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SBY Implicated in Cover Up of Ambush Murder of U.S. Citizens

Eben Kirksey, Ph.D., University of California (Santa Cruz)
+1.831.429.8276 or +1.831.600.5937 (English or Bahasa Indonesia)

Paula Makabory, Institute of Papuan Advocacy and Human Rights (Melbourne) 
+61.402.547.517 (English or Bahasa Indonesia)

John M. Miller, East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) (New York)
+1.718.596.7668 (English)

1 July, 2009 - Previously secret U.S. State Department documents implicate the President of Indonesia in a probable cover-up in an ambush in West Papua. The documents show Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who is running for reelection on July 8, maneuvering behind the scenes to manage the investigation into the August 2002 murder of three teachers—one Indonesian and two U.S. citizens.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY)


Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) at UN Conference.


“Yudhoyono brought politics into a case that should have just been about forensic facts,” said Dr. Eben Kirksey, an anthropologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz and a regional specialist. “The documents reveal that Yudhoyono initially stalled attempts by the FBI to launch an independent investigation,” he continued. The U.S. Congress, outraged at these stalling tactics, blocked funds for Indonesian military training until there was cooperation with the FBI.

The documents released today add a new twist to a hotly contested Presidential race.

“Yudhoyono is not the only controversial former soldier running in the presidential election,” said John M. Miller, National Coordinator of the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network. “Vice presidential candidates and former generals Wiranto and Prabowo Subianto were involved in well-documented human rights crimes in East Timor and throughout Indonesia.”

When a police investigation implicated Indonesian military shooters as the likely murderers of the schoolteachers, Yudhoyono became involved. Yudhoyono, a retired General and then the Coordinating Minister of Political and Security Affairs, wrote to the Charge D'Affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta that “I have dispatched a fact finding team led by one of my deputies to Timika and its surrounding (sic), to find additional information and other related facts especially on a broader political and security aspects of the incident.” Timika, the site of the attack, is in the remote province of Papua, where U.S. mining giant Freeport McMoRan (FCX) operates a concession.

“Yudhoyono’s stalling tactics let the Indonesian military cover their tracks,” said Paula Makabory, a Papuan human rights activist who founded the Institute of Papuan Advocacy and Human Rights in Australia.  “The ‘fact finders’ under his command systematically intimidated witnesses and tampered with material evidence,” Makabory continued.

Following high-level negotiations with Bush administration officials, who promised Indonesia millions in military aid, Yudhoyono allowed the

FBI into his country. "By the time the FBI were granted access the trail was cold," said Makabory.  “The FBI investigation proceeded within a narrow framework that fit the Bush administration agenda,” said Dr. Kirksey.

“The Special Agents found a fall man, while tiptoeing around evidence connecting their man to the Indonesian military,” Kirksey added.


Antonius Wamang.


Antonius Wamang, an ethnic Papuan, was indicted by a U.S. grand jury for his role in the attack. He was apprehended in 2006 by the FBI and sentenced to life in Indonesian prison. Wamang had extensive ties to the Indonesian military, according to a peer-reviewed article, “Criminal Collaborations,” co-authored by Dr. Kirksey and Andreas Harsono, an Indonesian investigative reporter (link below).

The declassified documents disclosed today were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act Request (FOIA) by Dr. Bradley Simpson of the National Security Archive. The State Department found 62 documents relevant to the Timika murders. They released only two of these documents in full and 20 others “with excisions.” The rest were withheld. The FBI did not release any documents, writing: “No records responsive to your FOIA request were located by a search of the automated indices.” The FBI is notorious for not complying with Freedom of Information Act requests.

“The documents reveal evidence of a cover-up,” said Dr. Kirksey. “The fact that many relevant documents were not released is more evidence of the same”

Selections from these documents are published here in seven distinct sections:

1) Response by the State Department and the FBI to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Request

2) Initial Reports About Attackers; Yudhoyono Orders a Quick Response

Freeport mineThe first State Department reports about the 2002 attack seriously entertained two theories: that the perpetrators were Papuan independence fighters (OPM guerillas) or rogue elements of the Indonesian military. The documents note that the assault took place on a foggy mountain road near a military checkpoint and an Army Strategic Reserve Forces post. Upon learning of the attack, Yudhoyono ordered a quick response to restore security and to investigate the attack.

