Unasked Questions in the Bali Bombing

Revolutionary Worker #1172, October 27, 2002, posted at http://rwor.org

Shortly after a huge truck bomb exploded on October 12 in Kuta Beach on the island of Bali, Indonesia, U.S. President Bush declared that the blast was "linked to Al Qaeda" and Islamic fundamentalist forces in Indonesia. Without presenting any actual evidence, Bush said, "The attack in Bali appears to be an Al Qaeda-type terrorist--definitely a terrorist attack; whether it's Al Qaeda-related or not--I would assume it is."

He claimed that the Bali bombing was connected to recent attacks on U.S. troops in Kuwait and the bombing of a French oil tanker off Yemen. And he said that these incidents pointed to a "pattern" that showed the need for a long-term "war on terrorism"--including the U.S. moves against Iraq and Saddam Hussein.

The Bali blast took place when the streets of Kuta Beach were filled with Saturday night crowds. The explosion destroyed a bar and a disco and damaged many surrounding buildings, killing over 180 and injuring hundreds. Most of those in the bar and dance club were young tourists, especially from Australia-- backpackers, football players celebrating the end of the season, surfers. There were also many Indonesian casualties--workers at the tourist spots, taxi drivers, street vendors.

As we go to press (Oct. 20), no one has claimed responsibility for this bombing. And no physical evidence has been presented linking the incident to any particular group. But officials from the U.S., along with close U.S. ally Australia, quickly pointed the finger at a local Islamic fundamentalist group, Jemaah Islayiyah, and demanded that the Indonesian government crack down on the group and other forces allegedly linked with Al Qaeda.

The mainstream media in the U.S. and Australia have largely repeated the official claims that the Kuta Beach explosion was the work of groups tied to Al Qaeda. But some political analysts have raised questions about this allegation, pointing to signs and factors that indicate the possible involvement of the Indonesian military--an outfit of murderers and torturers with a bloody past.

There is also a revealing statement by Indonesia's defense minister, Matori Abdul Djalil, two days after the blast. Repeating the U.S.-Australian line that the Bali bomb blast is "linked" with Al Qaeda, the minister said, "I am not afraid to say, though many have refused to say, that an Al Qaeda network exists in Indonesia." His words seem to indicate that right within the Indonesian government there are differing views about the alleged Al Qaeda "link."

Writing in The Age , an Australian newspaper in Melbourne, foreign correspondent Hamish McDonald pointed out, "There is a long history of political manipulators within the Indonesian armed forces, or TNI, playing with the fire of Islamic extremism and staging incidents of terrorism, as well as the institution itself carrying out state terror as in Aceh, Ambon and East Timor--directly or through military proxies."

The TNI was the backbone of the fascist Suharto dictatorship which came to power in 1965 through a CIA-backed coup that made the rivers run red with the blood of hundreds of thousands of people, mainly members and supporters of the Communist Party of Indonesia. The coup overthrew Sukarno, whose daughter, Megawati Sukarnoputri, is the current head of the Indonesian government. Suharto himself was forced out of power under U.S. pressure in 1998 during the economic and political crisis that rocked this country of 200 million people. But forces linked to the Suharto regime still occupy powerful positions within the TNI and other areas of society.

Jeffrey Winters, a Northwestern University professor and expert on Indonesia, has noted that the military was implicated in a series of bombings less than two years ago in the capital, Jakarta, and elsewhere in Indonesia. The targets included churches across the country, the Philippine ambassador, the stock exchange, and the office of the attorney general who at the time was prosecuting the son of former dictator Suharto. Two members of Kopassus, the Indonesian army special forces, were sent to jail for the huge car bomb blast at the Jakarta Stock Exhange.

Hamesh McDonald wrote, "The Jakarta Stock Exchange bombing, in particular, should make Australian and other Western leaders hold back from hasty conclusions. Just two years ago, Indonesian military elements were prepared to cause massive casualties and huge economic disruption in their own capital for the purposes of elite-level politics. Could such minds have been impelled to stage a new incident of horror?"

