Suharto's Brutal Military:
Revolutionary Worker #957, May 17, 1998
In 1991, Indonesian troops massacred more than 270 civilians on the island of East Timor. The U.S. had strongly backed the dictatorial Suharto regime since it came to power in 1965. But in an effort to publicly distance the U.S. from this brutality, the U.S. Congress banned Indonesian troops from receiving warfare training under the Pentagon program known as International Military Education and Training, or IMET.
Now it has come out that, despite this 1992 ban, the U.S. has continued to train Indonesian military forces, including KOPASSUS, a special forces commando unit, which human rights groups say has tortured and killed civilians. The KOPASSUS Red Berets, which have been deployed this year against street demonstrators in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, have received training from U.S. special operations soldiers in skills like psychological warfare and reconnaissance missions.
Pentagon officials argue that the training program was technically legal because it was not done under the IMET program stipulated by the Congressional ban. Instead the training has been carried out under a little known $10 million Pentagon program called Joint Combined Exchange and Training (J-Cet.) This program was also used to train the Rwandan Patriotic Army in psychological operations and marksmanship.
Journalist Allan Nairn was severely beaten, arrested and permanently banned from Indonesia in 1991 after he witnessed the Indonesian military's massacre in East Timor. His recent article in The Nation (3/30/98) describes the U.S. training of Indonesian troops.
Nairn says that on December 10, 1991, soon after the massacre in East Timor, the U.S. convened a secret meeting in Surabaya and assured the Indonesian military that Washington did "not believe that friends should abandon friends in times of adversity."
After the U.S. Congress voted to end the military training of Indonesian officers through IMET, the Indonesian government protested. And in 1994 and 1995, IMET was partially restored as a smaller program called E-IMET--which claimed to be instructing the Indonesian military, ABRI, in human rights. After 1995 Congress said the only military training ABRI would get would be classroom instruction under E-IMET. But Nairn reveals that according to newly obtained Pentagon documents and interviews with key U.S. officials, the U.S. military has been training ABRI in a broad array of lethal tactics. Since 1993, the U.S. has held 41 training exercises with the Indonesian military, including courses in counterinsurgency techniques, psychological warfare and military operations in urban areas. These exercises have involved Green Berets, Air Force commandos and Marines.
Indonesian forces trained by the U.S. have included Suharto's presidential guard and KOSTRAD, the Indonesian government's key Army Strategic Command. But the U.S. training has mainly involved KOPASSUS Red Beret forces, which are known for specializing in torture, disappearances and night raids on civilian homes. Pentagon documents show that 20 of the 28 Army/Air Force exercises conducted since 1992 have involved KOPASSUS Red Berets.
The U.S. exercises for KOPASSUS in the period since the Timor massacre have included Sniper Level II (1993), Demolitions and Air Operations (1993) and Close Quarters Combat (1994). Ensuing KOPASSUS sessions covered Special Air Operations, Air Assaults and Advanced Sniper Techniques.
Nairn reports: "Asked about KOPASSUS, a leading Indonesian human rights monitor called its work `spying, terror and counterterror,' meaning that it stages violent provocations. He said KOPASSUS battalions from Aceh and West Papua were relocated to Jakarta two months ago and have recently been deployed to contain street demonstrations along with units of ABRI's regional command. His group believes that KOPASSUS has two clandestine jails (in Cibubur and Bogor) for detaining and questioning dissidents they have abducted and `disappeared.' "
In fact, human rights groups in Indonesia say there has been a growing number of people who have been "disappeared"--detained by security forces, forced to go into hiding or been abducted by secret, pro-government vigilante groups. According to Amnesty International, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of political detentions this year. And at least 140 people are in jail awaiting trial for involvement in political activities or demonstrations.
Activists tell of government attempts at harassment and intimidation--phone calls in the middle of the night, constant surveillance by intelligence agents and getting stopped and roughed up. One human rights lawyer reported that he was talking to a friend on his home phone when a voice broke in and warned, "I will kill you tonight." This was followed by a fax--emblazoned with a hammer and sickle and skull--that said, "Don't Be a Hero. Be Careful of Your Safety, Your Self and Your Family."
