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Former Secretary of Defense William Cohen Misleads 9-11 Commission

U.S. Assistance to the Indonesian Military Aided Terrorism

For Immediate Release

Contact: John M. Miller, 718-596-7668

March 25, 2004 - The East Timor Action Network (ETAN) today accused former Secretary of Defense William Cohen of misleading the 9-11 commission and trivializing state terrorism in testimony this week.

"If terror is the use of violence against civilians for political ends, then the Indonesian military should be considered the major terrorist organization in the archipelago," said John M. Miller, spokesperson for ETAN. "In the space of a few words, the former Secretary of Defense sought to cover his own complicity in the terrorization of the Indonesian and East Timorese people," said John M. Miller, spokesperson for ETAN.

"Former Secretary Cohen misses the point that some would-be partners in the war on terrorism are notorious human rights abusers who have employed terror against their own people,” said Ed McWilliams, a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer. “The lesson of the irresponsible attempts in the Reagan and Bush I Administrations to build ties with Saddam Hussein appear lost on Secretary Cohen.”

“Moreover, some would-be partners are inherently dangerous: the Indonesian military conspires with Islamic fundamentalist groups such as Laskar Jihad, responsible for killing thousands inside Indonesia. Would Secretary Cohen have the U.S. military partner with such a rogue military?” McWilliams, who served as Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta from 1996-1999, added.

Cohen, who served as Secretary of Defense from 1997-2001, accused Congress of blocking "cooperation with countries whose support was critical in counter-terrorism efforts" in a statement prepared for the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. Congress banned military cooperation with Indonesia in response to the "belief that we were indulging in cynical hyperbole" to increase budgets, he wrote. In testimony, he specifically cited the IMET (International Military Education and Training) program.

“Claims that resumption of IMET for the Indonesian military would encourage reform ignore history: More than four decades of close contact with the U.S. military failed to improve the TNI’s dismal record.,” said Miller. “Congress understood this, Secretary Cohen’s Pentagon didn’t.”

“It's unfortunate Secretary Cohen didn't pursue the logical conclusions of his October 1, 1999 statement in Thailand, when he told the media, ‘when the kind of instability and terror that we saw take place in East Timor goes unaddressed, then that has a potential for having very wide-spread consequences,’" said Miller. “If he had been as forthcoming this week, he would have admitted that aid to Jakarta's out-of-control military continues to be a very bad idea.”

Background
Congress first voted to restrict IMET for Indonesia in response to the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre, where Indonesian soldiers wielding U.S.-supplied weapons killed more than 271 peaceful East Timorese demonstrators. Over the next seven years, Congress and the Clinton administration - in response to Congressional pressure - imposed further restrictions.

While in Jakarta in January 1998, Secretary Cohen praised Kopassus, the military's notorious Special Forces unit, for its "very impressive... discipline." Kopassus has been implicated in numerous atrocities in East Timor, Papua, Aceh and elsewhere. Between December 1997 and May 1998, Kopassus soldiers kidnapped and tortured at least nine Indonesian pro-democracy activists. The Indonesian military, including Kopassus, were involved in training and arming Laskar Jihad, a radical Islamist militia which killed thousands of Christians in Ambon beginning in 2000.

In April 1999, in the face of escalating violence in East Timor by the military and their militia proxies, Admiral Dennis Blair, Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Command, visited Jakarta. Rather than telling Indonesia’s General Wiranto “to shut the militias down, [Blair] instead offered him a series of promises of new U.S. assistance,” according to a classified cable on the meeting. Blair’s visit took place just days after at least 59 refugees sheltering in a church in Liquicia were murdered. Shortly after Blair’s visit, militia rampaged through Dili, killing at least a dozen pro-independence supporters. During these massacres, Indonesian security officials either actively participated or stood by.

Blair later told the Washington Post, "It is fairly rare that the personal relations made through an IMET course can come into play in resolving a future crisis."