On the Worldview program aired by the public radio station WBEZ in Chicago, Jeffrey Winters spoke about what motives might have been driving the Indonesian military if they were behind the Bali blast. Winters pointed out that whoever did the bombing knew that the prime targets would be Australians. There are elements in the military who have been itching for a "payback" against Australia for what they see as Australia's backstabbing over East Timor. For 25 years, the Australian imperialists (along with the U.S.), had backed Indonesia's brutal military occupation of East Timor under which hundreds of thousands of Timorese people were massacred. But increasingly, the U.S. and Australia worried that fierce resistance in East Timor was leading to dangerous destabilization of Indonesia and the region as a whole, and they compelled the Indonesian rulers to give up direct rule over the country. In 1999, Australian "peacekeeping" forces replaced the Indonesian troops.

Winters also said that the Bali blast was clearly aimed to severely damage the Megawati government and further destabilize the economic and political situation. He noted that sections of the military and reactionary religious forces both hate Megawati and have joined forces to cause mayhem in the hopes of toppling the government. According to Winters, Al Qaeda-type forces in Indonesia might have ambitions of climbing to power--but they are in no position to actually do so at this point. If the current government collapses, the only forces now capable of "catching the fruit"--seizing the opportunity to take power--are the Indonesian military and forces associated with the old Suharto regime.

There are also those in Indonesia who suspect direct U.S. involvement in the Bali bombing. In the Op-Ed pages of the New York Times,Sidney Jones, a foreign policy researcher, reported, "Extraordinary as this seems in the West, many Indonesians are convinced that the United States sponsored the Bali bombing in order to convince reluctant governments to join its war on terror and support an attack on Iraq... Some Indonesians seem to believe that the only organization with the capacity to carry out such a devastating attack is the American government. `American troops want to establish a presence in Indonesia,' one commentator said on a television panel Monday night [Oct. 14]. `They'll establish a foothold by offering to help out with the investigation in Bali, and then we'll see the influx.'"

Clearly, there are many unanswered questions about the bombing in Bali--questions that are purposely left unasked by the U.S. and Australian governments and the mainstream media.

Whoever was behind the Bali bombing, the incident is being used by the U.S. imperialists and their Australian allies for their own agendas. In Australia, the government is cynically manipulating the grief of relatives, friends, and others over the loss of young lives in Bali to justify closer support for the U.S. worldwide "war on terror," including attacks on Iraq. The newspaper Australian editorialized: "The Bali bombings should serve as a lesson to the waverers who have let their distaste for George W. Bush or knee-jerk isolationism blind them to the realities of terrorism."

The Australian government is also using the Bali blast as justification to push for new repressive powers, such as sweeping laws that would label all sorts of political protest and workers strikes as "terrorism" or "treason." All this follows in the footsteps of the Bush administration which has used people's grief over September 11 to justify its juggernaut of permanent war and aggression around the world and police-state repression at home.

Before the bombing, the U.S. government expressed open dissatisfaction with Megawati for what Bush officials called her "fence-sitting" stand in the U.S.'s worldwide "anti-terror" campaign. A few days before the bombing, the U.S. ambassador directly warned Megawati that if she did not take firmer action against fundamentalist Islamic forces in Indonesia by the end of October, the U.S. would take retaliatory measures. Now, in the wake of the Bali bombing and under U.S. urging, the Megawati government has passed a new "anti-terror" law that greatly expands the official power of the government to detain people without charges and to hand down harsh penalties, including death, to those accused of "terrorism." The Bush administration has dispatched FBI investigators to the Bali bombing site--under the pretext that the Indonesian police could not conduct a proper investigation.

These and other moves by the U.S. to strengthen its hand in Indonesia in the wake of the Bali explosion is part of increasing U.S. presence in the region overall. In the Philippines, for example, the U.S. is about to deploy thousands of troops for a new round of "military exercises" in some of the areas where the Maoist New People's Army and the Communist Party of the Philippines are active.

Whatever the truth is behind the bombing in Bali, the response of the U.S. and its allies has nothing to do with justice or "protecting people's safety." The moves of the U.S. rulers are driven by their wild ambitions to restructure the world in their imperialist interests.

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