Subject: Nairn: "Try US, Foreign Officials for Indonesian Military/Police Atrocities"

Aljazeera

International English Edition

Program: 101 East

Unofficial Transcript (first aired Oct. 25, 2007)

TEYMOOR NABILI: In recent years, Indonesian authorities have arrested or killed some 300 alleged Islamic militants, and in June of this year they announced their biggest success to date: the arrest of Abu Dujana, the alleged head of the military wing of Jemaah Islamiyah. Now, these successes have been attributed to a new focus on counterterrorism using elite units within the police force and helped by arms and training from Western governments. But those same elite units have been implicated in a catalogue of human rights abuses and criminal activity.

I'm Teymoor Nabili, and on this edition of 101 East we look inside Indonesia's antiterrorism police.

BRIMOB is one of the oldest special operations units within the Indonesian police force, and within BRIMOB itself, the newer units, Detachment 88 and Gegana, are spearheading the current fight against terrorism. 101 East has been granted rare access to BRIMOB and Gegana training. Fawziah Ibrahim [phon.] reports.

FAWZIAH IBRAHIM: They're Indonesia's frontline in the war on terror, the country's top police force in training. They're part of the mobile brigade better known by its acronym BRIMOB. They're trained in anti-terror and bomb-disposal operations and are deployed in emergency situations. Being part of the 34,000-strong BRIMOB means being part of an elite force.

BRIMOB TRAINER: [translated] If you love BRIMOB, clap your hands. If you love BRIMOB, stomp your foot. If you love BRIMOB, and you really want to show it, if you love BRIMOB, laugh out loud

FAWZIAH IBRAHIM: BRIMOB is essentially a police unit, but one trained along military lines. It's used in domestic security and defense operations. Its two main anti-terror units, Gegana and Detachment 88, have been credited with crippling the Jemaah Islamiyah terror network in Indonesia. Several raids conducted by the units in recent years have resulted in the deaths or arrests of key JI members.

But with the accolades come allegations of human right abuse. Activists have continuously accused BRIMOB of torture, indiscriminate killings and abuse of civilians in restive areas like Aceh, East Timor and Poso.

BILLAH (Fmr Nat Human Rights Commissioner): The action and also the paradigm behind police men is more or less the same as the army, so they easily treated the others as enemy. So they took and killed other people [inaudible] of a military person easily.

FAWZIAH IBRAHIM: A recent Human Rights Watch report is typical of the abuse allegations against BRIMOB. HRW's investigations in the province of Papua turned up fourteen cases of alleged human rights violations, including rape, murder, torture and ill treatment. The report claims the police unit had used excessive, brutal and lethal force against civilians while seeking out militants. The HRW goes on to accuse BRIMOB of encouraging a culture of impunity and that members continue to act as if they are above the law.

In response, BRIMOB has promised to conduct its own investigations into the allegations and to punish those found guilty. The force is keen to clean up its tarnished image and insists they have revised their operations.

STEVANUS YULIAN (Head of BRIMOB): [translated] Our doctrine has changed. Our motto is now: "My heart and soul for all of humanity." It's important that we set a good example. We have an internal judicial process, so if anyone targets citizens or violates human rights or is found to have committed torture, they will face our judicial process. If they're guilty, they'll be punished. We feel that if you commit a crime, you should face the consequences.

FAWZIAH IBRAHIM: Some observers, however, say BRIMOB may have been pressured to change its tactics by sponsors who can no longer ignore the reports of abuse. Indonesia's elite police force is backed by countries like the United States and Australia in their fight against terrorists.

STEVANUS YULIAN: [translated] Yes, we receive help from America in the form of antiterrorism training. We conduct exercises with the ICRC and Germany's defense force. When it comes to our weapons, we buy them through credit export and soft loans from Britain and Australia.

ANSYAAD MBAI (Indonesian Counter-Terror Body): The funding is relative. There is no definite number of the funding, but we just need the training, the training for this special team. I don't want to say the number of the funding, and I don't know. I don't know that.

