What are Indonesia's Special Forces doing in
by Terry J. Allen
In These Times magazine, October 1999
Quietly tucked away in the Vermont hills, the only private
military college in the country has been educating and training
current and future members of the Indonesian army. During homecoming
week at Norwich University, parents strolled the bucolic campus,
crimson leaves glistening in the bright fall sunshine. A world
away, that same hue ran in the streets of East Timor.
The Norwich program, which includes both undergraduate and
graduate military training, was arranged in 1997 by high-ranking
Indonesian military officers suspected of committing crimes against
humanity in East Timor. One general was head of Indonesia's repressive
intelligence apparatus; the other gave the shoot-to-kill order
in a 1989 massacre and has publicly supported the creation of
civilian militias in Indonesia.
In 1997, 12 Indonesian undergraduates and 10 graduate students
entered Norwich. They were selected "by the Indonesian Embassy
in Washington" and paid for "with funds wired by order
of the military attaché," says Thomas Greene, director
of public relations at Norwich. The Indonesians presented a list
of students; Norwich accepted all of them. At least 11 of them
listed the same billing address: the headquarters of Kopassus,
Indonesia's notorious special forces.
Ostensibly civilians, the undergrads who enrolled in the 4-year,
ROTC-linked "corps of cadets" program are obligated
to serve six years in the Indonesian military after graduation.
Most of the Indonesian graduate students-active-duty officers
in the Indonesian army, with ranks from first lieutenant to major-graduated
last spring with master's degrees in military science and diplomacy
and returned home. At least four went to East Timor.
By Sept. 10, at the height of the slaughter in East Timor,
as many as 25,000 Indonesian soldiers and police officers were
stationed in the territory, which had a population of 800,000.
According to the United Nations, at least 7,000 East Timorese
died and 400,000 were displaced before the Australian-led peacekeeping
force landed in mid-September; a handful of police, military or
militia soldiers was killed.
The university claims that its former students were "serving
under the United Nations flag." "l do not even imagine
what they were talking about," responds Manuel de Almeida
e Silva, a U.N. spokesman. "There is no room for confusion:
No Indonesian troops served under the U.N. flag."
Why Norwich? For the Indonesian military, training in America
is a priority. "It is a sign of legitimacy, and for Indonesian
officers, it enhances their prestige, and gives them extra clout,"
says journalist Allan Nairn, a long-time critic of Jakarta, who
was recently deported after entering East Timor to cover the atrocities.
"They want and need U.S. connections."
Richard Hansen, senior vice president of Norwich, agrees that
the U.S. connection is important to the school's foreign students.
"They are going to get to know future U.S. generals, perhaps,
and so will Americans get to know them. In the long run, the relationships
will be important."
For Norwich, which has been training foreigners since the
l9th century, the partnership represents a commitment to spreading
U.S. values. It is also profitable. The school's 90 percent acceptance
rate is evidence of its small pool of potential applicants, who
are attracted by an aggressive recruitment program. At about $20,000
per student, the small university with 1,600 students at the Northfield
campus has reaped hundreds of thousands of dollars from its arrangement
University President Richard W. Schneider says he was unaware
that 11 of the 13 Indonesian undergraduates enrolled at Norwich
this year list the same billing address for their tuition: Makopassus
Citanjung, Jakarta, the headquarters of Kopassus. This elite unit-which
for years has been accused of torture and conducting covert psychological
warfare-played an especially brutal role in East Timor. "Kopassus
troops were unquestionably the most feared, most hated and most
abusive of all Indonesian units in East Timor," says Sidney
Jones of Human Rights Watch.
However, Norwich University's links with | Kopassus and the
most repressive elements of the Indonesian army go even deeper.
The Norwich-lndonesia program was established after a 1997 trip
to Jakarta by Norwich | President Thomas W. Schneider and Fariborz
Mukthari, an Iranian-bom profes- | sor who once served in the
There, they met with high-ranking military | officials, including
Major General Zacky Anwar Makarim (known as "Zacky")
and Gen. A.M. Hendropriyono. In September of | that year, the
two generals separately visited Norwich to inspect the training
program; Hendropriyono, whose son-in-law was enrolled at the school,
braved the Vermont winter for another visit in December.
Zacky, a member of Kopassus and former head of Indonesian
intelligence, played a major role in the orchestrated devastation
and rampant human rights abuses in East Timor. Western diplomats
put Zacky's name high on the list of those under investigation
for crimes against humanity. According to the Far Eastern Economic
Review, Zacky, "probably the country's most experienced covert
operative, and two other senior intelligence officers, are widely
believed to have had a role in setting up the network [and] organizing
the militias" in East Timor.
Tomas Goncalves, a defector now in Macao who was a coordinator
of a pro-Jakarta militia group in Dili, told the South China Morning
Post he attended planning meetings with high military leaders
in March in Jakarta and Dili. The meetings outlined a plan to
depopulate East Timor once it became clear that the U.N.-organized
referendum would be won by supporters of independence. Goncalves
said that the operation was run by Kopassus officers under Zacky's
Similarly, in September the Times of London reported that
the Indonesian military plotted to use the militias to kill independence
advocates and their families as well as to assassinate Catholic
clergy and nuns. "The plan, which was coordinated by military
intelligence, was under the direction of General [Zacky],"
wrote the Times. "While helping to turn East Timor into a
wasteland, [Zacky] was liaising with the United Nations Mission
in East Timor and would have had detailed access to the U.N.'s
plans." (It was during this period that Norwich were serving
in East Timor "under the U.N. flag.")
