Subject: Counterpunch: Ashcroft in Indonesia

Counterpunch [print edition]

February 16-29, 2004

Ashcroft in Indonesia Bloodshed and Terror with US Connivance

By Ben Terrall

In the first visit to Indonesia by a Bush cabinet official since George W.’s October “trip to al-Qaeda hell” (in the words of an unnamed White House official quoted by the New York Times) John Ashcroft flew to Bali in early February to attend a two-day regional conference on terrorism. Though his appearance was described as a show of support for President Megawati Sukarnoputri, like George W. before him Ashcroft was more successful at further alienating most Indonesians who heard what he had to say.

This time around hatred of Washington was stoked by a refusal to turn alleged Al-qaeda bigwig and Bali bombing planner Hambali over to Jakarta, though Bush had earlier assured Megawati that the prize captive, whom U.S. authorities apprehended in Thailand, would be made available to her government.

Ashcroft said he was “not able to give a time frame” for when the prisoner would be made available for questioning by Indonesian authorities. “We're working toward providing access consistent with fighting terror in a comprehensive way,” Ashcroft said in a bureaucratic approximation of his commander-in-chief’s mangled syntax, adding that the U.S. was still considering “competing impacts” of giving up the suspect. An Indonesian government spokesman responded that a reasonable timeframe would have been “several months ago” as “Time is of the essence to strengthen our cases against people we're bringing to trial.” Sidney Jones, with the solidly mainstream International Crisis Group, commented, “It is a repeated slap in the face that [the Indonesians] have been asked to do so much as a result of American pressure and they ask for something and get stonewalled.” Visiting Indonesia on March 10, Tom Ridge blasted Jakarta for releasing an Islamic cleric accused of involvement in the Bali bombing but stonewalled on Hambail, saying, “this is a matter that still has to be determined at a later date.”

Of course, as uncertain as his current whereabouts and condition is (the accused bomber is being held in one of those infamous “undisclosed locations”), Hambali would hardly be treated with kid gloves by Indonesian security forces.

As an Asia Times online commentator delicately put it in discussing Jakarta’s contribution to the “war on terror,” “insufficient attention is given to the due process of the law, a problem that Indonesia suffers in no small degree.”

That “problem” has rarely been a hindrance to U.S. cooperation with Jakarta, which has only been blocked due to constant work by the East Timor Action Network and other human rights activists. At the beginning of 2004 the U.S. Congress renewed a ban on International Military Education and Training (IMET) aid for the Indonesian military, largely because of Indonesian military (TNI) involvement in the killing of a U.S. citizen [see Counterpunch, November 29 / 30, 2003, Don't Think Twice: Bush Does Bali], but activist pressure could not stop funding for the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service Task Force 88, an “antiterror” unit consisting of troops from Indonesia’s notorious Mobile Brigade (Brimob) police. More than $12 million was spent to build a training facility south of Jakarta for twenty-four Indonesian police, who fired more than 30,000 bullets in a six week course taught by U.S. special forces veterans. Time Asia’s Jason Tedjasukmana wrote, “By the end of 2005, another $12 million will have gone toward forging a team of 400 Indonesian investigators, explosives experts and snipers, armed with high-end American weaponry, including assault vehicles, Colt M-4 assault rifles, Armalite AR-10 sniper rifles and Remington 870 shotguns.”

In another police training program, the U.S. government is working with the International Labor Organization to (allegedly) encourage less repressive labor relations. But Indonesian Minister of Manpower Jacob Nuwa Wea raised doubts about the wisdom of spending $40 million on teaching Indonesian police “democratic values” when he explained, “if they (workers) are out of order, it’s o.k. for the police to slap them around a little bit. We often slap our children at home if they are naughty, don’t we?”

In addition to savage campaigns against civilians in Aceh and Papua, Brimob has recently been implicated in violently displacing villagers in South Sulawesi. The Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions reports, “between August-October 2003, more than 15,000 people have been forcibly evicted in Jakarta and other cities by the City Council Commissions. In the community of Jembatan Besi, dozens of police, accompanied by bulldozers, violently evicted hundreds of people from their homes, demolishing some structures when people were still inside.”

Such atrocities are of little concern to U.S. elites busily recommending “Washington consensus” economic policies for Indonesia. That work is the bread and butter of the National Commission on U.S.-Indonesia Relations, made up of “prominent Americans” including Bechtel Board Member George Shultz, former commander of the Pacific Fleet Dennis Blair and veteran Democratic Party hawk Lee Hamilton. The commission issued a fifty-eight page report in 2003 on “Strengthening U.S. Relations with Indonesia” that soft-pedals continued TNI repression with the phrase “problems remain in several areas, and reform will take a long time”; it also recycles the convenient passive-voice statement “Indonesia is handicapped by the legacy of more than 40 years of authoritarian rule”, without a hint of the key role the U.S. government and U.S.-based corporations played in propping up the Suharto regime for more than three decades. The report stresses that Indonesia, “occupying some of the world’s most strategic real estate,” is important because “it has huge natural resources and a strategic location astride major sea lines of communication… including the oil and mineral sectors, Indonesia is home to an estimated $25 billion in U.S. investment, with more than 300 major U.S. firms represented in the country.” Not surprisingly, it concludes, “A free trade agreement would go a long way to demonstrate our special relationship with Indonesia.”

