In a Democracy Now! exclusive, investigative journalist and activist Allan Nairn reveals US-backed Indonesian armed forces carried out a series of assassinations of civilian activists in late 2009. The news comes as the White House moves towards increasing aid to the Indonesian military and lifting a twelve-year ban on the training of the notorious Indonesian military unit known as Kopassus. A US-trained Kopassus general who coordinated the assassinations confirmed to Nairn an Indonesian army role in the killings. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: We end today’s show looking at US-Indonesian relations. The White House is moving towards increasing aid to the Indonesian armed forces and lifting a twelve-year ban on the training of the notorious Indonesian military unit known as Kopassus. The special forces unit has been linked to scores of human rights abuses in East Timor, Aceh, Papua and Java since its formation in the 1950s.
On Monday, Jeffrey Bader of the National Security Council acknowledged Kopassus had committed human rights violations in the past, but he said the Obama administration, quote, "hopes to be able, at some point, to move past and resolve those concerns."
AMY GOODMAN: President Obama was scheduled to travel to Indonesia next week but the White House has announced the trip will be postponed ’til June because of the healthcare negotiations on Capitol Hill. The trip to Indonesia would have marked Barack Obama’s first time returning to Indonesia since he was elected president. He lived in Indonesia for several years as a child.
Well, yesterday I reached investigative journalist and activist Allan Nairn about his new investigation into assassinations by US-trained Indonesian army and Kopassus officers. I reached him in Southeast Asia.
ALLAN NAIRN: President Obama wants to restore military aid to the Indonesian armed forces, including Kopassus, the Red Berets. I’ve just come out with a piece that shows that the Indonesian army and Kopassus have been involved in a series of recent assassinations of civilian political activists. The piece names the names of the officers involved, including a Kopassus general named Sunarko. These assassinations were carried out in the region of Aceh in late 2009.
They targeted activists for the Aceh — the Partai Aceh, which is pro-independence. In one case, the case of a man named Tumijan, he was abducted, tortured to death. His body was dumped in a sewage ditch near an army post. In another, a man was sitting in his car outside his house. An assassin walked up, put two bullets in his head through the window.
According to a senior Indonesian official with detailed information on these murders, they’re part of a program of political murder being carried out by TNI, the Indonesian armed forces, and Kopassus and by military intelligence. And so, these killings are still going on today. And Obama is about to give them new aid on the pretense that the Indonesian army has reformed and has stopped killing civilians, which is false.
AMY GOODMAN: How do you know this, Allan?
ALLAN NAIRN: From people inside the Indonesian government, who gave the names of some of the killers and the officers they work for. And just a few hours ago, I spoke on the phone with General Aditya, who is the head of the police in Aceh, and he confirmed that his forces had in fact detained some of the assassins who were working for the army. They’d been holding them for months, but they never announced this, because they were afraid to do it. The police are afraid of the army. But when I asked him about it directly, he admitted it publicly for the first time. The Indonesian police have confirmed this. They know about it, but they’re afraid to act. The Indonesian army and Kopassus are running a program of killing civilians, and it’s active right now. And Obama wants to give them new US weapons, training and money.
AMY GOODMAN: Why does President Obama want to give them this money? I think we’re hearing a lot about the war on terror.
ALLAN NAIRN: Well, first the White House makes the argument that the atrocities are a thing of the past. The Indonesian military has killed hundreds of thousands, perhaps close to a million, civilians. But the White House argues, well, that’s in the past. But as I’ve just described, that’s a lie, that’s not true. Secondly, the White House claims that they want to use the Indonesian army to fight Islamist terror groups in Indonesia. They want to use them and a special anti-terrorist unit called Densus 88.
Densus 88 is a police SWAT-style task force that was originally created by US intelligence under the initiative of Cofer Black, formerly of the CIA, now with Blackwater. Two nights ago, I met with the Densus people, who described how were they — were trained in Jakarta and elsewhere by a CIA personnel in tactics including surveillance, how to pursue and snatch people, and interrogation.
