by Allan Nairn
The Nation magazine, March 30, 1998
Today in Indonesia activists and observers speculate that
the country - reeling from hunger and mass layoffs promoted by
the I.M.F. - is moving toward social upheaval and perhaps a change
of regime. At the dumps in Bantar Gebang, the ranks of scavengers
have soared as sacked day laborers pick through garbage hoping
to survive. In the midst of this, many Western reporters are casting
Washington as a champion of reform because it is twisting Suharto's
arm to implement a fifty-point I.M.F. plan that includes some
popular clauses that cut against the Suharto family's vast corruption.
Largely unknawn is that the ClintonAdministration, against an
understanding with Congress, is shoring up the Indonesian military's
response against its awn peaple.
The Suharto regime counts on its armed forces, ABRI, to survive,
and is intensifying the grip ofthe police state with each fresh
week of crisis. The army has demanded access to cell-phonecompany
systems, explaining that it has to monitor, cut offend, if need
be, seize critical callers. On March 7, a human rights lawyer
was talking to a friend on his home phone when a voice broke in
and warned, "I will kill you tonight." This followed
an afternoon fax-emblazoned with a hammer and sickle and skull-that
said, "Don't Be a Hero. Be Careful of Your Safety, Your Self
andYour Family." Although the law already prohibits gatherings
of five or more people without state permission, the ABRI recently
announced a formal ban on demonstrations (which students and workers
have defied). On March 9, Suharto's tame assembly granted him
new "special powers." Gen. Feisal Tanjung even announced
that opponents of the regime will be "cut to pieces."
The United States and the I.M.F. are using the crisis to push
Indonesia from protected capitalism, crony-style, to a harsher,
multinational and corporate variety based on submission to global
markets. The I.M.F. plan means wage restraint, mass layoffs, "more
flexible" labor markets and the phased-in end of all existing
food and fuel subsidies for the poor. Stanley Roth, the Assistant
Secretary of State for East Asia and an I.M.F. booster, says:
we're going to see tremendous hardship in the Indonesian countryside
as millions of unemplayed go back to their villages." A senior
U.S. official here calls the I.M.F. the "lance point"
of U.S. policy and says that if Suharto doesn't go along he will
be "committing suicide." But regardless of what happens
to the 76 year-old dictator, US. policy is grounded on maintaining
control inside Indonesia through backing and strengthening ABRI.
The current planning, according to officials familiar with
Pentagon, White House and State Department discussions, envisions
a post-Suharto regime perhaps headed by a civilian or civilians
but under which ABRI keeps its vast apparatus and "dual function"
security/political role. Sources here say thatWashington has queried
Megawati Sukarno-the most popular opposition figure on whether
she would accept an ABRI vice president or a candidate approved
by the army.
Indonesians know well that ABRI is the co-manager with Suharto
of state repression and the author, under his command, of two
of the most intensive slaughters of the postwar era (the massacre
of a half-million Indonesians when Suharto and ABRI seized control
stardng in 1965, and the post-1975 extermination of one-third
of the populace of occupied East Timor, some 200,000 people).
The United States collaborated with the 1965 slaughter (as documented
by journalist Kathy Kadane in The Washington Post), praviding
a list of 5,000 communists and dissidents, most of whom were then
assassinated. The United States approved the East Timor invasion,
blocked the U.N. Security Council from enforcement action and,
after the 1991 massacre inDili (whichI survivedbutatleast271 did
not), helped the ABRI with damage control. On December 10,1991,
according to a State Department cable, the United States convened
a secret meeting in Surabaya and assured ABRI that Washington
did "not believe that friends should abandon friends in times
That same sentiment is naw being reiterated in Jakarta. Since
the crisis got under way last summer, senior Pentagon and service
officials have flown here to meet top ABRI officers at least two
or three times a month. When Defense Secretary William Cohen visited
here in January, he pointedly refused to call for ABRI restraint
in dealing with street demonstrations. Asked about the overall
message conveyed by the visits, one official said, "It's
simple. The U.S. is close to and loves the army."
That U.S. stance-although fairly widely understood within
ABRI and a key source of its apparent confidence-seems less clear
to foreign observers, the press and some in the U.S. Congress.
Noting that many weapons sales have been curtailed in the years
since the Dili massacre, many have wrongly assumed the White House
was distancing itself fromABRI. In fact, those cutoffs, which
included fighter plane and small-arms sales, were imposed on two
recalcitrant administrations by a bipartisan coalition in Congress
responding to grassroots organizing pressure.
The cut-off that most stunned Jakarta was the vote by Congress,
in the fall of 1992, to end the military training that Indonesian
officers received in the United States under the International
Military Education end training program. After a fierce counterattack
by Jakarta and U.S. corporate partners of Suharto, the IMET was
partially restored in 1994 and 1995, as a smaller program called
E-IMET that purported to instruct ABRI in human rights. After
1995 Congress agreed in its foreign aid appropriations bills that
the only training Indonesia could get would be E-IMETstyle classroom
But newly obtained Pentagon documents and interviews with
key U.S. officials indicate that, largely unknown to Congress
and unremarked by the U.S. press, the U.S. military has been trairung
ABRI in a broad array of lethal tactics. This (much of it known
as JCET, or Joint Combined Exchange Training) dwarfs IMET in size
and scope, and is apparently being intensified as the Indonesia
crisis deepens. Unlilce the E-IMET stateside classroom lectures.
this operation has involved at least thirty-six exercises with
fully armed U.S. combat troops flying or sailing into Indonesia.
