The Other Aftershock
The Bush administration seeks
normalization of ties with Indonesia and its brutal military.
by Tim Shorrock
In These Times magazine, February
The Bush Administration and the Pentagon
are leveraging warmer post-tsunami relations with Indonesia to
convince Congress to lift its restrictions on full military ties
with the world's largest Muslim nation. But lawmakers and human
rights groups say the Indonesian government must first account
for its past abuses in East Timor and end its repressive military
tactics in sections of the country seeking independence.
"Many of my colleagues and I firmly
believe that now is not the time to advance efforts toward normalizing
military relations,' wrote Rep. Lane Evans (D-Ill.), a member
of the House Armed Services Committee, in a January 18 letter
to Adm. Thomas Fargo, the commander of the US. Pacific Command
who is leading the Pentagon's efforts. Evans' views are widely
held in Congress, where even Republicans are wary of the Indonesian
army, known as the TNI, and its record of corruption and brutality.
The administration's push began in January;
when Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz visited Aceh province,
where an estimated 220,000 people were killed by the tsunami.
The U.S. military relief effort marked the highest level of US.-Indonesian
cooperation since 1991, when Congress imposed a ban on U.S. training
of Indonesian officers under the State Department's International
Military Education and Training (IMET) program. Upon his return,
Wolfowitz urged Congress to reevaluate the IMET restrictions.
"We can have more positive influence that way," he told
PBS's "Online News Hour'
The congressional ban, which also includes
restrictions on U.S. arms sales to Jakarta, was extended in 2000
after militias trained by the TNI rampaged through East Timor
on the eve of the country's historic independence vote, killing
hundreds of people and wrecking the capital city of Dili. Under
legislation passed last fall, Congress declared that IMET training
cannot begin until the State Department confirms that the Indonesian
government has fully cooperated in the FBI's investigation into
the August 31, 2002 murders of two American employees of the mining
giant Freeport McMoRan during a military-style ambush in West
After her televised confirmation hearings,
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Congress that the administration
is "currently evaluating whether to issue the required determination:'
But she was unequivocal on the training funds. "IMET for
Indonesia is in the U.S. interest' she said in a written response
to questions posed to her by Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.). IMET,
she added, will "strengthen the professionalism of military
officers, especially with respect to the norms of democratic civil-military
relations such as transparency, civilian supremacy, public accountability
and respect for human rights:'
But recent actions by the TNI have not
helped the administration's cause. At the time of the tsunami
disaster, Aceh had been closed to outside observers and humanitarian
groups since May 2003, when martial law was declared. By all accounts,
TNT's fighting with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM)-the armed group
seeking independence-has been savage.
Last November, Human Rights Watch said
it had "substantial evidence" that Indonesian security
forces "have engaged in extra-judicial executions, forced
disappearances, torture, beatings, arbitrary arrests arid detentions,
and drastic limits on freedom of movement in Aceh:' The watch
group also cited the "massive internal displacement"
of "tens of thousands of civilians [who] have fled their
homes or been forcibly relocated by the military for operational
A similar situation is unfolding in West
Papua in the eastern part of the archipelago. In January, the
TNT launched an offensive against the Free Papua Movement (OPM)the
group fighting for independence there-driving an estimated 14,000
people from their homes in the Central Highlands.
The TNI responded to the tsunami like
it was an extension of war. International aid agencies arriving
on the scene objected to the military's severe restrictions on
humanitarian operations and its demands that all relief flow through
the army. The TNI made the situation worse by launching attacks
on GAM units and withholding relief from civilians suspected of
supporting the fighters. (In mid-January, the TNI said it had
killed 120 rebels and accused them of trying to derail aid efforts,
a charge denied by GAM leaders.) Apparently stung by international
criticism, the newly elected government of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
sent a delegation to Finland on January 28 to open talks with
Many US. lawmakers are still deeply uneasy
about links between elements of the TNI and fundamentalist Muslim
groups inside of Indonesia. Moreover, the Indonesian government's
actions in West Papua, the site of the 2002 killings, is raising
more questions about the TNI's ties to violent militia groups.
Last July, Attorney General John Ashcroft
announced that a Washington grand jury had indicted Anthonious
Wamang in the attack on the mining employees. Ashcroft identified
Wamang as an "operational commander" of the military
wing of the OPM. Rice, in her comments to Congress, said that
the FBI had "uncovered no evidence indicating TNI involvement"
in the murders.
But according to Elsham, an independent
human rights group in Papua that has investigated the attack,
Wamang has close ties to the Indonesian military. John Rumbiak,
Elsham's director, told In These Times that Elsham has evidence
that Wamang was "armed, wined and dined" by TNI officers
and was once flown by the military to Jakarta, where he stayed
in luxury hotels courtesy of the TNI -his ostensible enemies.
"The truth behind the killings of
the two Americans is that the TNI was involved:' Rumbiak says."
The issue is, were these military people operating as individuals
or as an institution?"
Patsy Spier, a teacher who lost her husband
in the 2002 Papua attack and was herself seriously wounded, said
in an interview that she has "no doubt" that the FBI-which
collected its own forensic evidence in Indonesia-had enough evidence
to bring a case against Wamang. "But who ordered [the attack],
and who supplied the guns and the ammunition?" she asks.
Spier says the FBI has offered to return
to Indonesia to help apprehend additional participants in the
attack and assist in issuing indictments, but "Indonesia
hasn't responded:' This case "should remind us why the training
funds were held up in the first place," she said. "They've
got to be willing to bring to justice those people who committed
crimes and are still in service:'
TIM SHORROCK, a freelance journalist based
in Washington, is writing a book about corporations and foreign
policy. He can be reached through his blog at timshorrock.blogspot.com.
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