Genocide in East Timor
Made in the USA
by Michael Steinberg
Z magazine, December 1999
The U.S. role in the recent catalog of horrors in East Timor
is deep and far reaching, the culmination of over three decades
of nurturing the Indonesian fascist regime. Just as the U.S. mainstream
media has attempted to suppress the clear connection between the
Indonesian military and its militias in carrying out genocide
in East Timor, the U.S. government and its corporate sponsors
vigorously deny any role in the slaughter and devastation there.
Fortunately alternative sources of information are still available
to those who take the trouble to seek them out.
In Jakarta on September 30, U.S. Secretary of Defense William
Cohen declared that the Indonesian military "aided and abetted
violence in East Timor."
Cohen's belated self-righteous denunciation was a far cry
from a visit in 1998, when he spent quality time at the headquarters
of the Indonesian army's notorious special forces, Kopassus, in
the company of its then commander, General Prabowo Subianto. According
to journalist Allan Nairn, who reported this in the April 20,
1998, Nation, Cohen and the general "watched the U.S. trained
killers execute maneuvers for their sponsor from Washington"
for three hours.
Nairn further reported that "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.-Indonesian Society,
an influential pro-Suharto U.S. front group launched in 1994 and
backed by ABRI [the Indonesian military], U.S. corporations, and
former Pentagon, State Department and CIA officials."
A 1994 Amnesty International report on Indonesia stated, "Army
personnel and members of elite military units, such as the Special
Forces Command (Kopassus)...have been responsible for the most
grave violations against suspected political opponents."
Because of the well-documented record of human rights violations
by Kopassus and other elements of the Indonesian military, in
the early l990s the U.S. Congress cut off funding for training
of Indonesian military personnel by U.S. forces
But the Pentagon did an end run around this prohibition by
quietly pushing through Section 2011 of Title 10 of the U.S. code.
This law allowed the Pentagon to send U.S. Special Forces to other
countries, not as congressionally forbidden trainers, but ostensibly
to be trained by foreign military personnel. This time distinction
was more fiction that fact. In Pentagon doublespeak, even training
foreign soldiers under this program was considered a form of training
for the U.S. trainers. The program was dubbed Joint Combined Exchange
Indonesia was one of the prime beneficiaries of this program.
In his 1998 Nation article, Allan Nairn reported that "at
least thirty-six [JCET] exercises" in Indonesia "with
fully armed U.S. combat troops ... including Green Berets, Air
Force Commandos, and Marines. "
Nairn further reported that "By far the main recipient
of the U.S. special training has been a force legendary for specializing
in torture, disappearances and night raids on civilian homes.
Of the twenty-eight Army/Air Force exercises known to have been
conducted since 1982, Pentagon documents indicate that twenty
have involved the dreaded Kopassus Red Berets."
Nairn wrote that U.S. exercises with Kopassus included Sniper
Level II, Demolition and Air Operations, Close Quarters Combat,
and Advanced Sniper Techniques.
In July 1998, the Washington Post ran a major series on JCETs.
In a lead story in its July 12 edition, the Post confirmed Nairn's
assertions: "In Indonesia [U.S.] special operations forces
have conducted 41 training exercises since 1991.... Most of the
exercises involved Indonesia's elite Kopassus troops, whom U.S.
officials have accused of involvement in kidnapping and torture
of anti-government activists."
The Post article also reported an October 1997 exercise in
Jakarta conducted by " 12 U.S. Army Special Forces troops"
for "60 troops from... Kopassus and the Jakarta area military
command." The mission: "Find the enemy somewhere in
a warren of plywood rooms, blow a hole in the wall and kill or
capture as many as possible...," "how to plan and conduct
close-quarters combat and other time points of urban warfare."
"We just showed them how we do it and they adopted what
they want," a U.S. participant in such exercises told the
Less than two years later, just exactly how these lessons
were adopted exploded into the world's view in the streets of
Dili, East Timor's capital in September 1999. Throughout East
Timor thousands were murdered, hundreds of thousands made homeless,
entire cities burnt to the ground. There is ample evidence that
the U.S. government knew this was coming, and that their trained
killers would play a leading role.
Largely due to Nairn's and then the Post's articles, Congress
also prohibited JCETs in late 1998. At the end of October, the
East Timor Action Network, another major player in bringing about
this change, reported that Indonesian military confidential documents
it had obtained revealed a troop buildup in East Timor. This included
"one Kopassus company and Kopassus intelligence and headquarters
units still in the territory. Indonesia claims that all Special
Forces have been withdrawn."
The report also stated that "the documents contradict
the claim by Indonesia that paramilitary groups are not under
ABRI's command," and quoted an Australian group that released
the documents as stating that "these forces are perceived
by ABRI's administration to be part of their operational structure."
Following attacks by pro-Indonesia militias in Dili in April
1999, Human Rights Watch put out a report on the connections between
the militias and the Indonesian military. The report stated that
Eurico Gutteres led Aitarak, the militia responsible for the attacks.
The report described Gutteres as "a leading figure in Gardapaksi,"
a pro-independence youth gang whose "members were reported
to receive military training and non-lethal equipment from Kopassus.
The Human Rights Watch report also stated that a letter sent
threatening Australian journalists and diplomats in Indonesia
"was faxed from a hotel in Jakarta where Gutteres and other
militia leaders were meeting with President Habibe."
