Senate blocks military aid to Indonesia

News Analysis

The U.S. Senate voted last month to keep restrictions against financial aid and training for the Indonesian military.

President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have pushed for full restoration of all military ties to Indonesia, citing the so-called war on terrorism. Some observers, however, point to the discovery of oil in Aceh in northwest Indonesia and oil and gas in East Timor as the motive for the administration’s actions.

In June the House of Representatives voted to restore full military aid. The Senate move has blocked, at least for a time, millions of dollars for the Indonesian military. The bill now goes to a House-Senate conference committee.

U.S. military aid to Indonesia was cut off in 2002 after the ambush murder of two U.S. citizens and an Indonesian in the province of West Papua. In the House debate, Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) said, “Lingering concerns exist regarding human rights issues and violence in places such as Aceh and West Papua.”

An important issue is military training. IMET, or International Military Education and Training, parallels the notorious Georgia-based School of the Americas, renamed “The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.” IMET also has a reputation for churning out soldiers and police who frequently turn up on lists of human rights abusers or worse. IMET training takes place in the U.S.

Still another program, Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET), sends Special Forces teams to other countries, particularly Indonesia. Chalmers Johnson, in his book “Blowback,” cites JCET training as a direct link to rapes and murders of civilians in Indonesia.

The U.S. historical relationship with Indonesia is a sordid one. In 1958, Alan L. Pope, an American pilot, was shot down while on a bombing run over the Indonesian archipelago. The excuse for the raid was that “rebels” had bombed a church and an outdoor market. In fact, the U.S. had orchestrated the bombing and strafing raids on the civilian population in an attempt to destabilize the government of President Sukarno, founder of the country’s independence movement.

In 1965 the U.S. played a significant role in the overthrow of Sukarno and the subsequent murders of over 500,000 people. In one of the worst mass murders in history, huge numbers of people, often whole families, were rounded up. Many were members of the PKI, Indonesia’s Communist Party, with an estimated 1 million members.

Hundreds of thousands became political prisoners. One of them, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, who was sympathetic to the PKI, was placed in an island concentration camp for 17 years. Pramoedya is one of Indonesia’s most famous writers.

The military and Gen. Suharto, who subsequently took power, said the justification for their massive crime was an imminent takeover of Indonesia by the PKI. In recent years, documents have proven this excuse to be a fabrication.

To this day, those involved in this crime against humanity remain free.

Ten years after the mass murder of over half a million leftists, East Timor, having just received her independence from Portugal, was invaded by the Indonesian military with the blessing and material support of the U.S. government. Within a short period of time, at least 200,000 civilians were killed in the takeover. In 1991, an infamous massacre in East Timor was covered by the world press. Only then did the U.S. government restrict some weapons from going to the Indonesian military.

In 1998, oil was discovered off East Timor. The next year, East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia. The U.S., Australia, Britain and the UN supported its move for independence. The Indonesian government’s response was to burn down and destroy much of the newly independent country on their way out.

Aceh is a mostly poor, primarily Muslim area that was hardest hit by last year’s tsunami. Over 100,000 lives were said to be lost.

About 30 years ago, oil and natural gas deposits were discovered in the Aceh region. An Aceh independence movement was formed, GAM, and it has been battling the Indonesian government since 1976. Over 10,000 have died in the conflict. A peace agreement was just signed but it is unknown if it will hold.