The US. participants have included Green Berets, Air Force commandos
and Marines. The ABRI trainees have run the gamut from Suharto's
presidential guard to KOSTRAD, the key Army Strabgic Command that
anchors the regime in central Jakarta.
By far the main recipient of the special U.S. training has
been a force legendary for specializing in torture, disappearances
and night raids on civilian homes. Of the twenty-eight Army/ Air
Force exacises known to have been conducted since 1992, Pentagon
documents indicate that twenty have involved the dreaded KOPASSUS
Asked about KOPASSUS, a leading Indonesian human rights monitor
called its work "spying, terror and counter/error,"
meaning that it stages violent provocations. He said KOPASSUS
battalions from Aceh and West Papua were relocated to Jakarta
two months ago and have recently been deployed to contain street
demonstrations along with units of ABRI's regional command. His
group believes that KOPASSUS has two clandestine jails (in Cibubur
and Bogor) for detaining and questioning dissidents they have
abducted and "disappeared." A knowledgeable U.S. official
confirms that KOPASSUS has been implicated in torture and civilian
killings in West Papua, Aceh and occupied East Timor.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that in a forthcoming military
journal article, Brigadier Jim Molan, the Australian defense attache
in Jakarta, will warn (as paraphrased by the Herald ) that his
army's own KOPASSUS training program "risks associating Australia
with human rights abuses." Reached for comment, Molan confirmed
the substance of the piece but said that to learn about KOPASSUS
I should call the U.S. Embassy.
The U.S. exercises for KOPASSUS in the period since the Timor
massacre have included Sniper Level II (1993), Demolitions and
Air Operations (1993) and Close Quarters Combat (1994). The last
of these was perfosmed after the State Department, to stave off
stronger action by Congress, had imposed the ban on the sale of
small asms to Indonesia. Ensuing KOPASSUS sessions covered Special
Air Operations, Air Assaults and Advanced Sniper Techniques.
On July 27, 1996, Jakarta erupted in anti-army riots, after
ABRI-backed paramilitaries raided Megawati Sukarno's headquarters,
leaving at least sixty people listed as missing. In the wake of
that, ABRI launched a crackdown and intimidation campaign against
nongovesnmental organizations. In the midst of it, KOPASSUS and
other units were given training in Psy Ops by a US. team flown
in from Special Operations Command-Pacific.
From then until late 1997 there were seven more KOPASSUS exercises,
one (Mortar training) focwing on the unit of Col. Slamat Sidabutar,
an East Timor occupation commander whose troops have conducted
torture sessions that were photographed and later published abroad.
The U.S. Marines have trained the Indonesian Denjaka Counterterrorism
Force in Demolition and Small Weapons Instruction as well, and
also run a course for the Indonesian First Infantry Bsigade on
Small Boat Operations, Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Raids.
As the financial crisis hit and protest grew last fall, KODAM
Jaya, one of the main antidemonsttation forces, and the Infantty
Training Center received twenty-six days of instruction from the
US. As~ny in Military Operations in Urban Terrain.
Reached by phone at the U.S. Embassy, Col. Bob Humberson,
who coordinates the training programs, said: We want to make sure
they know the right way to do it by minimizing casualties and
with proper treatment of the enemy or unidentified personnel."
Asked what enemy might be found on the urban streets of Indonesia,
he said the training was designed to repe1 "an enemy from
outside." He ended up contending that since some Indonesian
troops had served in Bosnia (with the U.N.), this kind of urban
training would make troops ready for action there. Humberson said
that none of the Urban Terrain schooling had to do with crowd
control and that all the exercises fit the guidelines of the E-IMET
program. His aide, Maj. Rick Thomas, celled the exercises "very
tame" and said all were approved by the State Department.
Thomas estimated tbat for the remainder of 1998 there would be
twenty exercises, including small-scale exchanges of experts.
The US. focus on KOPASSUS seems to be part of a systematic
effort to build it up. It has also camanted links with its recent
commander, Genaal Prabowo. Prabowo is Suharto's son-in-law, the
Indonesian business partner (through his wife) of Merrill Lynch
and one ofthe key sponsors ofthe U.S.-Indonesia Society, an influential
pro-Suharto U.S. ftont group launched in 1994 and backed by ABRI,
U.S. corporations and forma Pentagon, State Department and C.I.A
of officials. Prabawo is also Indonesia's most notorious field
commander. When I first visited East Timor in 1990, he had recently
chaired a meeting in which the army had openly debated whetha
to assassinate future Nobel Peace laureate Bishop Carlos Belo.
Today, Prabowo is the KOSTRAD commanda, an often-touted Suhatto
swcessor and the recipient of a steady stream of high-level U.S.
visitors. Assistant Secretary of State Stanley Roth has dined
frequently with him recently. When Secretary Cohen visited, he
raised eyebrows in Jakarta by going to KOPASSUS headquartas. Spending
tbree hours by Prabawo's side, he watched as the U.S.-trained
killers executed maneuvers for their sponsor from Washington.
Veteran journalist Allan Nairn was bannedf rom Indonesia as
"a threat to national security" after he was fnjured
while anempting h stop the 1991 East Timor massacre. He has since
campaigned against US. support for the Suharto military regime
and is now organizing Justice for All, a grassroots human rights
group. After being turned away at a border crossing in rural Sumatra,
he recently succeeded fn re-entering Indonesia without the army's
knowledge. Research support was provided by the Investigative
Fund of The Nation Institute.