Another militia in East Timor, Besi Mara Rutih, was said to
be responsible for massacring dozens of people in a church in
Liquica in April. The report stated that the group "claimed
by early February  to have a membership of 2890 and was
going on joint patrols with Battalion 143 of the Indonesian army."
A week after the church massacre, this militia attacked the convoy
of Nobel Peace Prize winner Bishop Belo. The Human Rights Watch
report stated that "Eyewitness accounts from both attacks
indicate that troops from the Liquica district and Maubara sub
district commands were present at the time of the militia attacks
and far from trying to prevent violence provided active support
to their operations."
The report further stated that yet another militia in East
Timor, Suka, "is led by Sgt. Jaonico da Costa of...Kopassus,
and most of its members worked as guards or logistical support
for the army."
All Hell Breaks Loose
When all hell broke loose in East Timor in early September
following the announcement that 78 percent of voters chose independence
from Indonesia, the U.S. media by and large reported this as the
reaction of militias gone mad. But there was a method not solely
of their own in this madness.
On September 11, Melbourne, Australia, newspaper The Age reported
that, before the elections were held, Australian "intelligence
services have warned that the Indonesian military was orchestrating
a violent campaign to hold on to the territory." The Age
reported that Australian intelligence had intercepted mobile and
satellite phone communications between militia and military leaders
and "intercepted 'damning' conversations."
In addition, the newspaper reported that "In July leaked
Indonesian Government documents predicted a win for independence
supporters "in East Timor," outlined a scorched-earth
plan," and "said Jakarta should put the army on alert
and consider increasing its support for the militia groups."
The Australian government learned of these documents too,
and passed on all this information to the UN-and presumably to
the U.S. as well. But despite this, the UN decided to believe
the Indonesian government's promises of controlling violence in
East Timor. A few examples of the horror that followed should
suffice to demonstrate the terror unleashed by the U.S. trained
and armed Indonesian forces. All are from reports by The Age.
The Melbourne newspaper reported on September 17 the eyewitness
testimony of Joao Brito, 15, of Ermera in East Timor: "He
told of events on 3 September, the day the result of the 30 August
autonomy referendum was announced."
"An hour after the announcement, two trucks of Kopassus
special forces arrived in Ermera. The men were dressed in the
black T-shirts of the Aitarak militia. Militia members recruited
in West Timor accompanied them. Joao and others watched their
arrival from a hillside coffee plantation."
"The soldiers, armed with automatic weapons and carrying
cans of petrol, were after independence leaders. "
"They called house-to-house and they burned out the political
leaders," Joao said. "When the houses burnt, they let
the women and children out, but they pushed the men back into
the fire where they died."
Then the terrorists marched through the village, burning buildings,
shooting, and slashing people with machetes. "After they
cut with machete, they shouted and danced because they are happy
they kill people," Joao said. "They say 'you dogs. You
do not have the right to independence'."
On September 12, The Age reported that on September 5, Inge
Lempp, an election observer with the International Federation
for East Timor (IFET), intercepted "radio communications
between Indonesian arm operatives and militias around the town
of Same in East Timor."
"Those blondies from IFET. Take them out of the car and
kill them," ordered the army leader, "then throw their
bodies in the river."
"'Throw their bodies in the river.' I heard that repeated
three times to different militia heads," Lempp reported.
Lempp escaped safely, but thousands of East Timorese were not
so fortunate. The Age reported that on September 8, the Timorese
wife of an Australian aid worker saw stacks of corpses in police
headquarters "in a building once used as a torture cell for
political prisoners." In Indonesia the police are part of
"My wife told me she saw bodies stacked high, thousands
of them," Ira Bainbridge said. "She smelt the bodies....
My wife saw arms and legs and dripping blood."
The U.S. has not been alone in supporting the Indonesian fascist
regime. As recently as August 27, The Age reported that Australia's
government "will maintain its close links with Indonesian
military forces despite evidence that he military has committed
atrocities throughout Indonesia during the past nine years."
"The continuing contact will include the controversial
practice of joint exercises and training exercises with Kopassus,
the Indonesian elite Special Forces most heavily implicated in
the atrocities." Following the September atrocities Australia
canceled these plans.
The Vancouver Sun reported in 1997 that "Canada is currently
considering a series of requests by the Indonesian armed forces
to establish closer ties potentially by agreeing to train Indonesian
officers in Canada," since this practice had been banned
in the U.S. The article went on to note that "From the perspective
of Canadian investment and the safety of the 5000 Canadian expatriates
living on the islands, that decision might make sense.... Canada's
business prospects in Indonesia are extremely bright, with exports
exploding from $350 million in 1991 to $825 million in 1996."
Fascism proved to be very good for business until the economic
collapse of recent years. Through it all the main sponsor and
beneficiary has been the USA. Now that the recent horrors in East
Timor have finally pricked the world's conscience, it is the height
of hypocrisy for Clinton and Cohen to condemn the bloodbath that
was the end result of a policy of protecting U.S. interests and
investments in Indonesia at all costs. After all, the Indonesian
fascists have only learned their masters' lessons all too well.
Michael Steinberg is an investigative journalist based in
Durham, NC. He is the author of Millstone and Me: Sex, Lies and
Radiation in Southeastern Connecticut.