School Ties

What are Indonesia's Special Forces doing in Vermont?

by Terry J. Allen

In These Times magazine, October 1999


Quietly tucked away in the Vermont hills, the only private military college in the country has been educating and training current and future members of the Indonesian army. During homecoming week at Norwich University, parents strolled the bucolic campus, crimson leaves glistening in the bright fall sunshine. A world away, that same hue ran in the streets of East Timor.

The Norwich program, which includes both undergraduate and graduate military training, was arranged in 1997 by high-ranking Indonesian military officers suspected of committing crimes against humanity in East Timor. One general was head of Indonesia's repressive intelligence apparatus; the other gave the shoot-to-kill order in a 1989 massacre and has publicly supported the creation of civilian militias in Indonesia.

In 1997, 12 Indonesian undergraduates and 10 graduate students entered Norwich. They were selected "by the Indonesian Embassy in Washington" and paid for "with funds wired by order of the military attaché," says Thomas Greene, director of public relations at Norwich. The Indonesians presented a list of students; Norwich accepted all of them. At least 11 of them listed the same billing address: the headquarters of Kopassus, Indonesia's notorious special forces.

Ostensibly civilians, the undergrads who enrolled in the 4-year, ROTC-linked "corps of cadets" program are obligated to serve six years in the Indonesian military after graduation. Most of the Indonesian graduate students-active-duty officers in the Indonesian army, with ranks from first lieutenant to major-graduated last spring with master's degrees in military science and diplomacy and returned home. At least four went to East Timor.

By Sept. 10, at the height of the slaughter in East Timor, as many as 25,000 Indonesian soldiers and police officers were stationed in the territory, which had a population of 800,000. According to the United Nations, at least 7,000 East Timorese died and 400,000 were displaced before the Australian-led peacekeeping force landed in mid-September; a handful of police, military or militia soldiers was killed.

The university claims that its former students were "serving under the United Nations flag." "l do not even imagine what they were talking about," responds Manuel de Almeida e Silva, a U.N. spokesman. "There is no room for confusion: No Indonesian troops served under the U.N. flag."

Why Norwich? For the Indonesian military, training in America is a priority. "It is a sign of legitimacy, and for Indonesian officers, it enhances their prestige, and gives them extra clout," says journalist Allan Nairn, a long-time critic of Jakarta, who was recently deported after entering East Timor to cover the atrocities. "They want and need U.S. connections."

Richard Hansen, senior vice president of Norwich, agrees that the U.S. connection is important to the school's foreign students. "They are going to get to know future U.S. generals, perhaps, and so will Americans get to know them. In the long run, the relationships will be important."

For Norwich, which has been training foreigners since the l9th century, the partnership represents a commitment to spreading U.S. values. It is also profitable. The school's 90 percent acceptance rate is evidence of its small pool of potential applicants, who are attracted by an aggressive recruitment program. At about $20,000 per student, the small university with 1,600 students at the Northfield campus has reaped hundreds of thousands of dollars from its arrangement with Indonesia.

University President Richard W. Schneider says he was unaware that 11 of the 13 Indonesian undergraduates enrolled at Norwich this year list the same billing address for their tuition: Makopassus Citanjung, Jakarta, the headquarters of Kopassus. This elite unit-which for years has been accused of torture and conducting covert psychological warfare-played an especially brutal role in East Timor. "Kopassus troops were unquestionably the most feared, most hated and most abusive of all Indonesian units in East Timor," says Sidney Jones of Human Rights Watch.

However, Norwich University's links with | Kopassus and the most repressive elements of the Indonesian army go even deeper. The Norwich-lndonesia program was established after a 1997 trip to Jakarta by Norwich | President Thomas W. Schneider and Fariborz Mukthari, an Iranian-bom profes- | sor who once served in the Shah's army.

There, they met with high-ranking military | officials, including Major General Zacky Anwar Makarim (known as "Zacky") and Gen. A.M. Hendropriyono. In September of | that year, the two generals separately visited Norwich to inspect the training program; Hendropriyono, whose son-in-law was enrolled at the school, braved the Vermont winter for another visit in December.

Zacky, a member of Kopassus and former head of Indonesian intelligence, played a major role in the orchestrated devastation and rampant human rights abuses in East Timor. Western diplomats put Zacky's name high on the list of those under investigation for crimes against humanity. According to the Far Eastern Economic Review, Zacky, "probably the country's most experienced covert operative, and two other senior intelligence officers, are widely believed to have had a role in setting up the network [and] organizing the militias" in East Timor.

Tomas Goncalves, a defector now in Macao who was a coordinator of a pro-Jakarta militia group in Dili, told the South China Morning Post he attended planning meetings with high military leaders in March in Jakarta and Dili. The meetings outlined a plan to depopulate East Timor once it became clear that the U.N.-organized referendum would be won by supporters of independence. Goncalves said that the operation was run by Kopassus officers under Zacky's command.

Similarly, in September the Times of London reported that the Indonesian military plotted to use the militias to kill independence advocates and their families as well as to assassinate Catholic clergy and nuns. "The plan, which was coordinated by military intelligence, was under the direction of General [Zacky]," wrote the Times. "While helping to turn East Timor into a wasteland, [Zacky] was liaising with the United Nations Mission in East Timor and would have had detailed access to the U.N.'s plans." (It was during this period that Norwich were serving in East Timor "under the U.N. flag.")