U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Ralph Boyce recently said, “There is no better friend of Indonesia today than the U.S. I think Indonesia’s transition to democracy is one of the quiet success stories of the new millennium.” But in the current run up to presidential and parliamentary elections, that “transition” is dominated by Indonesian military veterans, including General Wiranto, a presidential candidate who UN prosecutors have indicted for crimes against humanity in East Timor.

As usual, Washington’s “friendship” is largely skewed toward military elements with a questionable commitment to democracy. As Indonesia specialist Jeffrey Winters puts it, “The two entities most responsible for reinvigorating military influence in Indonesian society since the fall of (Suharto) are Megawati and the U.S. government.”

While in Bali, Ashcroft praised plans for April parliamentary elections and a July presidential election. “These elections solidify Indonesia's status as one of the world's leading democracies,” he said. “In this both ethnically and religiously diverse country, you could not have done this without your long held tradition of tolerance which sets an example for the world to follow.”

That “tradition of tolerance” is far from obvious in Aceh, where human rights researcher Aguswandi argues “the conflict… is basically the problem of the politics in Indonesia an inability of Indonesia to transform itself into a more democratic, less militaristic state.” Crackdowns on dissent in that war-torn region have included use of anti-terrorist legislation passed in 2003 to send negotiators from Aceh peace talks to jail on trumped-up charges. A young Acehnese man was also recently sentenced to three years for organizing a rally where protestors carried banners reading “A Peaceful Indonesia means freedom for Aceh” and “Aceh is a killing fields.”

On August 5, 2003, Indonesia’s ad-hoc court on war crimes in East Timor (which Human Rights Watch called a “sham”) found General Adam Damiri guilty of crimes against humanity in East Timor. Despite this conviction, Damiri was promoted to Assistant for Operations to the Chief of the General Staff, where he has overseen military operations in Aceh similar to the ones he directed in East Timor in 1999.

At the other end of the archipelago, on December 1, 2003, the Indonesian government announced that Timbul Silaen would be the new chief of police in Papua. Previously police chief in East Timor during the horrific violence of 1998 and 1999, Silaen has been indicted for war crimes by a UN-led team of prosecutors in East Timor but was acquitted of similar charges by Jakarta’s ad hoc court. Notorious militia leader Eurico Guterres, who conducted murderous attacks on East Timorese civilians in 1999, is also beginning operations in Papua.

Hendardi, who heads Indonesia's Human Rights and Legal Aid Association, said “This is to show the public that the military did nothing wrong in East Timor. It means they do not care about justice. The perpetrators (of the violence) are being rewarded.”

Ashcroft stressed that the U.S. “recognizes that many governments in this region have limited resources to fight the scourge of terrorism. We're looking for ways to further our cooperation in the region, cooperation against terror networks.”

Ashcroft was unfortunately not referring to the infamous Kopassus special forces, of which Australian Professor Damien Kingsbury noted, “The history of Kopsassus’…activities reads more like that of a terrorist organization, which is not surprising given that the techniques and tactics of terror are explicitly outlined in a confidential Kopassus training manual.”

A 2002 study for the US Naval Postgraduate School noted that the Indonesian army had become “a major facilitator of terrorism” via “the radical Muslim militias they had organized, trained, and financed.” The study noted that the army financed one of these groups, Laskar Jihad, “with money embezzled from its defense budget, estimated to be about $9.3 million.” Laskar Jihad has killed thousands of civilians in Maluku.

Ed McWilliams, Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta from 1996 to 1999, describes Pembela Islam ("Defense of Islam") as another Islamic terror group with ties to the military, and says this outfit “basically has conducted retaliatory actions for racketeers, including military operatives.” McWilliams told Counterpunch that “I saw members of Pembela Islam directly involved in the Fall 1998 anti-Ambonese riots that struck Jakarta. In one incident, the remains of an Ambonese who had been hacked to death after found hiding in an ally was brought before a crowd that the PI was addressing. PI spokesmen led the crowd in cheers.”

But, as in the U.S., the more practical reasons for a war on terror do not include reigning in an out of control military. In the words of veteran Indonesian activist Munir, Megawati is using security “to win public support, which is in doubt because of her failure to deal with economic problems, unemployment and corruption.”

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