The U.S. Embassy noted in a cable to Washington: ”Many Papuan groups are calling for an independent investigation led by the U.S. Calls for an independent probe are unrealistic, but we believe that Papua's Police Chief, who enjoys a good reputation with Papuan activists (and U.S.), can conduct a fair investigation.” The Police Chief’s investigation later indicated that the Indonesian military was involved. The FBI subsequently launched a separate probe.

3) Attack Victims Treated in Secrecy at Australian Hospital

The survivors of the assault were airlifted out of Indonesia to a hospital in Townsend, Australia. Here U.S. diplomats, the FBI, Queensland Police, and the Australian Defense Force kept a tight lid on the situation—preventing the victims from speaking with the press and even from contacting family members for the first two days. See: Tom Hyland, “Lost in the Fog," The Age, September 28, 2008.

4) Yudhoyono Assumes Coordinating Role in Investigation

Following police reports of Indonesian military involvement, these documents reveal that Yudhoyono began to play a more active role in managing and influencing the direction of the investigation. Yudhoyono met repeatedly with the FBI field investigators, as well as high-level U.S. diplomats, blocking their initial attempts to gain unmediated access to witnesses and material evidence. This file includes a letter from Yudhoyono to the Charge D'Affaires of the U.S. Embassy where he outlines a strategy for managing the broader political and security aspects of the incident.

5) Commander-In-Chief Concerned About Washington Post Interview

The Washington Post reported in 2002 that senior Indonesian military officers, including armed forces commander General Endriartono Sutarto, had discussed an unspecified operation against Freeport McMoRan before the ambush in Timika. General Sutarto vehemently denied that he or any other top military officers had discussed any operation targeting Freeport. He sued The Washington Post for US$1 billion and demanded an apology from the paper. Several months after this lawsuit was settled out of court, The Washington Post asked to interview Sutarto. This document contains notes from a meeting between the U.S. Ambassador and Commander-in-Chief Sutarto where this interview request was discussed: “Clearly concerned, General Sutarto asked why the Washington Post wanted to interview him, as well as TNI’s Strategic Intelligence Agency (BAIS) and the State Intelligence Agency (BIN) Chiefs regarding the Timika case.” See: Ellen Nakashima and Alan Sipress “Indonesia Military Allegedly Talked of Targeting Mine," The Washington Post, November 3, 2002.

6) Most Important Issue in U.S.-Indonesia Bilateral Relationship

The U.S. Ambassador stressed in a June 2003 meeting with Yudhoyono that justice in the Timika killings was “the most important issue in the bilateral relationship.” During this period, FBI agents were given intermittent access to evidence. Yudhoyono continued to play an active role in coordinating the political aspects of the investigation. Taking an unusual personal interest for someone with a Ministerial level position, Yudhoyono repeatedly met with the FBI case agents — the low-ranking U.S. investigators who were deployed to Timika for field investigations.

7) Attorney General Ashcroft Suppressed Evidence

On June 24, 2005, Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller announced that Antonius Wamang, an ethnic Papuan, was indicted by a Federal Grand Jury for the Timika murders. The indictment alleged that Wamang was a “terrorist” who sought independence from Indonesia. Following this announcement, three respected human rights groups and indigenous organizations charged that the U.S. Government suppressed evidence linking Wamang to the Indonesian military. A peer-reviewed article, titled “Criminal Collaborations: Antonius Wamang and the Indonesian Military in Timika," details the nature of these links. The group called for Wamang to be given a fair trial in the U.S., rather than in notoriously corrupt Indonesian courts. See: Eben Kirksey and Andreas Harsono, “Criminal Collaborations," South East Asia Research, vol 16, no 2.

see also 
West Papua map

Selected Coverage

St. Petersburg Times

Indonesia's bleak record on rights

By Eben Kirksey, Special to the Times

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said improving relations with Indonesia will be a priority of the Obama administration. As Indonesians go to the polls Wednesday to choose a president, this is an excellent time for the United States to press for a fuller investigation of an incident that has been a stumbling block for the two countries: the 2002 ambush that killed two U.S. schoolteachers in Indonesia's remote territory of West Papua.

