stand at the U.N. Human Rights Commission criticizing Indonesia; the blockage of a shipment of F-5 fighter planes destined for Indonesia; passage through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee of human rights conditions on major arms sales; and then the bans on the sales to Indonesia of small arms and armored cars. In fact, two years ago, Clinton used a loophole to get around the IMET ban and resumed training of Suharto’s army. Then in July of ’94, Clinton joined Senator Bob Dole in killing a Leahy-Feingold amendment that would have enforced an existing treaty and banned the use of U.S. weapons in occupied East Timor. Put simply, the U.S. continues to arm and back the Suharto regime, this despite sometimes tough rhetoric, like Vice President Gore just a few years ago.

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: The essence of the injustice is starkly simple: unarmed, innocent people in their homeland have been killed and imprisoned and mistreated. It is an abuse of human rights.

AMY GOODMAN: Despite these words, in October 1995, when Suharto came to the White House, he was greeted by President Clinton; Vice President Gore; Secretary of State Warren Christopher; Ron Brown, the Secretary of Commerce; Mickey Kantor, the special trade representative at the time; and General John Shalikashvili, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Clinton offered to sell Suharto $200 million of F-16 fighter planes. A senior official told the New York Times, "Suharto, he’s our kind of guy." After the Nobel Peace Prize announcement, José Ramos-Horta commented on the military sales.

JOSÉ RAMOS-HORTA: We would be appalled, regret, if U.S. goes ahead with the sale of F-16. Yes, the F-16 might not be usable in East Timor, but it sends a wrong message to a regime that violates human rights. Indonesia is no better than the SLORC in Burma, no better than Iran and Iraq. In fact, the killings in East Timor of students, workers, Indonesia for the past 30 years is of a greater proportion than the killings done by Saddam Hussein or by the Pol Pot in Cambodia, in terms of proportion of our population. So, in particular this time, when there is a growing democracy movement in Indonesia and there is crackdown on the democracy movement, it is amazing that the U.S. is even considering selling these weapons. The reintroduction of IMET military training will be totally immoral, that the United States should continue such a policy of training military thugs in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: While the Riady money may have bought White House access and some favors, U.S. policy toward Jakarta has been far more influenced by U.S. firms. Hundreds of multinationals have close links with Suharto. Among them are some two dozen firms, including Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Motorola, Hughes Aircraft, that are actually formal business partners with the Suharto family. Suharto has opened up Indonesia’s oil and gas reserves to exploitation on favorable terms to firms like Texaco and Mobil, while letting out East Timor’s stolen offshore oil to Caltex and Phillips Petroleum. Freeport-McMoRan, with Henry Kissinger on its board, uses Indonesian troops to protect its gold mines in West Papua, Indonesia, and to repress indigenous Amungme people protesting spoilation of their lands.

The regime’s other great resource is a vast supply of repressed labor. Independent unions are banned, and organizers disappeared and tortured. Last July, after an anti-Suharto riot shook Jakarta, the army launched a major crackdown, aiming to intimidate and kill the growing pro-democracy movement. Labor activist Muchtar Pakpahan was jailed and accused of subversion. He faces a possible death penalty in a trial due to start this month.

This labor climate attracts companies like Nike and Reebok, which now do roughly a third of their sneaker production in Indonesia. Both firms are highly image-conscious. Reebok even gives human rights awards. Their next award ceremony is tomorrow. In 1992, they gave one to Fernando de Araújo, a young Timorese man jailed because he protested the Dili massacre. Present on the stage was Paul Fireman, Reebok’s CEO, who the year before had made more than $30 million—more than all of Indonesia’s sneaker-making workforce combined. Because Fernando was in jail, the Reebok Human Rights Foundation asked Allan Nairn and I if we would come to the award ceremony and describe the massacre that he was protesting. I described the massacre, and then Allan described who supports the military that committed it.

ALLAN NAIRN: The U.S. has for years supported such repressive regimes, in large part on behalf of U.S. corporations. Inside Indonesia, the government suppresses independent unions, which allows companies to pay near-starvation wages. That helps Reebok, Nike and other make huge profits in Indonesia, paying the workers who make their shoes, many of them young women from the countryside, wages of about one dollar per day. Such companies have an obligation to, at the very least, call on Washington to stop shipping arms to the brutal Indonesian regime.