Prominent activist Pius Lustrilanang was one of about 50 Indonesians who had disappeared in the past three months. He was finally released on April 2 after being held captive for two months. And now, after fleeing the country, he is talking about how he was abducted and tortured by government forces. His account sounds a lot like what others have described as the work of KOPPASUS.
Lustrilanang says he was seized by armed men on February 4 at a bus stop in Jakarta and then blindfolded, driven outside the city and placed in a cell, naked. Before the first electric shock, he says he heard one interrogator say: "Here there is no law. There is no human rights. All you have to do is answer our questions. Some people leave here alive. Some don't. They are never found." Lustrilanang said he was imprisoned with about 10 other political prisoners who were also interrogated and tortured with electrified batons. Lustrilanang said, "They tortured me to get information... They wanted to know the constellation of the opposition, the alliances between different leaders."
Lustrilanang never saw the faces of the men who tortured him--they always wore masks or hoods over their faces. But Lustrilanang believes it was Indonesian soldiers who kidnapped him and that he was held on a military base. He says his captors threatened him with death and warned him that if he wanted to live after his release, he should stay silent forever.
As the Indonesian government's crackdown on dissent intensified since last summer, the U.S. stepped up its hands-on training of Indonesia's military forces. Nairn says:
"On July 27, 1996, Jakarta erupted in anti-army riots, after ABRI-backed paramilitaries raided [opposition leader] Megawati Sukarno's headquarters, leaving at least 60 people listed as missing. In the wake of that, ABRI launched a crackdown and intimidation campaign against nongovernmental organizations. In the midst of it, KOPASSUS and other units were given training in Psy Ops by a U.S. team flown in from Special Operations Command-Pacific.
"From then until late 1997 there were seven more KOPASSUS exercises, one (Mortar Training) focusing on the unit of Col. Slamat Sidabutar, an East Timor occupation commander whose troops have conducted torture sessions that were photographed and later published abroad. The U.S. Marines have trained the Indonesian Denjaka Counterterrorism Force in Demolition and Small Weapons Instruction as well, and also run a course for the Indonesian First Infantry Brigade on Small Boat Operations, Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Raids. As the financial crisis hit and protest grew last fall, KODAM Jaya, one of the main anti-demonstration forces, and the Infantry Training Center received 26 days of instruction from the U.S. Army in Military Operations in Urban Terrain.
"The U.S. focus on KOPASSUS seems to be part of a systematic effort to build it up. It has also cemented links with its recent commander, General Prabowo. Prabowo is Suharto's son-in-law, the Indonesian business partner (through his wife) of Merrill Lynch and one of the key sponsors of the U.S.-Indonesia Society, an influential pro-Suharto U.S. front group launched in 1994 and backed by ABRI, U.S. corporations and former Pentagon, State Department and CIA officials. Prabowo is also Indonesia's most notorious field commander. Today, Prabowo is the KOSTRAD commander, an often-touted Suharto successor and the recipient of a steady stream of high-level U.S. visitors.
Since Indonesia was hit by crisis last summer, senior Pentagon and service officials have flown there to meet top ABRI officers at least two or three times a month. When U.S. Defense Secretary Cohen visited, he went to KOPASSUS headquarters and spent three hours by Prabowo's side, watching the U.S.-trained killers execute military maneuvers. He refused to call for ABRI restraint in dealing with street demonstrations. And when one U.S. official was asked about the overall message conveyed by this visits, he replied, "It's simple. The U.S. is close to and loves the army."
But now--as the Indonesian government intensifies its brutal crackdown of demonstrations and stories come out about the torture of political activists--the U.S. is trying to distance itself somewhat from the Indonesian military and cover up its role in training these forces. On May 8, the U.S. announced it was calling off military exercises currently going on with Indonesia. And the U.S. has also canceled the program which has been training Indonesian soldiers. But there are at least two more joint military exercises planned for later this year. And a Pentagon official said, "There is no permanent suspension of military activities in Indonesia. Based upon the current situation, there will be a policy-level review, on a case-by-case basis, of future exercises."
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
(The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.)