FAWZIAH IBRAHIM: While these foreign sponsors may be uncomfortable with the level of accountability of Indonesia's security forces, a recent study was more critical. A report co-authored by the Indonesian Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies found the security sector has been too slow to implement changes legislated over five years ago. For some, the reforms have come too late.

Twenty-five-year-old Ponimin is paralyzed from the waist down. He says he was shot by BRIMOB police seven years ago during a riot in his village. Ponimin had been trying to escape the violence when he felt the bullet hit him, causing him to fall into a ditch. That's when seven BRIMOB policemen turned on him.

PONIMIN (BRIMOB Victim): [translated] They beat me with their hands and legs. They pressed the gun barrel to my head so hard it left an imprint on my skin. I was in so much pain that it got to the point where I could not feel any more pain, because the attack was so savage. They took turns hitting me, treating me like a ball. They pulled me out of the ditch by my jacket. They kept shouting, "Let him die!" At the same time, I was beaten on my left thigh. Shortly after that, I was shot again and beaten some more. At that point, I left my fate to God. I was prepared to die, because I was at their mercy. In that situation, there was nothing I could do.

FAWZIAH IBRAHIM: Ponimin was eventually rescued by a villager and taken to safety. He's angry that none of the BRIMOB policemen who attacked him have been brought to justice.

PONIMIN: [translated] It's always the little people like me who will always lose out, and the more important people like them will always win.

FAWZIAH IBRAHIM: Ponimin remains skeptical about the nation's security forces' ability to reform. And until ordinary Indonesians are convinced that they have changed, they'll run the risk of being seen as a threat rather than a protector of the people.

TEYMOOR NABILI: I'm joined in the studio today by Allan Nairn, an American investigative journalist who has testified about Indonesian police and military before US Congress; Robert Lowry is a retired lieutenant colonel from Australia and a graduate of the Indonesian Army Command and Staff College; and also by Noor Huda Ismail, an Indonesian security expert who has carried out extensive research on jihadist networks and religious extremism. We also invited a representative of the Indonesian police to take part in this discussion, but they declined that offer.

Gentlemen, to you I say welcome. Thank you for joining us today.

ROBERT LOWRY: Thank you.

ALLAN NAIRN: Thank you.

NOOR HUDA ISMAIL: Thank you.

TEYMOOR NABILI: Bob, let me begin with you, if I might. Let's start from a premise that there is a significant terror threat in Indonesia that needs to be addressed. Is the way that it's being addressed appropriate?

ROBERT LOWRY: It seems to be quite effective at the moment, both from the point of view of law enforcement, through BRIMOB and other police activities, especially police intelligence activities.

TEYMOOR NABILI: You say it's effective, and we've seen a number of high-profile arrests, but what I'm really asking is, the structure of the approach, is this, as a military person, something that you think, as a textbook exercise, is effective?

ROBERT LOWRY: I think there's no doubt that it is effective, because they're also looking at the social side through the religious organizations in Indonesia. But if we turn to another aspect of that is -- and the reform of the security sector, then that is going very, very slowly, and we need to look at why that is so.

TEYMOOR NABILI: To you, Noor Huda Ismail, you've studied the terrorism situation from the inside perspective. What do you think? Is the approach being taken an effective one, and is it necessarily yielding any result in terms of the cultural approach that Bob has mentioned?

NOOR HUDA ISMAIL: Gradually, I think the Indonesian police started to learn how to handle this terrorist network. From the first Bali bombing, for instance, they arrested them and then tortured them, and then they didn't get a lot of information from -- they cannot get crucial information from the arrests. But for the next arrest, they started to learn, and they used family, even reformed JI members, to actually talk to the jihadists themselves.

TEYMOOR NABILI: So you're saying that, in fact, the military is much more than simply a military operation. There is a great deal of --

NOOR HUDA ISMAIL: Yes, there is a gradual change. You know, initially they just arrest them, use forces and then so -- but they failed to extract so much information. But gradually, they start to pick up and understanding the social -- well, like psychological aspect of this terrorist group.