AMY GOODMAN: Reebok was not happy with our presentation. Since then, groups like Press for Change have spearheaded successful campaigns to call attention to the exploitation of Indonesian workers, especially at the Nike plants. With such companies in their corner, the Suharto regime has, especially since 1994, lobbied fiercely to offset the grassroots effort to reverse U.S. Timor policy and to resist Indonesian labor rights campaigns by U.S. unions and human rights groups. But while these issues of substance are not now at the focus of U.S. debate, the Riady scandal has undeniably created a political opening. Politicians who have backed Suharto or never spoken the words "East Timor" are suddenly rushing to denounce both the terror and the U.S. policy. Haley Barbour, the Republican chairman, now charges that, under Clinton, the United States turns its back on genocide in East Timor. House Speaker Newt Gingrich agrees.

HOUSE SPEAKER NEWT GINGRICH: And I think the case against Indonesia is pretty overwhelming in terms of East Timor.

AMY GOODMAN: Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole also attacked Clinton’s Jakarta ties and specifically raised East Timor, despite his own record of defending Suharto in the Senate. But even as the campaign scandal broke and the Nobel Prizes were announced, the Clinton administration kept on insisting that the weapons sales would go forward. White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry.

AMY GOODMAN: I’ve spoken to both José Ramos-Horta and Bishop Belo, and they say Clinton is key in self-determination for East Timor. Will he now continue to push for those weapons sales to Indonesia? José Ramos-Horta says it’s like selling weapons to Saddam Hussein.

PRESS SECRETARY MIKE McCURRY: Well, that’s not the view of the United States government. We make arms transfers of that nature when they’re in the interests of the United States. Again, our goal is to engage in arms transfers in that region that promote stability, defense, security, not to engage in transfers that would involve anything resembling repression of individual rights, while you’re also advancing U.S. strategic interests in the region.

AMY GOODMAN: But despite White House recalcitrance, the Nobel publicity and the scandal have created a climate that make it possible for activists to effectively fight the IMET and major weapons deals. When Newt Gingrich called a pre-election news conference to denounce Clinton in partisan terms, Allan Nairn asked the Speaker if he would now oppose IMET restoration and the F-16 sale.

ALLAN NAIRN: The next big item on the agenda for Suharto is getting those F-16s and getting the IMET restored, which is a very major thing for his army and for his security [inaudible]—

HOUSE SPEAKER NEWT GINGRICH: Well, I would certainly think that—

ALLAN NAIRN: The Republican leadership last spring, you supported restoration of the IMET. Will you now reverse that position and [inaudible]—

HOUSE SPEAKER NEWT GINGRICH: I can’t tell you right now. I mean, I think Indonesia is a very, very important country, and I’m not prepared to say that we ought to make foreign policy in response to American domestic politics. But I can tell you that we need to know to what extent the information we were being given by this administration was tainted by Indonesian interests and tainted by the Riadys and the Lippo Group, and to what extent the administration may not have been giving us straight information.

ALLAN NAIRN: So you’re not willing to come out against the F-16 deal or the IMET?

HOUSE SPEAKER NEWT GINGRICH: No, I’m willing to say I think we have to have thorough hearings. We have to see what all the decision documents have been for the last four years. We have to find out whether or not we have been misled.

ALLAN NAIRN: Do you think the sale should be postponed until hearings are completed?

HOUSE SPEAKER NEWT GINGRICH: Absolutely. There’s no question in my mind that we should postpone any action towards Indonesia until we’ve had a chance to review this.

AMY GOODMAN: Gingrich’s call for a suspension of the F-16 sale has been joined by Congress Member Ben Gilman, the Republican chair of the House International Affairs Committee, who promised in a letter to the Washington Post that, if necessary, he’ll introduce a resolution to block the deal. Whether these officials will keep their commitments remains to be seen. As before, it will undoubtedly depend on the extent of grassroots pressure.

Listening to politicians is something José Ramos-Horta has been doing for 21 years. He left East Timor at the age of 25, just before Indonesia invaded. He had been sent to the United Nations to plead East Timor’s case. While Ramos-Horta got out of East Timor alive, much of his family has been killed.

