ETAN - and the peoples of East Timor and Indonesia
- Will Miss Senator Feingold
by Diane Farsetta
When Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold lost his re-election bid Nov. 2,
it didn’t only sadden U.S. progressives. The people of East Timor
and Indonesia lost a strong ally in their struggle for democracy.
In late 1992, as Feingold was campaigning to join the U.S. Senate,
East Timor suffered perhaps its most infamous massacre. The
occupying Indonesian military fired on a peaceful pro-independence
protest, killing more than 270 people. While the massacre received
international attention -- thanks to the presence of Western
journalists, including Amy Goodman and Allan Nairn -- East Timor
remained an obscure issue in the United States.
But, half a world away, Feingold took notice.
Throughout his 18 years in office, Feingold remained a
stalwart and effective advocate for a just U.S. foreign policy. He
maintained restrictions on arms sales and military training for Indonesia.
In his first year in the Senate, Feingold, a Democrat,
amendment to place human rights conditions on arms sales to
Indonesia. The amendment unanimously passed the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee. This shocked Indonesian officials, who had for
decades been able to count on the U.S. government eagerly providing
military equipment while turning a blind eye to its brutal use
against Timorese and Indonesian civilians.
Throughout his 18 years in office, Feingold remained a stalwart and
effective advocate for a just U.S. foreign policy. He maintained
restrictions on arms sales and military training for Indonesia.
After a broad-based pro-democracy movement ousted Indonesian
dictator Suharto in 1998, Feingold pushed the Clinton administration
and Congress to ensure that political prisoners were freed, the
military was reformed and civic institutions were fostered. Feingold
supported East Timor’s
referendum for independence in 1999, and
repeatedly called for the Indonesian government and military
officials responsible for serious crimes there to be held
responsible. He has also
raised concerns about continuing military
abuses in Papua, a region with an independence movement and a
history similar to East Timor.
More recently, Feingold cautioned both the Bush and Obama
administrations on their rush to engage Indonesia in the “war on
terror.” As the world’s most populous Muslim nation, and one where
moderate forms of Islam predominate, Indonesia took on new
importance for the United States following the 9/11 attacks. The
United States’ relationship with Indonesia must be “aimed at
fighting terrorism while supporting that country’s recent
Feingold wrote after visiting Indonesia in 2006.
You might think that President Obama,
who visited Indonesia the week
after the U.S. midterm elections, would agree. After all, Obama
spent part of his childhood there and lamented, in his memoir “The
Audacity of Hope,” that the U.S. negatively affected Indonesia by
encouraging “tyranny, corruption and environmental degradation when
it served our interests.”
Sadly, the U.S. hasn’t followed Feingold’s advice. Last summer, the
Obama administration announced that the United States would work
with Kopassus, the Indonesian military’s notorious special forces.
Kopassus troops routinely engaged in torture, rape and murder in
East Timor, “disappeared” Indonesian student activists, and killed a
prominent Papuan leader, among other atrocities. Providing U.S.
training to Kopassus “would undermine the goal of creating a
professional military … that upholds human rights norms,”
Feingold when the Bush administration considered engaging Kopassus.
For all his leadership on Southeast Asia issues, Feingold didn’t
become a media darling, fill his campaign coffers or otherwise win
broad acclaim. He helped the people of East Timor and Indonesia
simply because it was the right thing to do. That’s what makes him a
remarkable public servant and a wonderful human being.
We in the U.S. -- and our sisters and brothers around the world --
will sorely miss him.
Diane Farsetta is the coordinator of the Madison chapter of the
East Timor Action Network. She is a former Field
Organizer for national ETAN. This was also published in Capitol
November 10, 2010
Congressional Statements and Actions