Zacky left his position in East Timor on Aug. 28, two days
before the Aug. 30 vote, in which more than 78.5 percent of the
population voted for independence. The militia violence that exploded
after announcement of the results was initially attributed to
independent, rogue elements engaged in a Somalia-type civil war.
It soon became apparent, however, that the militias were largely
organized and controlled by the military. In many cases, soldiers
switched uniforms as needed. One man arrested by Australian troops,
and identified later as a militia platoon commander, carried a
picture of himself wearing the distinctive uniform of the Kopassus
The other man who visited Norwich was Hendropriyono, one of
the country's "most openly ruthless officers," in the
words of Nairn. Nicknamed "The Butcher of Lampung,"
troops in Indonesia's Lampung Province under his command in 1989
opened fire on a Muslim school and massacred an estimated 100
people. A former Kopassus officer and chief of the Jakarta Military
Command, Hendropriyono was minister for Transmigration and Resettlement
until Sept. 27. In this capacity, he oversaw the establishment
of camps and the forced resettlement of some 200,000 East Timorese
refugees to various Indonesian islands.
Hendropriyono also played a key role in the formation of the
country's militias. As far back as December 1998, according to
the Jakarta Post, he promoted a plan to establish and arm civilian
militias and give them their own uniforms and ranks. "Security
is important," he told reporters. "Security can only
be guaranteed if people protect their own property and uphold
democracy. The civilian militia would be a multipurpose organization
because it could be used to handle anarchic situations and unrest."
The militias in East Timor were a separate operation, but surely
drew on Hendropriyono's model.
Schneider says he knew nothing about the background or current
activities of either Zacky or Hendropiyono. But when he went to
Jakarta, he was impressed by the openness of the officials he
met and by the progress the Suharto regime had made. "They
were intrigued that we were a private university," he says.
"And the fact that a dictator would invite us was encouraging.
They would have a chance to become Westernized and get their act
On learning that the students' bills were sent to Kopassus
headquarters, Schneider commented that the information wouldn't
have deterred him from accepting them. "Education is the
solution to the world's problems," he says. "We would
take Communist students from Red China. What better way to teach
them that their system is screwed up?"
While Schneider hopes that these military-to-military contacts
will spread U.S. values and deter human rights abuses, lowa Sen.
Tom Harkin is less sanguine. "I have seen no evidence in
my 24 years in Congress," he recently told the New York Times,
"of one instance, where because of American military involvement
with another military, that the Americans have stopped that foreign
army from carrying out atrocities against their own people."
In addition to the belief that the school can be a force for
good, Norwich spokesman Thomas Greene argues that turning down
the Indonesian program would amount to discrimination. "Schools
should not be in the business of making arbitrary judgments, because
to do so is a slippery slope," he says. While contending
that Indonesian applicants have to "meet the same criteria
as other students," Greene acknowledges that the only real
measurement is their English language ability and that none of
the candidates proposed by Indonesia was rejected.
The federal military colleges-West Point, Annapolis and the
Air Force Academy-on the other hand, acting on instructions from
the State and Defense departments, are "not inviting"
Indonesian students to apply for the classes of 2003 and 2004.
A Defense Department spokesman cites human rights concerns. On
average, these academies turn down about 90 percent of foreign
applicants. Schneider responds that the situations are not parallel
since Norwich is primarily an educational institution rather than
specifically a military-training facility.
While Norwich is certainly not as prestigious as West Point
or state schools such as The Citadel and the Virginia Military
Institute, it offers several advantages to certain applicants,
the first being its willingness to accept a block of students
without asking too many questions. It's hard to imagine the other
academies rubber stamping a group of students selected by a foreign
Norwich also offers relative obscurity. Who would think a
general under suspicion of crimes against humanity, the head of
a repressive foreign intelligence apparatus, and young men who
are part of (or training to enter) an army notorious for its massacres
would be strolling around the gentle village of Northfield, Vermont?
"If a program this large and involved with Indonesian government
institutions had been anywhere else," Nairn says. "It
would have gotten more attention from Congress and perhaps would
have been shut down."
It may soon get that attention. Vermont's Democratic Sen.
Patrick Leahy has been particularly vociferous in condemning Indonesian
repression and putting forward legislation to curtail America's
facilitation of the continuing abuses. "The only U.S. government-funded
training of Indonesian forces in this country is limited to a
certain type of training: non-combat, human rights, management
of defense resources, medical assistance, language," says
Tim Rieser, Leahy's foreign policy aide. "And now it is no
longer doing even that kind of training."
On Sept. 10, President Clinton effectively froze all relations
with the Indonesian military, including commercial arms sales.
But Norwich argues that restrictions on training are irrelevant
to the school. "This isn't the U.S. army," Hansen says.
"It's not a government operation. Not a federal agency."
Although private, as a tax-exempt educational institution,
Norwich is in effect subsidized by federal, state and local governments.
More specifically, according to its literature, the college accepts
federal funds in the form of Pell grants, Federal Supplemental
Education assistance, college work study programs, and Perkins,
Stafford and PLUS loans. "Since Norwich receives federal
funds," Rieser says, "one could argue that the U.S.
government is subsidizing the training of future Indonesian soldiers."
Furthermore, Rieser says, a law sponsored by Leahy that passed
in 1998 prohibits federal assistance or military training from
"going to any unit of security forces if the Secretary of
State has credible evidence that any member of a unit has committed
gross violations of human rights." Kopassus clearly falls
under that ban. And given the close relationship between the school
and the Indonesian generals, the evidence that the program is
funded by the military, and the fact that the home address of
11 current students is Kopassus headquarters, the Norwich program,
if not strictly illegal, Rieser adds, "may be inconsistent
with President Clinton's order ending cooperation with the Indonesian
Secrets and Lies