In August 1999, just prior to East Timor’s independence referendum, U.S. and Indonesian warships and marines conducted a joint military exercise. Soon after, the Indonesian Navy assisted in the looting and destruction of East Timor. The same U.S. warships were soon needed to back up the international peacekeeping operation.

In early September 1999, following East Timor's vote, the President Clinton suspended military ties and economic assistance to Indonesia in response to the Indonesian military’s scorched-earth destruction of East Timor. Indonesian military withdrawal from East Timor and entry of an international peacekeeping force soon followed. In November, the U.S. Congress restricted most military assistance to Indonesia, with renewal contingent upon the safe return of East Timorese refugees and effective prosecution of military and militia members responsible for crimes against humanity in East Timor and Indonesia.

Following some steps toward renewing military cooperation with Indonesia, in September 2000, Secretary Cohen again announced a full suspension of military assistance to Indonesia after East Timorese militia murdered three UN aid workers, including a U.S. citizen, in West Timor as Indonesian security personnel stood by.

Congress continues to restrict IMET for Indonesia. Early this year, Congress again banned IMET until Jakarta fully cooperates with investigations into the murder of three teachers (including two U.S. citizens) in Papua. The Indonesian police have implicated the Indonesian military in the killings.

A 2002 study for the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School noted that the Indonesian army had become "a major facilitator of terrorism" due to "the radical Muslim militias they had organized, trained, and financed...The army financed Laskar Jihad with money embezzled from its defense budget, estimated to be about $9.3 million."

ETAN advocates for democracy, sustainable development, justice and human rights, including women's rights, for the people of East Timor and Indonesia. (www.etan.org).

see also U.S.-Indonesia Military Assistance


Statement of William S. Cohen to The National Commission On Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States

March 23, 2004

On many occasions the Administration was able to secure the cooperation of Congress and others in the pursuit of its goals. In a number of cases, it did not.

For example, some in Congress, the media and “policy community” accused those of us focused on the terrorist threat of being alarmist and of exaggerating the threat in order to boost our budgets. Countering the threat of terrorism was “the latest gravy train,” according to one expert quoted by US News & World Report. The belief that we were indulging in cynical hyperbole resulted in several legislative actions. ...

* Congress blocked cooperation with countries whose support was critical in counter-terrorism efforts, such as banning military cooperation with Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country that is a key battleground in the campaign  against Islamic extremists, and banning any meaningful cooperation with Pakistan, the front-line state in the global war on terrorism.  

Transcript of Testimony By William S. Cohen March 23, 2004

Transcript of Former Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen's testimony to the eighth public hearing of The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States regarding the formulation and conduct of U.S. counterterrorism policy.

-excerpts pertaining to Indonesia only-

MR. COHEN: Congress blocked the cooperation with countries whose support was critical to the counterterrorism efforts, such as banning military cooperation with Indonesia, by way of example, the world's largest Muslim country that is a key battleground in the campaign against Islamic extremists and banning any meaningful cooperation with Pakistan, the front-line state in the global war on terrorism, who had reasons for this but, nonetheless, that was the reality. We had a program called "IMET," which was designed to put our military into contact with the militaries of other countries to help educate them in the way that a civilized country and a democracy is able to subordinate the military/civilian rule and to pursue democratic values. Well, the program was terminated based on activities that took place in that country and elsewhere.

MR. ROEMER: I'm very happy to hear that. Let me ask you the question to look forward, Secretary Rumsfeld who will be with us momentarily wrote a memo that I think outlined the problem in the future, absolutely to the point. And he said, as you just indicated, that the military is not the only weapon, that it's one of many arrows in the quiver, one of many tools in the toolbox to use.