TEYMOOR NABILI: And, yes, as was pointed out in that film, Allan, we still have any number of accusations of human rights abuses and all manner of illegitimate activity.

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, it's massive. We have to be objective when we're talking about terrorism. President Bush essentially defines "terrorism" as Muslim jihadists who kill Westerners. But if you use a more fair and accurate definition of "terrorism," which is even the one used in the USA PATRIOT Act, it's anyone who kills civilians for political purposes. And by that definition, the main terrorist threat in Indonesia comes not from the fanatics like the Bali bombers, who have killed hundreds of civilians, but from the Indonesian military and police forces themselves, who have killed hundreds of thousands. When they seized power in Indonesia in '65-'67, they killed anywhere from 400,000 to a million civilians. The New York Times's James Reston, the top commentator there, called that a gleam of light in Asia." When they invaded East Timor, they did it with the personal go-ahead of President Ford and Henry Kissinger. They killed a third of the Timorese population.

In more recent years, they've done similar mass slaughter operations in Aceh, now more recently in Papua. They've done provocation operations in the Moluccas, where they set Christian and Muslim peasants against each other, in which thousands have died. BRIMOB itself, which is just one of many very menacing security forces, was notorious for using checkpoints in Aceh to take women and rape, and they're now doing political rapes in Papua. They're the larger threat.

TEYMOOR NABILI: Well, what we have here is a circumstance under which we've got two issues that need to be addressed. That is, now, Bob, first the terrorism and the success against terror, the terrorist threat, which it seems is yielding some results. But the ancillary to that is, when they're not fighting terrorists, they're doing all manner of other activities. How do you control that in a military?

ROBERT LOWRY: Well, there are a number of ways. I mean, we've got to recognize that Indonesia is in the transition to democracy. It didn't suddenly become a democracy overnight. And so, lots of things have got to be put in place, like the legislation, like the supervision, like a reform of the whole concept of policing in Indonesia. And they've been very slow. For example, the law provides for a national police commission to supervise the police and to supervise the breaches of discipline, etc., and make sure they're investigated. But that commission, headed by the coordinating minister for security, has not actually been -- although it's established and people have been appointed, it's not functional. So there's no real supervision by an external body of the actions of the police.

TEYMOOR NABILI: The question we really need to address is, to what extent is other people who are enforcing and legitimizing these forces to be held responsible for the kind of activities the forces actually perpetrate outside of their duties. We'll address that question in just a moment. We're going to have to take a short break. We'll be right back with this discussion, and we'll take a look inside Gegana. We'll hear from one officer what it's like working for Indonesian police's special operations unit.

[break]

TEYMOOR NABILI: Welcome back to 101 East, where we are discussing the role of Indonesia's anti-terror police force. One of BRIMOB's branches is Gegana, a special operations unit whose duties include counterterrorism, search and rescue, and bomb disposal. It also has a tarnished human rights record. So, what sort of person works for Gegana? We've spoken to one anti-terror policeman from the brigade. Here's his story.

GANAJAYA (Gegana Detachment): [translated] My name is Ganajaya. I'm forty years old. I work as a policeman with BRIMOB, specifically with the special operations unit Gegana. I joined BRIMOB because it's always been my ambition to work for them. When I was much younger, I wanted to join the military, but after I entered the academy I became qualified to join the police. And within the police force, there was BRIMOB, so I chose to join the BRIMOB unit.

The job of a policeman is very honorable, because we provide protection and we serve the community. We are always deployed to trouble areas to deal with conflict between rival groups. We go to places like Aceh, Poso, Ambon and Papua. But to be honest, the most satisfying aspect of my job is fighting terrorism. It's not because I enjoy fighting the terrorists, but because we are able to stop terrorist activities.

Terrorists are people who are angry, or they're suffering from poverty or have ideologies that are not shared by the rest of the nation. They feel the need to take up arms to further their cause. Regardless of their motive, we fight them, because we are sworn to fight crime.