New documents add a surprising twist to public accounts of the killings. Ballistics reports and eyewitness testimony point to an Indonesian military role in the attack. But declassified State Department documents reveal that Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the current president of Indonesia who is up for re-election Wednesday, coordinated a coverup. Before Indonesians head to the polls, our elected officials have the opportunity to tell Yudhoyono that the United States is disappointed with his record on transparency and human rights.

The teachers were ambushed about 300 yards from an Indonesian military checkpoint and pinned in their cars during 45 minutes of sporadic gunfire. Two Americans and one Indonesian were murdered and eight other Americans were wounded. The teachers were driving home from a picnic near the gold and copper mine operated by Freeport McMoRan, a U.S. company that employed them to teach at an international school. Police investigators singled out officers in Kopassus, Indonesia's notorious special forces, as the culprits. The motive of these soldiers may well have been a bid for more money. In 2002 Freeport paid the Indonesian military $5.6 million for protection, including $46,000 to a Kopassus soldier placed at the crime scene by witnesses.

After reports of military shooters emerged, Yudhoyono, then political and security minister, took over the inquiry. Initially Yudhoyono blocked an FBI investigation, according to previously secret State Department cables obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. The documents were released online last week. While Yudhoyono stalled, Indonesian military agents intimidated key witnesses and tampered with material evidence.

Despite initial CIA reports linking military shooters to this murder, the Bush administration pushed to renew financing for Indonesia's armed forces. With a population of 240 million, Indonesia, the world's largest Islamic country, was seen as a key ally in the global war on terror. With vast mineral resources, natural gas reserves and timber, Indonesia was also regarded as an important U.S. trading partner. Nevertheless, a Republican-controlled Congress stonewalled Bush administration attempts to fund training for Indonesian soldiers until they cooperated with the FBI. Justice in this murder case became the most important issue in the bilateral relationship between the United States and Indonesia.

The trail was cold by the time the FBI was allowed in the country. Yudhoyono began to micromanage the investigation, meeting repeatedly with the low-ranking FBI field agents in charge of the case, according to the declassified State Department documents. Initially the FBI investigators were only allowed to interview witnesses in the presence of Indonesian military agents and were given limited access to material evidence.

The scope of the FBI investigation was also limited by Bush's goals in the war on terror. The special agents found a fall guy but tiptoed around evidence connecting him to the Indonesian military. Antonius Wamang, an ethnic Papuan, was eventually indicted by a U.S. grand jury for his role in the attack. He was apprehended in 2006 by the FBI and sentenced to life in Indonesian prison. But Wamang had extensive ties to the Indonesian military, and these ties were not explored in the Indonesian court system.

The impunity in this case speaks to a broader pattern of abuse by the Indonesian military directed at their own people, especially ethnic minorities. Since Yudhoyono began his first term as president in 2004, scores of indigenous Papuans have been killed by government soldiers. Last month a 13-year-old boy was shot dead. Since April seven young Papuan women have been kidnapped and raped, others killed, and civilian homes burned during a series of police sweeps in West Papua's highlands.

This week Yudhoyono is running in a hotly contested presidential race against other former generals with similarly dismal human rights records. Gen. Wiranto, vice president on the Golkar ticket, has been indicted by the United Nations for crimes against humanity in East Timor. The Democratic Party of Struggle's vice presidential candidate, Gen. Prabowo Subianto, commanded the Kopassus special forces when his subordinates kidnapped and disappeared student activists.