I'd like to push you a little bit harder on a country that is absolutely critical to the United States in our future, and that's Indonesia. What specifically, as these training camps produce this wrath of hatred, and jihadists, what can we do, even if we're out there with the military killing people, and trying to eliminate the terrorists, and the jihadists, as they're cranking out these human conveyor belts of terrorists, and education in a place like Indonesia to replace the madrassas with a practical education, or what can Indonesia do? What can we do on IMET, what can we do reaching out to the moderates and the government there? How can we begin to put new types of military and State Department and intel efforts to reach out to these types of critically important countries in the future?

MR. COHEN: Thank you, Congressman Roemer. You had the Secretary of State here earlier, Secretary Powell. I think he laid out some of the "diplomatic initiatives" that have to be undertaken. Some of it involves diplomacy, it involves the use of economic both incentives, and disincentives, it involves sanctions, it involves a variety of things. But, most of all it requires engagement on the part of the United States, on a very aggressive, diplomatic fashion. Sheik Zalman, who is the Crown Prince of Bahrain, if any of you have not had occasion to meet with him I'd recommend that you talk to this young man. He's one of the most progressive young leaders that I've met, certainly in my travels, but especially in the Gulf region, along with King Abdullah of Jordan. But, Sheik Zalman made an observation a few months ago, which I endorse, basically pointing to the problem that the United States has in dealing with this issue, that much of the Arab world looks through two lenses, one lens focused on how we conduct ourselves in Iraq, now that we're there, how we successfully resolve, or achieve success in Iraq, and treat the Iraqi people in that process, and the other has to do with the Middle East conflict. Many Muslims throughout the world also look through the lens of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

So I think we have to become much more engaged there, as well. That's why I mentioned I don't think it should wait until November elections are over, I think we have to reenergize that process now. And I have my own thoughts about what needs to be done, and have written about that. In addition to that, we have to engage Indonesia diplomatically, militarily. The IMET program is one of the most important programs that we have. The sharing of educational materials, exercises, planning with other militaries, because of the superiority, I believe, of men and women who serve us, because of their excellence in education, discipline, leadership, fellowship, all the things that make us the greatest force, military force on the face of the earth, we should be trying to share that talent, technology, techniques with other countries. And yes, they may be accused of not living up to our standard of human rights, all the more reason why we should engage them, al the more reason why we have to persuade them that this is the way a military has to operate, not with clubs and batons, not with the law of rule, but the rule of law. That also has to take place. So IMET is important.

I think we also have to go to other countries who support the madrases, and say, you are feeding the flames of future destruction here. That requires education, it requires giving countries, also, hope. Now, I'll come back to Palestine, the Palestinians for a moment. Unless you see people who have an opportunity for either sovereignty, dignity, and opportunity, you're likely to see continued festering of violence in the region. You have to give people a sense of hope. Economic hope, individual liberty in terms of their opportunities, all of that is involved. So that requires us to be engaged in a very aggressive way diplomatically.

The military, by the way, plays a role, a great role in diplomacy. We have our State Department, and they do an outstanding job with very limited resources, but the military also plays a very big role. When our men and women in uniform go to a country, and people are able to judge them, and see how good they are, how disciplined, how well led, how technically capable, et cetera, how good they are as human beings, they make a judgment about us, and they say, we want to be like you. We want to have the same capability, we want to develop a relationship with you. We need to do more of that.

So every time there's an issue that comes up on the Hill that says, well, abuse of human rights, cut off IMET, we should be holding on to IMET. I could carry on at length about this particular requirement, and I know that there are people on the Hill who would object to that, but I think we have a better chance of influencing people in their judgments about us, and helping to persuade them that the way of the future is to have a military like that of the United States and our allies, to subordinate that military to civilian rule, to educate the military, to help persuade them that they have -- they are in this war against terror with us. All of that comes about with diplomacy, and a very strong military capability, and diplomatic effort.

MR. ROEMER: Thank you very much. I hope this commission will take into consideration those very provocative and thoughtful recommendations into our recommendations at the end of the day.

see also U.S.-Indonesia Military Assistance


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