JOSÉ RAMOS-HORTA: I lost one sister and two brothers. The sister, she was 17 when she was killed, along with 20 other kids. Two Bronco aircraft nosedive over a village and blew up the school and the 20 kids there. One brother was killed when he was captured. Another, we don’t know what exactly happened, but he disappeared during a helicopter assault on my village, where he was.

But like me, there are many, many other families, and in fact, some are even worse. I know families that were totally wiped out, families that I knew, I grew up with, that no longer exist. I know villages, when all my youth I spent there, and when I ask survivors, I’m told that village does no longer exist. It’s not on the map. So, this is the scale of the tragedy that was imposed on East Timor, with U.S.A. complicity.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you hold out hope? You’ve been outside the country for 17 years. You’ve been the representative of East Timor at the United Nations for more than a decade. What gives you any hope?

JOSÉ RAMOS-HORTA: Well, the past 17 years that I’ve been engaging in diplomatic struggle, I also have witnessed—and all of us witnessed—empires crumbling. No one thought possible five years ago, 10 years ago, that the Soviet Union would disintegrate into independent states, or Yugoslavia or the Berlin Wall, democratization in Africa and elsewhere. And Indonesia will follow the same. It cannot escape the train of democracy. But apart from that, the resistance in East Timor is continuing at all levels—armed resistance, one, but also cultural, religious. The entire people are mobilized. And we are very confident. I can state categorically, in the next three, five years, six years, maybe a bit longer, East Timor is going to be independent.

AMY GOODMAN: Today, José Ramos-Horta is the external spokesperson for the Timorese underground. Its leader, Xanana Gusmão, was captured last November after eluding the grasp of the Indonesian military for 17 years. Xanana had also led the remnants of the Timorese guerrilla resistance, fighting in the hills since the invasion. But perhaps his more important role has been as the political leader of the underground, which advocates self-determination and, as even the Indonesian army admits, enjoys vast support across the political spectrum among the surviving East Timorese.

Xanana was sentenced to life in prison after a trial Amnesty International denounced as a travesty of justice. Close associates and members of his family had been arrested by Indonesian troops. Some were tortured, others killed. And when Xanana attempted to read his own defense at his trial, he was silenced by the Indonesian court. But a copy of his statement was smuggled out. In the 28-page handwritten document prepared in secret in his cell, Xanana called for self-determination and independence, said the resistance struggle would continue no matter what, and denounced the governments of the United States and Australia for their complicity in the occupation. He also specifically called on President Clinton to reconsider the U.S. stand and to pressure Jakarta into a dialogue in search of an internationally acceptable solution. From his jail cell, Xanana launched a hunger strike. His sentencing and the accompanying repression drew international condemnation. In captivity, Xanana remains a symbol of national resistance, a figure of Nelson Mandela-like stature among the East Timorese. This tape of his voice was smuggled out one year before his capture.

XANANA GUSMÃO: [translated] We are not saddened with our pain. We open our eyes to the immense suffering of the 16 years. We are not afraid of blood. We think of the determination of our people. The struggle continues on every front.

AMY GOODMAN: The U.N. Secretary-General is now sponsoring diplomatic talks on the future status of East Timor. The talks are between Indonesia and Portugal, which the U.N. recognizes as East Timor’s administering power. Xanana and others have called for Timorese participation in the talks, a petition which Indonesia has, to this point, refused. Senior U.N. officials have told us that Indonesia’s posture, in the end, will turn most heavily on whether the United States continues to arm and back the Suharto regime. While it’s an open question what the future holds for the Timorese, the scale of the genocide is inescapable. Most Timorese have lost at least one member of their family. Many young children have lost both their parents. We visited one of East Timor’s many orphanages, which, like many of the Timorese who dare to speak out, must go unnamed. The children welcomed us with a song.

TIMORESE ORPHANS: [translated] I laid awake at 4:00 a.m. I woke up, and I couldn’t find anybody. Mother and father, where are you? You left me all alone.

AMY GOODMAN: Old women in traditional dress of East Timor, young men, young women, little kids, and they marched up to the cemetery. When we got to the cemetery, again there were thousands of people. The Indonesian army converged in two places. They beat me and dragged me over and started slamming me with rifle butts and kicks and punches. And then Allan jumped on top of me, and they beat him very badly. But that was the least of what they did. They opened fire on the people.

AMY GOODMAN: Massacre: The Story of East Timor, produced by Allan Nairn and Amy Goodman.

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