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  Print view: Washington Backing Indonesian State Terror

Washington Backing Indonesian State Terror

by Stephen Lendman
Tuesday, 16 November 2010
The Obama administration's rationale for restoring aid was fighting terrorism. Documents, however, show that security forces commit state terrorism, mainly activist civilians and separatists wanting freedom and independence.

An earlier article said it was expected. It discussed Indonesia's National Armed Forces (TNI), especially its thuggish Kopassus Special Forces Command, its red beret unit responsible for political killings, torture, rape, and massacres of hundreds of thousands of civilians in East Timor, Aceh, Papua, and elsewhere in the country.

TNI aid was restricted following a November 12, 1991 Santa Cruz cemetery massacre of over 270 demonstrators in Dili, East Timor. In July, it was restored, a July 22 East Timor Action Network (ETAN) press release "condemn(ing) the Obama administration's decision to resume engagement with Indonesia's notorious Kopassus special forces," ETAN's National Coordinator, John Miller, saying:

"Slipping back into bed with Kopassas is a betrayal of the brutal unit's many victims in Timor-Leste (East Timor), West Papua and throughout Indonesia. It will lead to more people (suffering) abuses. Working with Kopassus which remains unrepentant about its long history of terrorizing civilians, will undermine efforts to achieve justice and accountability for human rights in Indonesia and Timor-Leste."

"For years, the US military provided training and other assistance to (TNI and its infamous) Kopassus, and when the US was most involved, Kopassus crimes were at their worst. While this assistance improved (TNI's) deadly skills, it did nothing to improve its behavior."

Yet Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Washington "will begin a gradual, limited program of security cooperation activities," a veiled assurance of business as usual. It's no surprise as CIA armies, US Special Forces, and other military units replicate the worst of Kopassus manyfold.

Kopassus terrorizes Indonesia. America does it globally, a record no other country approaches.

A Snapshot of Kopassus Terror

Since formed in 1952, its record includes kidnappings, rape, torture, targeted killings, sweeping violence, mass murder, and other atrocities against anyone supporting independence or challenging state authority. A June 2009 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report reviewed Kopassus abuses titled, "What Did I Do Wrong? It discussed "frequent brutality against ordinary Papuans," including:

  • ordinary people arrested without legal authority;
  • in Kopassus barracks, they were beaten and otherwise mistreated, one former detainee saying:
    "They stripped us down to just our underwear. They immediately beat us, without saying anything. They used a water hose. They beat us till we bled and had cuts....They kicked me in the chest with their boots, an officer shout(ing) 'You Papuans, one single Kopassus soldier can kill you like chickens.' "

Similar abuses are replicated across Indonesia, including in Jakarta, the capital, Kopassus operating with impunity. One detainee was savagely beaten after asking "What did I do wrong?" Another said he was kicked and beaten all night until morning. He asked the same question. So did others. HRW presented case studies of extreme abuse and mistreatment, against "rebels, "separatists," and "ordinary members of the population," some seized randomly. Others in detention never returned.

A November West Papua Report provides video evidence of Kopassus torturing Papuan civilians. In response, the Yudhoyono government said security forces will investigate themselves. Washington downplayed the evidence. ETAN explained that within days of the video's release, "a massive cyber attack took down many of the international NGO websites" that posted the footage. Clearly, a government agency was responsible.

Another incident showed Kopassus burning a Papuan village. The West Papuan Advocacy Team (WPAT) criticized Washington's "limp" response, including downplaying clear evidence of torture and resisting calls for accountability and ending appalling atrocities. This "demonstrates an even greater willingness than the Bush and Clinton administrations to provide diplomatic cover for human rights violations by" Kopassus.

For example, video evidence showed a burning ember applied to a man's genitals, then suffocating him, while a knife was held to his face and throat. Another man was stabbed to death, video showing his agonizing last minutes during which Kopassus taunted him before inflicting a death wound.

For many years, Indonesian security forces have tortured, robbed, and murdered Papuans, their homes, gardens, other property, and livestock then torched. Thousands fled to forests and died of starvation. Others were shot dead before they could escape.

ETAN expressed outrage that:

"The Obama Administration, rather than simply condemning the torture of Papuans by Indonesian security personnel....suggested a specious silver lining - prais(ing) Indonesia for its upfront approach," for acknowledging some abuses, but saying they "would not affect military ties, which form one component of a comprehensive partnership agreement President Obama (solidified) in Jakarta."

In late October, ahead of his arrival, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Bob Scher told the Singapore Straits Times that "The TNI has made great strides in addressing human rights issues and accountability." He also defended the administration's decision to resume close ties with Kopassus, including providing military aid.

