Albion Monitor /Commentary

[Editor's note: The East Timor Action Network released on March 18 the text of two congressional letters expressing disapproval of ongoing U.S. training of the Indonesian military, as was reported in the Monitor.

"The two letters represent part of the growing public and congressional opposition to the training of an Indonesian military that abuses human rights in Indonesia and East Timor," said Lynn Fredriksson, Washington representative of the East Timor Action Network.

In their "Dear Colleague" letters, Rep. Nita Lowey (D - New York) and Rep. Lane Evans (D - Illinois) expressed their opposition to the continued training of the Indonesian military, saying it violated the spirit of the 1992 cut-off of IMET military training aid following the massacre of over 270 people in Dili, East Timor.

Training has continued under the Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) program. Rep. Lowey says she intends to introduce legislation shortly to close the loophole that permits Indonesian participation in JCET. Her "International Military Education and Training Act" wuld require that if Congress bans a country's participation in IMET, the Department of Defense must stop all military training to that country.

"This makes the Department of Defense's military training program consistent with Congressional intent, and eliminates any room for misinterpretation," Lowey said in her letter.

Indonesian participation in JCET was revealed in a letter from the Department of Defense to Rep. Evans. The letter and other research released by ETAN and members of Congress shows that the U.S. has been training Indonesia's armed forces (including the notorious Kopassus special forces) in combat procedures, including sniper training, urban warfare, explosives, and other tactics used to suppress civilian dissent in Indonesia and East Timor. At least 36 such training courses took place between 1992 and 1997, in clear violation of the intent of the U.S. Congress.

Last week The New York Times editorialized that the "case for an end to the riot troop training is now especially strong because it seems likely that the troops will be used to crush legitimate democratic protests." The Times accused the Pentagon of "cynically sidestepp[ing] Congressional objections" to training. "In Indonesia, the riot-suppression trainees can be expected to absorb American instruction in subjects like advanced sniper techniques and special air operations and ignore any accompanying civics lessons," the Times added. ]

Congress Should Probe U.S. Aid To Indonesian Military

by Jose Ramos-Horta

Training of the single most violent and brutal unit of the Indonesian army
LISBON -- The recently published reports of the U.S. military's training of Indonesia's elite Kopassus troops are profoundly disturbing and raises issues of good faith and trust beyond possible reach of U.S. congressional ban on the IMET program.

The Kopassus is the single most violent and brutal unit of the Indonesian army. General S. Prabowo, Suharto's son in law, rose through the ranks not in recognition of any military achievements such as defending his country against external aggression, but thanks to family connections with the Indonesian dictator and a ruthless record in East Timor.

There is ample evidence, including accounts of eyewitnesses and survivors that General Prabowo himself was personally involved in torturing and killing East Timorese civilians. A young man, now a refugee in the U.K., has testified on British TV that he had seen his mother interrogated and tortured with electric shocks by Gen. Prabowo himself.

The argument that providing military training to Indonesian military personnel exposes them to American democratic values is naive and dishonest. The record shows that some of the most brutal military thugs from Central America and Asia went through U.S. military academies.

Comparatively, more lives have been lost in East Timor than in Bosnia or the Middle East
For the past 22 years, successive U.S. administrations have pursued a policy of aid and abating the Indonesian occupation of East Timor. Until recently, reports of human rights violations, torture, summary and arbitrary execution were dismissed by the East Asia bureau of the State Department as "unfounded allegations" or "exaggerations. "

In recent years, the State Department's annual report has acknowledged that human rights in East Timor have deteriorated, that torture and executions have become routine. Comparatively, more lives have been lost in East Timor than in Bosnia or the Middle East.

The Clinton administration, pressured by the U.S. Congress took some initial steps that are commendable. The new Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, Mr. Stanley Roth, has shown to be truly concerned about the situation in East Timor and demonstrated genuine commitment to find a solution to this 23-year-old conflict.

In this light, I am perplexed by the Pentagon's choice to continue to provide weapons to and engage in military training of an army that blatantly disregards all the norms of good behavior that the U.S. military training is supposed to inculcate.

The economic and financial problems in Indonesia are not only of Suharto's own making. The Indonesian army is also a large part of the problem. Members of the Indonesian armed forces are law into themselves, acting with complete impunity in East Timor, Aceh, West Papua to name only a few. The armed forces are also an integral part of the reign of nepotism, cronyism and corruption that has brought down the Indonesian economy.

In 1965-66, the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta provided the right wing military a list of at least 5,000 members of the Indonesian Communist Party and democrats who were subsequently arrested, tortured and killed. In 1975, Secretary of State Kissinger and President Ford gave Suharto the green light for the invasion of East Timor. Over 90 percent of the weapons used during the invasion were supplied by the U.S. in violation of the 1958 U.S.-Indonesia Agreement, which prohibits the use of American weapons in wars of aggression.

The U.S. Congress should hold full hearings on the relationship of the U.S. military with Indonesia, and on how the U.S. has contributed to maintaining this despotic and arrogant regime in power for the past 32 years. The East Timorese people can no longer be sacrificed on the altar of outdated Cold War rational and Kissingerian pragmatism.

Jose Ramos Horta was co-winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor March 31, 1998 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to reproduce.

Front Page