AMY GOODMAN: Allan Nairn, talk about the significance of President Obama postponing his trip to Indonesia until June.
ALLAN NAIRN: I think it is still possible that the deal they were making with the Indonesian army may still go forward, because for the past few days, other top US officials, including Kurt Campbell, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, have been in Indonesia. US generals have been in Indonesia. In fact, Kopassus general — Kopassus generals even went to Washington and were welcomed by the Obama people with open arms. They were working out the details of this new pact. And it is possible that even though Obama himself won’t visit, they will still try to push this deal through. So that means specifically that they may go ahead with their already announced plans to circumvent the US congressional Leahy Amendment, which bans training for units involved in atrocities, and boost their training for Kopassus.
I think, however, politically, practically speaking, that it may be possible to at least defeat politically that aspect of the deal. There are various reasons to think that’s possible. The East Timor Action Network is running a campaign to stop it. Just in the past few hours, human rights groups and survivors of army terror in Aceh have come out, and Indonesian national human rights groups have come out, with a statement asking Obama to not increase the training for Kopassus. So I think that deal perhaps could be stopped, and people should contact Congress and the White House, demand that the US cut off all military aid to Indonesia. And they can to go to the East Timor Action website and get details about the Kopassus aspect of the problem.
AMY GOODMAN: But this issue of terrorism, of Islamist terror, can you expand on that more?
ALLAN NAIRN: In Indonesia, there are currently Islamist terror groups that have killed several hundred people. They bombed luxury hotels in Jakarta. They bombed a night club. They bombed two night clubs in Bali. They’ve killed several hundred in recent years.
The Indonesian military and police, on the other hand, have killed many hundreds of thousands. And for years, the Indonesian military and police have been sponsoring Islamist terror groups. They’ve been using them for their own purposes. They sent them into Poso and the Malukus. Indonesian generals back them. They went on Indonesian military transports. They use them to attack Christian villagers, while other elements of the army and police back the Christian villagers. The idea was to create chaos to try to destabilize the government of then Indonesian president Gus Dur. And it succeeded.
On another occasion, the Indonesian army sent a group called Laskar Jihad, an Islamist terror group, into Aceh to try to wean people away from supporting the pro-independence movement in Aceh. They were immediately driven out by the Acehnese. The Indonesian police have backed a group called the FPI, the Islamic Defenders Front, which goes around Jakarta in Islamic dress busting up bars which don’t give sufficient payoffs — payoffs to the police. Then the presidential intelligence agency, which reports now directly to General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the president of Indonesia, they have in the past made payments to Laskar Jihad and sent them into Papua.
Papua is a region in the eastern part of Indonesia, which is under de facto occupation by the Indonesian armed forces and Kopassus. They’re conducting terror operations there, sometimes using these Islamist forces, sometimes using Kopassus men directly. There have been abductions, assassinations. And in one case, the Densus 88 antiterrorist force went into Papua and arrested a man because he had been sending SMS text messages that were critical of President Susilo. So here you have the CIA-trained supposed anti-terror unit arresting a peaceful civilian because he uses his cell phone to send out messages criticizing the President. This particular unit, Densus, is expected to be one of the groups that is focused on in Obama’s visit, and he’s expected to highlight their work with the US and perhaps even announce new aid for them.
So what they’ve been doing, what the TNI and POLRI, the Indonesian armed forces and police, have been doing, with these various Islamist terror groups is they’ve been setting them up, funding them, using them for their convenience. But also, when it is sometimes convenient, they’ve been killing them. And that’s what they’re doing right now.