In fact, Kopassus abuses never stopped, including in Papua against independence movement (OPM) separatists and others challenging government authority. Among them, ETAN lists the following outstanding cases:

  1. During pro-democracy activism leading up to President's Suharto's 1998 ouster, students were intimidated, beaten, disappeared, and never found.
  2. "Until September 1999, Kopassus routinely engaged in torture, rape and murder in East Timor," and trained its militia affiliates to conduct similar activities, including widespread murder.
  3. In 2001, Kopassus kidnapped and murdered Theys Eluay, Papua's most prominent leader. In 2004, four of its forces were convicted in a military court, got light 42 month sentences (likely shortened by early releases), and their superiors were absolved.
  4. In Aceh, Kopassus also engaged in torture, targeted killings, and other abuses up to and after the 2005 peace agreement between pro-independence forces (GAM) and the government.

The US State Department compiled its own Kopassus violation list, including:

  • ongoing Papua abuses;
  • targeting Pastor Johanes Djonga for speaking out against Papua human rights and political abuses; in August 2007, he was threatened with death and burial "in a 700-meter-deep gorge;"
  • on October 18, 2007, Kopassus beat Charles Tafor, head of Papua's Arso district;
  • in 2005, its forces killed two men and injured another in Bireuen, Aceh;
  • in July 2003, an unidentified Acehnese man was arrested, then tortured by beatings and electric shocks;
  • in July 2002, the West Papuan human rights group ELSHAM reported a series of logging-relating human rights abuses (including beatings) committed from February to June 2002;
  • in March 2002, Kopassus detained and tortured Koes Sofyan, a human rights activist, for nearly three months;
  • in June 2001, they kidnapped Hubertus Wresman, a Sunday school teacher, in the middle of the night from his home; his uncle, Gaspar Wespar was beaten when inquiring of his whereabouts, later disappeared, and neither man again surfaced; and
  • numerous Kopassus East Timor, Sumatra and Java abuses were listed, including torture and murder.

The State Department also documented human rights abuses committed by Brimob, Indonesia's National Police operations force unit, its mobile brigade, notorious for the same atrocities as Kopassus.

Secret Kopassus Files Revealed

On November 9, Allan Nairn headlined, "Breaking News: Secret Files Show Kopassus, Indonesia's Special Forces, Targets Papuan Churches, Civilians. Documents Leak from Notorious US-Backed Unit as Obama Lands in Indonesia." For his full account, just click here.

Materials "include a Kopassus enemies list headed by Papua's top Baptist minister and describe a covert network of surveillance, infiltration and disruption of Papuan institutions."

Classified "SECRET (RAHASIA)," detailed backgrounds on civilian targets are given. More releases are coming. Ones available are for Papua, where Kopassus murdered "tens of thousands of civilians."

A secret 25-page report calls civilian separatists and their top 15 leaders Kopassus' main enemy - separatists, GSP/P, including the head of Papua's Baptist Synod, evangelical ministers, activists, traditional leaders, legislators, students, intellectuals, the head of the Papua Muslim Youth organization, and others.

The report says Kopassus commits kidnappings and murders against people called the enemy. A "State of the enemy" discussion identifies two subversive activities:

  • "the holding of press conferences (that) always criticize the government and the work being done by the security forces;" and
  • private meetings for the same purposes.

The Obama administration's rationale for restoring aid was fighting terrorism. Documents, however, show that security forces commit state terrorism, mainly activist civilians and separatists wanting freedom and independence. Himself a target, Reverend Giay said Washington believes "it's OK to kill pastors and burn churches since the churches are separatist." He compared Papua TNI/Kopassus abuses to earlier ones in East Timor and the Malukus where "they created this conflict between Muslims and Christians" for more funding and power.

Documents also show "Kopassus indeed penetrates most every part of popular life," using undercover officers and "a small army of non-TNI 'agents' - real people with real lives and identities, who are bought, coerced or recruited into working covertly." They support the common view that "you rarely know who is Kopassus. So best watch what you say if you care for safety, especially if what you say is 'freedom.' "

On November 9, Democracy Now interviewed Nairn, commenting on Obama's Indonesia visit and released Kopassus documents on his web site. He called West Papua under "de facto occupation. It became part of Indonesia through a dirty deal among the UN, the Dutch and the US. It was basically absorbed against the will of the Papuans."

The released documents show opposition to occupation. Papuans want freedom, but those saying it become enemies, targeted for removal. Yet Obama said TNI/Kopassus were reforming, cleaning up their act. It's patently false. The same East Timor/Aceh abusers are there, now promoted.

"For example, the person who now runs the Indonesian Defense Ministry - the number two, but he really runs it - is an old Kopassus general, Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin, who was indicted for war crimes in East Timor - according to witnesses, was personally involved in executions."

Indonesia's President Yudhoyono appointed him, another touted reformer. Yet Kopassus, TNI and other security forces routinely kidnap, torture and kill. They conduct military sweeps, making arrests, burn villages, and murder civilians.

Munir Thalib, a man Nairn called outspoken, tough, brilliant, a good friend, and fearless human rights activist was murdered. Others like him as well as ordinary people are targeted, Kopassus single-mindedly turning a blind eye to reform, but, nonetheless, got military aid restored showing Washington supports their abuses, the same ones it commits globally.

Stephen Lendman

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at His blog is

Listen to Lendman's cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

Mr. Lendman's stories are republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.

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This story was published on November 16, 2010.

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