|Subject: NYT Editorial Board Blog: An
Indonesia Dictator in Decline [+Critique/Comment]
also: Comment: Excerpt: It is quite easy for the Times editorial board to demand justice from a man who is by all accounts now in his death throes. But let us ask ourselves, where was the Times when Suharto was a strongman championed by the defense establishment? And perhaps more pertinently, when will we see an apology from the Times for having gone along with that?
The New York Times The Board (A Blog By The Editorial Board of The new York Times) January 10, 2008
An Indonesia Dictator in Decline
There’s a peculiar fascination with the slow demise of dictators, men who at the height of their powers held millions in their sway, often cruelly, yet are powerless to halt the decline of their own bodies.
So it is with Suharto, the 86-year-old former strongman who ruled Indonesia for three decades. His failing health — he was placed on dialysis last week as his heart and kidneys weakened has brought a rush of elite well-wishers, including the country’s current president, to his bedside.
We appreciate the Indonesian tradition of honoring the elderly, but there’s something unseemly about paying homage to a man who maneuvered his way to the presidency in 1965, put down what was officially called a communist coup, a battle in which as many as 500,000 people were killed, and ruled during a period of severe human rights abuses until he was driven from power in the turmoil of the 1998 financial crisis.
By that time, Suharto and his family controlled hotels, toll roads, airlines and TV stations across the country. The World Bank — citing figures compiled in 2004 by Transparency International, a nonpartisan global organization battling corruption — estimated his assets at between $15 billion and $35 billion.
In the past, Suharto’s lawyers have used his health problems to thwart government corruption cases against him. Now, his supporters are trying to exploit that argument again, proposing that any lingering cases should be dropped for “humanitarian reasons” because the man is dying. We wish Suharto had valued humanitarianism so highly when he exercised authoritarian control over his country all those years. Indonesia’s Attorney General, Hendarman Supandji, insists that despite the collapse of criminal cases against Suharto, a civil corruption case involving the misuse of seven charitable foundations belonging to Suharto will proceed.
We hope it does. Indonesia’s government owes it to its people to hold Suharto or his estate to account, recover as much of any stolen assets as it can, and demonstrate that official corruption will not be tolerated in modern Indonesia.
On the one hand, it is refreshing to see that the Times has at least some conviction to condemn this man for the crimes committed under his rule.
On the other, there is something galling here. Beyond the mistakes of emphasis (condemning Suharto as corrupt is like condemning Hitler as an art thief), as well as the error in order of magnitude on the 1965-era killings (Amnesty International places them at 1 million; Suharto’s own generals bragged about 3 million total deaths), what is notably missing here is role the U.S. and the IMF (despite the positive portrayal here) played in setting up and propping up the dictatorship.
Simply put, without the U.S. or IMF intervention, there is simply no way that Suharto would have come to power, nor would he have stayed as long as he did.
Further galling is that as the Times editorial board rightly insists on continuing the investigations into Suharto’s rule, it maintains no moral highground here. As a person who is doing academic research into the 1965-66 period in Indonesia, reading the Times’s own coverage from that era showed a distinct failure to maintain journalistic integrity to the point that it is quite clear that the Times allowed its coverage to be dictated from the U.S. and British embassies in Malaysia, who had long since put CIA and MI6.
It is quite easy for the Times editorial board to demand justice from a man who is by all accounts now in his death throes. But let us ask ourselves, where was the Times when Suharto was a strongman championed by the defense establishment? And perhaps more pertinently, when will we see an apology from the Times for having gone along with that?
— Posted by Daniel Tasripin
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