My team, as part of Gegana, never feels fear when fighting terrorists. We are not afraid, because every day we take part in exercises that prepare us to face such dangerous situations, whether on a national or international scale.

As a member of BRIMOB, which is part of the national police, I am aware of the past abuses our unit has been linked to. We are trying to improve ourselves. The leadership is also trying to implement a program and a culture of policing ourselves, so we can move ahead. The police unit of the past is very different from the present brigade.

TEYMOOR NABILI: And in the studio today, Allan Nairn, Robert Lowry and Noor Huda Ismail. Let's get into the issue we were mentioning just before the break, and that is the human rights side of the affair. Now, how bad do you think the accusations are?

NOOR HUDA ISMAIL: I think it's very bad, if you look at, you know, all the numbers of the victims of these human rights by this police section, you know?

TEYMOOR NABILI: But, I mean, you've already said that a lot of this is down to the absence of civil institutions within Indonesia. So how do you propose it's solved?

NOOR HUDA ISMAIL: I think we need to have a more democratic atmosphere, where we can actually have a civil society that actually can control, can open up a discussion. Like you already mentioned, that most of the top leaders who were actually involved in this human right atrocity are still free, and most of the effort to curb the problem on human right only targeted the lower levels. So that's what we need.

TEYMOOR NABILI: Allan, to what extent should we hold the funders of these organizations responsible, to a large extent Western governments? We've seen this pattern before, where Western governments take a short-term approach to fighting a certain threat in a certain place and the long-term consequences are not addressed. Are the Western governments turning a blind eye to these abuses?

ALLAN NAIRN: I think you can use President Bush's standard: he says if you aid a terrorist, you are a terrorist. The US has aided the TNI, Polri, the Indonesian armed forces and police, as they've carried out massive terrorist killings, so therefore the US officials who have done that, as well as the Australian officials, the European officials, they have to be held accountable, as well. If we enforce the murder laws, if we had a civilized world order, these people would be facing trials for crimes against humanity, Indonesians and Americans and other Westerners, as well.

TEYMOOR NABILI: A lot of people argue that right now we are reaping the whirlwind of exactly the same practice that happened in Pakistan: all the arms that were pumped into Pakistan twenty years ago are coming back to haunt us. Is this going to happen in Indonesia?

ROBERT LOWRY: No, because the external governments are actually trying to improve the quality of the performance of the Indonesian police in this particular aspect, though we should emphasize --

TEYMOOR NABILI: That is the top line, but the bottom line, the actual effect, is human rights abuse.

ROBERT LOWRY: But they were always going on, anyway, under the authoritarian regimes of the Suharto era. And as I said before, you can't change these things suddenly. And you have to ask yourself, what is the priority of the Indonesian government, in terms of the transition? And if we look at the present presidency, for example, the priority is obviously economic growth, because without economic growth he doesn't have the taxes to pay public servants, the police and the military, to the point where they don't have to be involved in criminal activity.

TEYMOOR NABILI: Again, practical considerations, and all correct, but, Allan, address the point.

ALLAN NAIRN: You see, foreign training actually makes matters worse, because if you have a bad force, a force with a bad mission, if you make them more technically proficient, they're even more dangerous. They kill people more effectively. If you have a criminal, it's better if he's bumbling. You don't want him to be good at his job.

There are basically two roads to a solution, as you asked before. One, the main action, obviously has to come from the Indonesians themselves, who rise for justice. And thousands have died trying to do that. And the second aspect is that the foreign accomplices, facilitators of these crimes, in the US and Europe and Australia, they have to cut them off and themselves be brought to justice.

TEYMOOR NABILI: Is there -- within Indonesia, is there any message being received by the people who are selling arms, the soft loans that are coming from Britain and the United States? Is there any message attached to those saying, look, we are concerned about the potential for the downside here, or do they just --

NOOR HUDA ISMAIL: Yeah, this is always the problem with this -- to see this problem. There's a double standard of, I said to you, the double standard of the West. You know, I'll give you the money and all the infrastructure, as long as you fight our enemy. But I don't care about with your human rights inside your country. So this is the problem. You have to address this issue together, the short term and the long term.