Indonesian voters have bleak options at the ballot box this week. No matter who is elected, the Obama administration should ensure that the masterminds of the 2002 ambush are brought to justice. The FBI investigation into this case is still officially open and Eric Holder's Justice Department should move forward to bring it to a conclusion. Prosecuting the people who were truly responsible for this attack will help protect U.S. and Indonesian citizens alike from further human rights abuses.

Eben Kirksey, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California Santa Cruz, is completing a book about the independence movement in West Papua called "Freedom in Entangled Worlds." To view the newly released State Department documents go to

The Age (Melbourne)
Sunday, June 28, 2009

Aussie Spy Data Points to Papua Murder Cover-Up

by Tom Hyland

NEW details of secret Australian surveillance of Indonesia's Papua province have emerged, revealing that Australian officials believed Indonesian military weapons were used in the murder of two US citizens.

Documents show the officials told US diplomats within hours of the 2002 shooting that automatic Steyr rifles were used.

The US State Department documents show the Australians passed on the information on August 31, 2002 — the day the two US school teachers and an Indonesian colleague were shot dead. They were ambushed on an isolated road near the giant US-owned Freeport-McMoRan gold and copper mine, where the three worked.

The heavily censored documents were obtained under freedom of information by US researchers, who say they show Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono stalled US efforts to allow the FBI to investigate the killings. Pro-independence guerillas were blamed, but human rights groups have long accused the Indonesian military of involvement — a suspicion initially shared by Indonesian police.

The US documents provide the latest insight into Australia's close knowledge of events surrounding the shootings. Two months after the ambush, Australian spy agencies were reported to have given the US intelligence relating to a planned military attack on the Freeport mine, designed to discredit the pro-independence Free Papua Movement (OPM).

And last year, The Sunday Age revealed Australian government officials imposed extraordinary secrecy when eight wounded survivors of the ambush were flown to Townsville Hospital.

The newly obtained documents are further evidence of a cover-up surrounding the ambush, says Eben Kirskey of the University of California who has researched the killings.

The documents include a cable written on the day of the ambush by the US embassy in Jakarta and sent to the State Department in Washington and US embassy in Canberra.

It reveals officials at the mine were reluctant to blame OPM guerillas for attacking the teachers, who were "specifically and deliberately targeted".

The cable continues: "There are reports from Australian sources close to provincial police that the automatic weapons used in the attack were manufactured by Steyr, a weapon not typically used by the OPM in the past, though (it) is a common make in Indonesian security force inventories in the province."

Indonesian police ballistics experts later identified three types of military weapons used in the shooting, including M16s, which fire the same cartridge as the Steyr.

The embassy cable posed three possible explanations for the attack: the OPM had abandoned its practice of not targeting foreigners; the attack was carried out by "some rogue security force"; or it was a terrorist attack — an option the cable ruled out.

Documents obtained by Dr Kirskey and Indonesian journalist Andreas Harsono last year revealed the extent of Australian secrecy when the survivors of the attack arrived in Townsville the next day.

The survivors were barred from calling relatives for almost two days and from talking about the identity of their attackers. Australian police imposed extraordinary security on the hospital, while US diplomats took the unusual step of asking an Australian military officer to check on the condition of the patients.

Separate inquiries published by The Sunday Age last September disclosed unidentified government officials effectively took charge of non-medical operations at the hospital, under a directive issued at "high government level".

Two months after the shooting, The Washington Post reported that US officials had obtained information showing Indonesian military officers had discussed an operation against Freeport before the ambush, aimed at discrediting the OPM so the US would declare it a terrorist organisation.

The information included details of a conversation secretly intercepted by an Australian agency — likely to be the top-secret Defence Signals Directorate, which monitors mobile phone, radio and internet messages.

The new documents show President Yudhoyono stalled in the face of US pressure to allow the FBI to investigate the killings, which Indonesian police initially blamed on the military.

In 2006, seven men were sentenced over the killings, including alleged ringleader Antonius Wamang, who received a life term.


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