Suharto, the Model Killer, and
His Friends in High Places
by John Pilger
In my film Death of a Nation, there is
a sequence filmed on board an Australian aircraft flying over
the island of Timor. A party is in progress, and two men in suits
are toasting each other in champagne. "This is an historically
unique moment," says one of them, "that is truly uniquely
historical." This is Gareth Evans, Australia's foreign minister.
The other man is Ali Alatas, principal mouthpiece of the Indonesian
dictator, General Suharto. It is 1989, and the two are making
a grotesquely symbolic flight to celebrate the signing of a treaty
that allowed Australia and the international oil and gas companies
to exploit the seabed off East Timor, then illegally and viciously
occupied by Suharto. The prize, according to Evans, was "zillions
Beneath them lay a land of crosses: great
black crosses etched against the sky, crosses on peaks, crosses
in tiers on the hillsides. Filming clandestinely in East Timor,
I would walk into the scrub and there were the crosses. They littered
the earth and crowded the eye. In 1993, the Foreign Affairs Committee
of the Australian Parliament reported that "at least 200,000"
had died under Indonesia's occupation: almost a third of the population.
And yet East Timor's horror, which was foretold and nurtured by
the US, Britain and Australia, was actually a sequel. "No
single American action in the period after 1945," wrote the
historian Gabriel Kolko, "was as bloodthirsty as its role
in Indonesia, for it tried to initiate the massacre." He
was referring to Suharto's seizure of power in 1965-6, which caused
the violent deaths of up to a million people.
To understand the significance of Suharto,
who died on Sunday, is to look beneath the surface of the current
world order: the so-called global economy and the ruthless cynicism
of those who run it. Suharto was our model mass murderer - "our"
is used here advisedly. "One of our very best and most valuable
friends," Thatcher called him, speaking for the West. For
three decades, the Australian, US and British governments worked
tirelessly to minimise the crimes of Suharto's gestapo, known
as Kopassus, who were trained by the Australian SAS and the British
army and who gunned down people with British-supplied Heckler
and Koch machine guns from British-supplied Tactica "riot
control" vehicles. Prevented by Congress from supplying arms
direct, US administrations from Gerald Ford to Bill Clinton, provided
logistic support through the back door and commercial preferences.
In one year, the British Department of
Trade provided almost a billion pounds worth of so-called soft
loans, which allowed Suharto buy Hawk fighter bombers. The British
taxpayer paid the bill for aircraft that dive-bombed East Timorese
villages, and the arms industry reaped the profits. However, the
Australians distinguished themselves as the most obsequious. In
an infamous cable to Canberra, Richard Woolcott, Australia's ambassador
to Jakarta, who had been forewarned about Suharto's invasion of
East Timor, wrote: "What Indonesia now looks to from Australia
. . . is some understanding of their attitude and possible action
to assist public understanding in Australia. . . "
Covering up Suharto's crimes became a
career for those like Woolcott, while "understanding"
the mass murderer came in buckets. This left an indelible stain
on the reformist government of Gough Whitlam following the cold-blooded
killing of two Australian TV crews by Suharto's troops during
the invasion of East Timor. "We know your people love you,"
Bob Hawke told the dictator. His successor, Paul Keating, famously
regarded the tyrant as a father figure. When Indonesian troops
slaughtered at least 200 people in the Santa Cruz cemetery in
Dili, East Timor, and Australian mourners planted crosses outside
the Indonesian embassy in Canberra, foreign minister Gareth Evans
ordered them destroyed. To Evans, ever-effusive in his support
for the regime, the massacre was merely an "aberration".
This was the view of much of the Australian press, especially
that controlled by Rupert Murdoch, whose local retainer, Paul
Kelly, led a group of leading newspaper editors to Jakarta, fawn
before the dictator.
Here lies a clue as to why Suharto, unlike
Saddam Hussein, died not on the gallows but surrounded by the
finest medical team his secret billions could buy. Ralph McGehee,
a senior CIA operations officer in the 1960s, describes the terror
of Suharto's takeover of Indonesia in 1965-6 as "the model
operation" for the American-backed coup that got rid of Salvador
Allende in Chile seven years later. "The CIA forged a document
purporting to reveal a leftist plot to murder Chilean military
leaders," he wrote, "[just like] what happened in Indonesia
in 1965." The US embassy in Jakarta supplied Suharto with
a "zap list" of Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) members
and crossed off the names when they were killed or captured. Roland
Challis, the BBC's south east Asia correspondent at the time,
told me how the British government was secretly involved in this
slaughter. "British warships escorted a ship full of Indonesian
troops down the Malacca Straits so they could take part in the
terrible holocaust," he said. "I and other correspondents
were unaware of this at the time . . . There was a deal, you see."
The deal was that Indonesia under Suharto
would offer up what Richard Nixon had called "the richest
hoard of natural resources, the greatest prize in south-east Asia."
In November 1967, the greatest prize was handed out at a remarkable
three-day conference sponsored by the Time-Life Corporation in
Geneva. Led by David Rockefeller, all the corporate giants were
represented: the major oil companies and banks, General Motors,
Imperial Chemical Industries, British American Tobacco, Siemens
and US Steel and many others. Across the table sat Suharto's US-trained
economists who agreed to the corporate takeover of their country,
sector by sector. The Freeport company got a mountain of copper
in West Papua. A US/European consortium got the nickel. The giant
Alcoa company got the biggest slice of Indonesia's bauxite. America,
Japanese and French companies got the tropical forests of Sumatra.
When the plunder was complete, President Lyndon Johnson sent his
congratulations on "a magnificent story of opportunity seen
and promise awakened." Thirty years later, with the genocide
in East Timor also complete, the World Bank described the Suharto
dictatorship as a "model pupil."
Shortly before he died, I interviewed
Alan Clark, who under Thatcher was Britain's minister responsible
for supplying Suharto with most of his weapons. I asked him, "Did
it bother you personally that you were causing such mayhem and
"No, not in the slightest,"
he replied. "It never entered my head."
"I ask the question because I read
you are a vegetarian and are seriously concerned about the way
animals are killed."
"Doesn't that concern extend to humans?"
John Pilger is an internationally renowned
investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker. His latest
film is The War on Democracy. His most recent book is Freedom
Next Time (Bantam/Random House, 2006). Read other articles by
John, or visit John's website.