Zacky left his position in East Timor on Aug. 28, two days before the Aug. 30 vote, in which more than 78.5 percent of the population voted for independence. The militia violence that exploded after announcement of the results was initially attributed to independent, rogue elements engaged in a Somalia-type civil war. It soon became apparent, however, that the militias were largely organized and controlled by the military. In many cases, soldiers switched uniforms as needed. One man arrested by Australian troops, and identified later as a militia platoon commander, carried a picture of himself wearing the distinctive uniform of the Kopassus special forces.

The other man who visited Norwich was Hendropriyono, one of the country's "most openly ruthless officers," in the words of Nairn. Nicknamed "The Butcher of Lampung," troops in Indonesia's Lampung Province under his command in 1989 opened fire on a Muslim school and massacred an estimated 100 people. A former Kopassus officer and chief of the Jakarta Military Command, Hendropriyono was minister for Transmigration and Resettlement until Sept. 27. In this capacity, he oversaw the establishment of camps and the forced resettlement of some 200,000 East Timorese refugees to various Indonesian islands.

Hendropriyono also played a key role in the formation of the country's militias. As far back as December 1998, according to the Jakarta Post, he promoted a plan to establish and arm civilian militias and give them their own uniforms and ranks. "Security is important," he told reporters. "Security can only be guaranteed if people protect their own property and uphold democracy. The civilian militia would be a multipurpose organization because it could be used to handle anarchic situations and unrest." The militias in East Timor were a separate operation, but surely drew on Hendropriyono's model.

Schneider says he knew nothing about the background or current activities of either Zacky or Hendropiyono. But when he went to Jakarta, he was impressed by the openness of the officials he met and by the progress the Suharto regime had made. "They were intrigued that we were a private university," he says. "And the fact that a dictator would invite us was encouraging. They would have a chance to become Westernized and get their act together."

On learning that the students' bills were sent to Kopassus headquarters, Schneider commented that the information wouldn't have deterred him from accepting them. "Education is the solution to the world's problems," he says. "We would take Communist students from Red China. What better way to teach them that their system is screwed up?"

While Schneider hopes that these military-to-military contacts will spread U.S. values and deter human rights abuses, lowa Sen. Tom Harkin is less sanguine. "I have seen no evidence in my 24 years in Congress," he recently told the New York Times, "of one instance, where because of American military involvement with another military, that the Americans have stopped that foreign army from carrying out atrocities against their own people."

In addition to the belief that the school can be a force for good, Norwich spokesman Thomas Greene argues that turning down the Indonesian program would amount to discrimination. "Schools should not be in the business of making arbitrary judgments, because to do so is a slippery slope," he says. While contending that Indonesian applicants have to "meet the same criteria as other students," Greene acknowledges that the only real measurement is their English language ability and that none of the candidates proposed by Indonesia was rejected.

The federal military colleges-West Point, Annapolis and the Air Force Academy-on the other hand, acting on instructions from the State and Defense departments, are "not inviting" Indonesian students to apply for the classes of 2003 and 2004. A Defense Department spokesman cites human rights concerns. On average, these academies turn down about 90 percent of foreign applicants. Schneider responds that the situations are not parallel since Norwich is primarily an educational institution rather than specifically a military-training facility.

While Norwich is certainly not as prestigious as West Point or state schools such as The Citadel and the Virginia Military Institute, it offers several advantages to certain applicants, the first being its willingness to accept a block of students without asking too many questions. It's hard to imagine the other academies rubber stamping a group of students selected by a foreign government.

Norwich also offers relative obscurity. Who would think a general under suspicion of crimes against humanity, the head of a repressive foreign intelligence apparatus, and young men who are part of (or training to enter) an army notorious for its massacres would be strolling around the gentle village of Northfield, Vermont? "If a program this large and involved with Indonesian government institutions had been anywhere else," Nairn says. "It would have gotten more attention from Congress and perhaps would have been shut down."

It may soon get that attention. Vermont's Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy has been particularly vociferous in condemning Indonesian repression and putting forward legislation to curtail America's facilitation of the continuing abuses. "The only U.S. government-funded training of Indonesian forces in this country is limited to a certain type of training: non-combat, human rights, management of defense resources, medical assistance, language," says Tim Rieser, Leahy's foreign policy aide. "And now it is no longer doing even that kind of training."

On Sept. 10, President Clinton effectively froze all relations with the Indonesian military, including commercial arms sales. But Norwich argues that restrictions on training are irrelevant to the school. "This isn't the U.S. army," Hansen says. "It's not a government operation. Not a federal agency."

Although private, as a tax-exempt educational institution, Norwich is in effect subsidized by federal, state and local governments. More specifically, according to its literature, the college accepts federal funds in the form of Pell grants, Federal Supplemental Education assistance, college work study programs, and Perkins, Stafford and PLUS loans. "Since Norwich receives federal funds," Rieser says, "one could argue that the U.S. government is subsidizing the training of future Indonesian soldiers."

Furthermore, Rieser says, a law sponsored by Leahy that passed in 1998 prohibits federal assistance or military training from "going to any unit of security forces if the Secretary of State has credible evidence that any member of a unit has committed gross violations of human rights." Kopassus clearly falls under that ban. And given the close relationship between the school and the Indonesian generals, the evidence that the program is funded by the military, and the fact that the home address of 11 current students is Kopassus headquarters, the Norwich program, if not strictly illegal, Rieser adds, "may be inconsistent with President Clinton's order ending cooperation with the Indonesian military."

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