by Allan Nairn
June 8, 1998, The Nation magazine
On May 20, as rumors flew that General Suharto was about to step down and protesters showed no sign of accepting his promises of "transition," tanks rolled through the capital and top military men flaunted their power. This week Allan Nairn begins a report on a new aspect of complicity between the U.S. government and the dictator's armed forces. -The Editors
This spring, just before Jakarta erupted in riots, more than a dozen activists from Indonesia's pro-democracy movement suddenly "disappeared" from the streets of the capital and outlying towns. At the time, amid a public outcry, the Indonesian Armed Forces (ABRI) denied any knowledge of the apparent abductions, as did the U.S. government, which joined calls for an investigation.
Now, new information from U.S. and Indonesian officials and from "disappearance" survivors indicates that the abductions were in fact perpetrated by the ABRI high command using U.S.-trained units, some of which have formal links with U.S. intelligence.
The disappearance issue was-and is-political dynamite, since with the dictator Suharto trembling, the military has moved to center stage in Indonesian politics. The U.S. State Department and others have argued that dissidents should accept a deal with ABRI, telling them that the much-feared military is suitable to form the core of a new government (a New York Times news analysis even claimed that the army "enjoys broad support among most Indonesians").
Among the units that officials say played a role in the disappearances are the military-dominated intelligence umbrella group BAKIN, which engaged in surveillance of the activists; and the military intelligence agency, BIA, which carried out abductions and interrogation. In mid-April a close associate of the BIA commander told me that this unit was holding one of the "disappeared." The BIA commander, Gen. Zacky Makarim, reports daily to General Wiranto, the Defense Minister and ABRI chief.
Both BAKIN and BIA have longstanding ties to the C.I.A. and the Pentagon. Gen. Benny Murdani, formerly the commander of ABRI and, until 1993, Defense Minister, told me in a telephone interview that in his day the relationship included regular consultation at senior levels and "exchange of information." Murdani said that BAKIN-which he calls "the equivalent of the C.I.A."-worked with the C.I.A., while BIA dealt with the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Both of these Indonesian intelligence units have been implicated in atrocities, and the State Department's recent human rights reports acknowledge BIA's use of electroshock torture. Nevertheless, U.S. officialstold me the intelligence ties remain intact, with BAKIN enjoying a formal "liaison" relationship with the C.I.A., and BIA coordinating day to day with Col. Charles McFetridge at the U.S. Embassy, as well as periodically with senior Pentagon chiefs in Washington. (Reached for comment at the Embassy and asked about U.S. links to BAKIN and BIA, McFetridge said, "I don't think I care to discuss that" and hung up the phone.)
In January, when Gen. Feisal Tanjung, then the head of ABRI, famously warned dissidents that "the armed forces will not hesitate to cut to pieces all antigovernment groups," he specifically added that BAKIN would be "watching them all the time."
One week after this threat, U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen arrived in Jakarta to meet with Suharto and ABRI leaders, including the commanders of the two intelligence units and Lieut. Gen. Prabowo Subianto, then the head of the elite commando regiment KOPASSUS. In response to reporters' questions, Cohen refused to call for restraint from the armed forces, saying, "I am not going to give him [Suharto] guidance in terms of what he should or should not do in terms of maintaining control of his own country."
Indonesian officials say they took the Cohen visit as a green light. Within days, the BIA chief, General Zacky, began convening meetings of key upper-class dissidents in which-according to one of Zacky's close associates-he warned them that "if they wanted to stay alive they should not make his life difficult."
On January 29, one of those with whom Zacky had met tipped off activist Pius Lustrilanang that within one week ABRI intelligence would be placing him under surveillance. I was told this by Lustrilanang. Independently, a source close to BIA confirmed to me that the man Lustrilanang named as his informant had indeed met with Zacky.
Six days later, on February 4, Lustrilanang was abducted by plainclothes men who blindfolded him, threw him into a car and took him to a torture center, where he was interrogated, electroshocked and subjected to water torture. As the result of a courageous protest campaign by fellow activists, Lustrilanang and four of the other "disappeared" were later freed. Their accounts of their experiences indicate that the torture center-equipped with six jail cells and surveillance video cameras-was the place of captivity for at least nine dissidents: Lustrilanang, Desmond Mahesa, Haryanto Taslam, Faisal Reza, Lucas da Costa, Rian, Sony, Djati and Andi Arief.
In early April, BIA's role in controlling that torture center was directly confirmed to me by one of General Zacky's key associates. Asked about Andi Arief, he had checked with Zacky. The word came back from the BIA commander that "He [Arief] is with us." (On April 16 Arief, blindfolded, was taken from the torture center and, through a two-car transfer, turned over to the ABRI-controlled Jakarta police.)
A source close to General Prabowo says that the disappearances were a joint operation involving several units, including BIA, KODAM Jaya (the army's Jakarta District Command) and the plainclothes intelligence unit (Group 4) of Prabowo's KOPASSUS regiment. The other four, uniformed, KOPASSUS groups have been trained by the Pentagon's Joint Combined Exchange and Training (JCET) program. (This program was suspended in Indonesia on May 8, after being exposed by The Nation, the East Timor Action Network, Justice for All and Representative Lane Evans.) Officials say that Group 4, by contrast, has received special instruction from U.S. intelligence.
(To be continued.)
Allan Nairn, a veteran journalist and activist, was deported from
Indonesia in March as a "threat to national security. Research support was
provided by the Investigative Fund of The Nation Institute.
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