excerpts from the book
The Trial of Henry Kissinger
by Christopher Hitchins
Verso Press, 2001
... on 7 December 1975, when the armed forces of Indonesia crossed
the border of East Timor in strength, eventually proclaiming it
... a full part of Indonesia proper.
Timorese resistance to this claim was so widespread, and the
violence required to impose it was so ruthless and generalized,
that the figure of 100,000 deaths in the first wave - perhaps
one-sixth of the entire population - is reckoned an understatement.
The date of the Indonesian invasion - 7 December 1975 - is
of importance and also of significance. On that date, President
Gerald Ford and his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, concluded
an official visit to Jakarta and flew to Hawaii. Since they had
come fresh from a meeting with Indonesia's military junta, and
since the United States was Indonesia's principal supplier of
military hardware ... it seemed reasonable to inquire whether
the two leaders had given the invaders any impression amounting
to a "green light". Thus when Ford and Kissinger landed
at Hawaii, reporters asked Mr Ford for comment on the invasion
of Timor. The President was evasive.
So gruesome were the subsequent reports of mass slaughter, rape,
and deliberate use of starvation that such bluntness fell somewhat
out of fashion. The killing of several Australian journalists
who had witnessed Indonesia's atrocities, the devastation in the
capital city of Dili, and the stubbornness of FRETILIN's hugely
outgunned rural resistance made East Timor an embarrassment rather
than an advertisement for Jakarta's new order. Kissinger generally
attempted to avoid any discussion of his involvement in the extirpation
of the Timorese - an ongoing involvement, since he authorized
back-door shipments of weapons to those doing the extirpating
- and was ably seconded in this by his ambassador to the United
Nations, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who later confided in his memoir
A Dangerous Place that, in relative terms, the death toll in East
Timor during the initial days of the invasion was "almost
the toll of casualties experienced by the Soviet Union during
the Second World War." Moynihan continued:
The United States wished things to turn out as they did,
and worked to bring this about. The Department of State desired
that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever
measures it undertook. This task was given to me, and I carried
it forward with no inconsiderable success.
Henry Kissinger on a lecture tour for his book Diplomacy,
August 11, 1995, Park Central Hotel in New York, questioned by
investigative reporters Allan Nairn and Amy Goodman:
Allan Nairn: Mr Kissinger, my name is Allan Nairn. I'm a journalist
in the United States. I'm one of the Americans who survived the
massacre in East Timor on November 12, 1991, a massacre during
which Indonesian troops armed with American M-16s gunned down
at least 271 Timorese civilians in front of the Santa Cruz Catholic
cemetery as they were gathered in the act of peaceful mourning
and protest. Now you just said that in your meeting with Suharto
on the afternoon of December 6, 1975, you did not discuss Timor,
you did not discuss it until you came to the airport. Well, I
have here the official State Department transcript of your and
President Ford's conversation with General Suharto, the dictator
of Indonesia. It was obtained through the Freedom of Information
Act. It has been edited under the Freedom of Information Act so
the whole text isn't there. It's clear from the portion of the
text that is here, that in fact you did discuss the impending
invasion of Timor with Suharto, a fact which was confirmed to
me by President Ford himself in an interview I had with him. President
Ford told me that in fact you discussed the impending invasion
of Timor with Suharto and that you gave the US . . .
Kissinger: Who? I or he?
Nairn: That you and President Ford together gave US approval
for the invasion of East Timor. There is another internal State
Department memo which is printed in an extensive excerpt here
which I'll give to anyone in your audience that's interested.
This is a memo of a December 18, 1975, meeting held at the State
Department. This was held right after your return from that trip
and you were berating your staff for having put on paper a finding
by the State Department legal advisor Mr Leigh that the Indonesian
invasion was illegal, that it not only violated international
law, it violated a treaty with the US because US weapons were
used and it's clear from this transcript which I invite anyone
in the audience to peruse that you were angry at them first because
you feared this memo would leak, and second because you were supporting
the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, and you did not want it
known that you were doing this contrary to the advice of your
own people in the State Department. If one looks at the public
actions, sixteen hours after you left that meeting with Suharto
the Indonesian troops began parachuting over Dili, the capital
of East Timor. They came ashore and began the massacres that culminated
in a third of the Timorese population. You announced an immediate
doubling of US military aid to Indonesia at the time, and in the
meantime at the United Nations, the instruction given to Ambassador
Daniel Patrick Moynihan, as he wrote in his memoirs, was to, as
he put it, see to it that the UN be highly ineffective in any
actions it might undertake on East Timor . . .