TEYMOOR NABILI: Is there a double standard, Bob?

ROBERT LOWRY: No, I don't believe that there is. Most of this problem affects Indonesia just as much as it affects the rest of the world. For example, Indonesia can't have economic growth if it's got terrorism units active in its own country. It won't attract the foreign investment it needs to do the reforms it needs to do.

TEYMOOR NABILI: But should these arms shipments not come with some kind of moral attachment, some suggestion?

ROBERT LOWRY: Well, they actually do. From seven or eight years ago, the International Committee of the Red Cross has had teams in there teaching international human rights law, etc. The problem is that there isn't the infrastructure within the country to enforce the laws that actually exist. And that's the issue we face at the moment. That's why I say we've got to go back to why that is the case. Why isn't the government pressing ahead with reforms in the security sector?

TEYMOOR NABILI: Well, let me put that to you, Noor.

NOOR HUDA ISMAIL: OK.

TEYMOOR NABILI: Why isn't the government pressing ahead with reforms in the security sector?

NOOR HUDA ISMAIL: Because, of course, the rampant corruption inside the justice system, you know. Because once the police who has such a high position, they will have access to the law, so this is the problem.

ALLAN NAIRN: But the fundamental point is that while these jihadist terrorists are despicable -- they're criminals, they kill hundreds -- the TNI and Polri, the Indonesian security forces, they've killed hundreds of thousands.

And another aspect that's very important, apart from the mass slaughters in places like Timor, Aceh, Papua, the Moluccas, there's also the daily life of the poor. For many poor communities in Indonesia, it's like living in occupied territory, with the police and the preman, the police- and military-linked thugs. They sell drugs. They do extortion rackets. There's no law. If someone robs your house, you can't go to the police. The police will demand bribe money from you. The police are hired by rich people to tear down poor neighborhoods, to evict poor women from their markets so new developments can be put up. People are living without basic law and order, --

TEYMOOR NABILI: A culture of immunity, as Human Rights Watch called it.

ALLAN NAIRN: -- and it's the police who are the daily oppressors, completely apart from larger politics.

TEYMOOR NABILI: Well, let's finish off with this issue, then: the reform is the duty of the government, and the Western governments and outsiders have no responsibilities here; do you agree with that?

NOOR HUDA ISMAIL: Yes, I think so. I mean, like, there is no such a strong commitment from Indonesian government to look at this security reform as such a top priority. For instance, let us use terrorism as one of the issues. If you look at all the priority of the president candidates, all the politicians, they don't mention even terrorists as part of their programs, you know, part of top list of their priority. Again, economics and economics.

TEYMOOR NABILI: OK, well, that being the case, then, presumably we can just look forward to continued human rights abuses and a continued culture of immunity.

ALLAN NAIRN: So long as the West keeps backing them. The Clinton White House said of Suharto, "He's our kind of guy." And Suharto is gone, but recently Bush and Condoleezza Rice overrode the US Congress and are starting to restore military aid to the Indonesian military. It's putting the lives of brave Indonesians who try to speak up for justice, who try to speak up for the poor, it's putting them on the line.

ROBERT LOWRY: It is a mistake to say the Indonesian government is puppets of the United States, though, you have to say that. I mean --

ALLAN NAIRN: They're not puppets; they're partners, and they're being sponsored by the US.

ROBERT LOWRY: Well, partners, but they bear the major responsibility for the actions that occur in their country, and they would be the last to claim that they're directed by foreign governments, and quite rightly so.

ALLAN NAIRN: Oh, no, they're not being directed, but the one who pulls the trigger is guilty, as is the one who supplies the gun and the training.

TEYMOOR NABILI: OK, there we will have to leave it. Gentlemen, thank you all for joining me today. That's all we have time for on this edition of 101 East. Until next time, goodbye.


Back to November menu
October
World Leaders Contact List
Main Postings Menu