Sample Letters to Editor on President Obama's Visit to Indonesia
President Obama meets Indonesian President Susilo Bambang
Yudhoyono, November 2009.
In a few days,
President Obama is expected to leave for
to Asia, including a several-times postponed visit to
Indonesia where he lived as a boy. Letters to the editor are often the most
widely-read section of newspapers, especially by decision-makers. Try to
keep your letter to about 200 -250 words and be sure to include your
full name, address, and telephone number when submitting the letter to
the newspaper. If possible, include a local angle or directly respond to
an article or opinion published in the paper. The more timely your
response, the more likely it is to be published. Contact John M. Miller, firstname.lastname@example.org or 718-596-7668, if you would like some help with your
letter. Please send us copies of your letters, published and
Adapt, mix and match the text of the 3 updated sample letters
below. Use it in responses to online posting of articles and in blogs.
Adapt the letters to your own words.
To the Editor
The Obama administration says that it supports democratic reform in
Indonesia, but increased military assistance will do the opposite.
When Indonesia was a dictatorship, the U.S. was the Indonesian
military's chief supplier. Military assistance ended in 1999, during the
Indonesian military's rampage in East Timor after it voted for
Most assistance has been restored since then, even though those
responsible for human rights crimes in East Timor and elsewhere in the
region have yet to face justice. Instead, reform efforts have stalled
and many officers responsible for past crimes have been promoted to
prominent positions. Recent videos document torture and the destruction
of videos in the West Papua region by Indonesian security forces.
A U.S. funded and trained police unit Detachment 88 is accused of
torturing peaceful protesters.
Of special concern was last summer's announcement that the U.S. would,
for the first time in a dozen years work with Indonesia's Kopassus
special forces. Training such notorious human rights violators will
undermine the "Leahy law," which prohibits assisting units with
unresolved human rights violations. The law is meant to prevent future
abuses, as well as encourage an end to impunity for past violations,
which has not happened.
On his visit to Indonesia, President Obama may eloquently promote
democracy and civilian rule in Indonesia, but by providing military
assistance now, he will be endorsing business as usual.
Your Name, Address, Phone/E-mail
Shortly, President Obama will return to Indonesia, his former
childhood home. In his memoir, The Audacity of Hope, he wrote
about the negative influence that the U.S. had on "the fate" of
Indonesia, with policies that included "the tolerance and occasional
encouragement of tyranny, corruption, and environmental degradation when
it served our interests."
Indonesia has made progress since the overthrow of Suharto, the
Indonesian dictator who ruled the country while Obama lived there. If he
truly wants to promote further democratic change, he should publicly
acknowledge the U.S. role in supporting Suharto's tyranny. During that
time, the U.S. was Indonesia's major weapons supplier and gave its
approval to the annexations of East Timor and West Papua. This might
make some of his domestic critics and Indonesian hosts -- many of whom
loyally served President Suharto and consider him a national hero --
uncomfortable. But a forthright and sincere acknowledgement of this
history will resonate with Suharto's many victims.
President Obama should not offer military assistance, especially to
Indonesia's Kopassus Special Forces. These notorious shock troops of
Suharto's repression have not been held accountable for their human
rights violations in Indonesia, East Timor, West Papua and elsewhere.
The Indonesian military remains largely unaccountable for its past and
current human rights violations, and efforts at reform have largely
stalled in recent years. U.S. law requires that the U.S. not train
military units with bad human rights records until there have been real
efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice. Training Kopassus violates
Your Name, Address, Phone and E-mail
To the Editor
A little more than a decade ago, the East Timorese people voted
overwhelmingly to end the Indonesian rule in their country. The
Indonesian military -- trained and armed by U.S. -- and its paramilitary
allies exacted brutal vengeance in a bloody exit to a 24-year invasion
and occupation that took up to 180,000 lives.
When President Obama goes to Indonesia, he should acknowledge the U.S.
responsibility in this sordid history and press Indonesia to cooperate
with credible trials of those who ordered the rapes, torture and
killings. He should withhold military assistance until Indonesia has
Past efforts to hold these generals accountable have gone nowhere. Many
of them remain powerful in government or retirement. The East Timor
government, fearing retaliation, is unwilling to stand up to up to its
much larger neighbor.
Last August, during the 10th anniversary of the 1999
independence referendum, Indonesia pressured East Timor to release a
recently-arrested former militia leader "without charge, trial, or
proper court authorization," according to the U.S. State Department's
annual human rights report. UN-backed prosecutors had indicted him for
his role in a massacre at a church where 30 civilians, including three
priests, were slaughtered.
U.N. investigators and others have proposed a UN international tribunal
to try those who organized and carried these brutal crimes. While in
Indonesia, President Obama should announce his support for a tribunal
and work with the Security Council to bring these perpetrators to
Your Name, Address, Phone/E-mail