[shouts from the audience] Kissinger: Look, I think we all
got the point now . . .
Nairn: My question, Mr Kissinger, my question, Dr Kissinger,
is twofold. First will you give a waiver under the Privacy Act
to support full declassification of this memo so we can see exactly
what you and President Ford said to Suharto? Secondly, would you
support the convening of an international war crimes tribunal
under UN supervision on the subject of East Timor and would you
agree to abide by its verdict in regard to your own conduct?
Kissinger I mean, uh, really, this sort of comment is one
of the reasons why the conduct of foreign policy is becoming nearly
impossible under these conditions. Here is a fellow who's got
one obsession, he's got one problem, he collects a bunch of documents,
you don't know what is in these documents . ..
Nairn: I invite your audience to read them.
Kissinger: Well, read them. Uh, the fact is essentially as
I described them [thumps podium]. Timor was not a significant
American policy problem. If Suharto raised it, if Ford said something
that sounded encouraging, it was not a significant American foreign
policy problem. It seemed to us to be an anti-colonial problem
in which the Indonesians were taking over Timor and we had absolutely
no reason at that time to pay any huge attention to it.
Secondly you have to understand these things in the context
of the period. Vietnam had just collapsed. Nobody yet knew what
effect the domino theory would have. Indonesia was . . . is a
country of a population of 160 million and the key, a key country
in Southeast Asia. We were not looking for trouble with Indonesia
and the reason I objected in the State Department to putting this
thing on paper; it wasn't that it was put on paper. It was that
it was circulated to embassies because it was guaranteed to leak
out. It was guaranteed then to lead to some public confrontation
and for better or worse our fundamental position on these human
rights issues was always to try to see if we could discuss them
first, quietly, before they turned into a public confrontation.
This was our policy with respect to emigration from Russia, in
which we turned out to be right, and this was the policy which
we tried to pursue in respect to Indonesia and anybody can go
and find some document and take out one sentence and try to prove
something fundamental and now I think we've heard enough about
Timor. Let's have some questions on some other subject. [applause
Amy Goodman: Dr Kissinger, you said that the United States
has won everything it wanted in the Cold War up to this point.
I wanted to go back to the issue of Indonesia and before there's
a booing in the audience, just to say as you talk about China
and India, Indonesia is the fourth largest country in the world.
And so I wanted to ask the question in a current way about East
Timor. And that is, given what has happened in the twenty years,
the 200,000 people who have been killed, according to Amnesty,
according to Asia Watch, even according to the Indonesian military....
Do you see that as a success of the United States?
Kissinger: No, but I don't think it's an American policy.
We cannot be, we're not responsible for everything that happens
in every place in the world. [applause from audience]
Goodman: Except that 90 percent of the weapons used during
the invasion were from the US and it continues to this day. So
in that way we are intimately connected to Indonesia, unfortunately.
Given that, I was wondering if you think it's a success and whether
too, with you on the board of Freeport McMoRan, which has the
largest gold-mining operation in the world in Indonesia, in Irian
Jaya, are you putting pressure, since Freeport is such a major
lobbyist in Congress on behalf of Indonesia, to change that policy
and to support self-determination for the people of East Timor?
Kissinger: The, uh, the United States as a general proposition
cannot fix every problem on the use of American weapons in purely
civil conflicts. We should do our best to prevent this. As a private
American corporation engaged in private business in an area far
removed from Timor but in Indonesia, I do not believe it is their
job to get itself involved in that issue because if they do, then
no American private enterprise will be welcome there anymore.
Goodman: But they do every day, and lobby Congress.
C. Philip Liechty, a former CIA operations officer in Indonesia:
Suharto was given the green light to do what he did. There
was discussion in the Embassy and in traffic with the State Department
about the problems that would be created for us if the public
and Congress became aware of the level and type of military assistance
that was going to Indonesia at that time. Without continued heavy
US military support the Indonesians might not have been able to
pull it off.
Trial of Henry Kissinger