In the run-up to Obama’s visit over the past two weeks, they’ve done a series of raids on these various Islamist groups. They’ve killed a number of them. They’ve arrested many others. They’ve arrested people from mosques, who they claim are linked to them. And as one police general privately put it the other day, they’re putting on a show for Obama. They want to get new helicopters, new transport planes, new interrogation equipment and training, more computers to spy on more cell phones, more surveillance equipment. They want more of everything from the United States. And by killing people from the Islamist movement that they’ve been sponsoring for years, they cynically hope that that will sell America. It’s actually similar, in some respects, to the situation in Pakistan with ISI, the military Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
It says something about the state of US politics now that this push to renew aid or increase aid to the Indonesian military is coming under a liberal Democratic President Obama. It’s coming while Obama has as his Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights a man named Michael Posner, who used to be one of the leading human rights advocates in the US. He ran a group in New York called the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, later renamed Human Rights First. They did very good work, for example, on pushing for justice in the case of Munir, the top Indonesian human rights lawyer who was assassinated by BIN, the presidential intelligence agency, by General Muchdi and General Hendro Priyono, who was a CIA asset. But now Posner is in the State Department. He’s running the Human Rights Bureau. And he and Obama and others are, by all reports, getting ready to circumvent congressional restrictions and push through, restore aid to — restore training aid to Kopassus, the most notorious of the killer forces and the one of the forces that, as I’m reporting today, have been involved in this recent wave of assassinations against political activists in Aceh.
AMY GOODMAN: What would the effect, Allan Nairn, of full restoration of military aid to Indonesia have?
ALLAN NAIRN: It would mean more killing, more killing of civilians, because it would make the Indonesian armed forces and police more confident. It would send the message to the Indonesian public that they have more reason to be afraid of the army and police, because now they will be able to see that those forces have the full might of America behind them. So it’ll mean more death and more terror on the popular level.
On the other hand, it’s also the case that the situation is now different than it was in the 1990s. In the 1990s, after the Dili massacre in occupied East Timor, the massacre that we survived, a grassroots movement grew up in the United States, including the East Timor Action Network, and we were all able to pressure the US Congress to cut off a lot of the military aid to Indonesia. That was under the dictatorship of General Suharto. And that cutoff had a huge effect within Indonesia. It actually contributed to the downfall of Suharto. That’s what Suharto’s former security chief, Admiral Sudomo, told me. The cutoff was very damaging to them. It helped to bring down Suharto.
Then, over the years after that, the aid has — much of the aid has gradually been restored. But Indonesia is not now in a moment where the army’s power is in the balance. Popular movements are very weak. Much of the middle class, including many middle-class NGO people, have been essentially bought off by the regime. They have very comfortable lives. Foreign expatriates have very comfortable lives. They’re making the claim that Indonesia is the new model of democracy, even though the poor, who are the vast majority in the country, are being terrorized by the police on a daily basis and, in key areas like Papua, terrorized by the army.
So, at this moment, it’s not as if, if the US withheld the military aid, that could bring down the army as earlier withholding helped to bring down Suharto, but it will have a marginal effect of definitely increasing the killing and torture that Indonesians suffer. So if Obama does that, he should be held to account.
It’s especially outrageous on his part, because Obama is a US president who actually understands Indonesia. He was a young boy when he lived there, but in his books he makes it clear that he knew about the massacres that were going on in the 1960s, the massacres that brought the current regime to power. The army ousted Sukarno, the founding president. The US backed the terror in which more than 400,000 rural peasants, many of them members of the Communist party, were executed. The CIA gave a list of 5,000 dissidents, who they called Communists. Also they were also shot and strangled and slashed to death. And Obama knew about all this. He lived there afterwards. He wrote about it in his book. And he’s a smart guy. I’m sure he knows the story of the invasion of East Timor, which was authorized by President Ford and Henry Kissinger; about the very recent terror in Aceh; about the ongoing de facto
occupation of Papua. And yet, on the really transparently ridiculous excuse that the TNI is the agency to fight a small Islamist terror group which is in Indonesia, he’s about to supposedly restore, increase US weapons and training to this army.
AMY GOODMAN: After I taped this interview with investigative journalist Allan Nairn, he called and said he’d spoken to the Kopassus general who’s coordinated the recent assassinations. Allan said the general acknowledged an Indonesian army role in the killings. And the general also told him he himself was US-trained and was enthusiastic about Obama’s plans to make the US relationship with Kopassus and Indonesia’s army, quote, "still more intimate."