East Timor got US’s $1 bn
President defied Congress embargo and world bodies’ resolutions
It is not easy to write with feigned calm and dispassion about the
events that have been unfolding in East Timor. Horror and shame are compounded
by the fact that the crimes are so familiar and could so easily have been
terminated by the international community a long time ago.
Indonesia invaded the territory in December 1975, relying on United
States diplomatic support and arms, used illegally, but with secret authorisation
from Washington; there were even new arms shipments sent under the cover
of an official "embargo".
There was no need to threaten bombing or even sanctions. It would
have sufficed for the US and its allies to withdraw their active participation,
and inform their close associates in the Indonesian military command that
the atrocities must be terminated and the territory granted the right of
self-determination that has been upheld by the United Nations and the
International Court of Justice.
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We cannot undo the past, but we should at least be willing
to recognise what we have done, and face the moral responsibility of saving
the remnants and providing ample reparations - a small gesture of compensation
for terrible crimes.
"Hypocrisy of the West -- East Timor, horror and amnesia"
Professor NOAM CHOMSKY, of the United States
The latest chapter in this painful story of betrayal and complicity
opened right after the referendum of 30 August 1999 when the population voted
overwhelmingly for independence. At once, atrocities mounted sharply, organised
and directed by the Indonesian army. The UN mission (Unamet) gave its appraisal
on 11 September: "The evidence for a direct link between the militia and
the military is beyond dispute and has been overwhelmingly documented by
Unamet over the last four months. But the scale and thoroughness of the
destruction of East Timor in the past week has demonstrated a new level of
open participation of the military in the implementation of what was previously
a more veiled operation."
The mission warned that "the worst may be yet to come... It cannot
be ruled out that these are the first stages of a genocidal campaign to stamp
out the East Timorese problem by force" (1).
John Roosa, historian on Indonesia and official observer of the vote,
described the situation starkly: "Given that the pogrom was so predictable,
it was easily preventable... But in the weeks before the ballot, the Clinton
Administration refused to discuss with Australia and other countries the
formation (of an international force). Even after the violence erupted, the
administration dithered for days" (2). Finally it was compelled by
international (primarily Australian) and domestic pressure to make some timid
gestures. Even these ambiguous messages sufficed to induce the Indonesian
generals to reverse course and accept an international presence.
While President Clinton "dithered," almost half the population were
expelled from their homes, according to UN estimates, and thousands murdered
(3). The air force that was able to carry out pin-point destruction of civilian
targets in Novi Sad, Belgrade and Ponceva lacked the capacity to drop food
to people facing starvation in the mountains to which they had been driven
by the terror of the Indonesian forces, armed and trained by the US and its
no less cynical allies.
The recent events will evoke bitter memories among those who do not
take refuge, like the so-called international community, in "intentional
ignorance". We are witnessing a shameful replay of events of 20 years
After carrying out a huge slaughter in 1977-78 with the decisive support
of the Carter Administration, Indonesia felt confident enough to permit a
brief visit by members of the Jakarta diplomatic corps, among them the US
ambassador, Edward Masters. They recognised that an enormous humanitarian
catastrophe had been created. The aftermath was described by Benedict Anderson,
one of the most distinguished scholars on Indonesia. Anderson testified before
the UN that "For nine long months" of starvation and terror, "Ambassador
Masters deliberately refrained, even within the walls of the State Department,
from proposing humanitarian aid to East Timor." /more
"Hypocrisy of the West: East Timor, horror and amnesia," by Noam Chomsky, October 1999
©1999 Le Monde diplomatique
He was waiting "until the generals in Jakarta gave him the green light"
-- until, as an internal State Department document recorded, they felt "secure
enough to permit foreign visitors" (4).
|Almost a quarter of century has elapsed between 7 December 1975,
the day Indonesia invaded and annexed East Timor, and the referendum of 30
August 1999 in which 78.5% of the population called for independence. Two
hundred thousand Timorese died during this forced "integration" while the
world community looked the other way. The fall of Suharto cleared the way
for change, with Jakarta finally agreeing to the referendum -- but preparing
to meet a vote for independence with repression. On 20 September the United
Nations finally sent in a multinational force (Interfet) under Australian
command. This cannot deal with the problem of the 300,000 Timorese deported
to West Timor nor bring the torturers before an international tribunal. Nor
should it make us forget the West's 25-year complicity with the Jakarta
One gruesome illustration of US complicity was the coup that brought
General Suharto to power in 1965. Army-led massacres slaughtered hundreds
of thousands in a few months, mostly landless peasants. The powerful communist
party was destroyed. The achievement elicited unrestrained euphoria in the
West and fulsome praise for the Indonesian "moderates",
Suharto and his military accomplices, who had cleansed society and
opened it to foreign plunder. Robert McNamara, then Secretary of Defence,
informed Congress that US military aid and training had "paid dividends"
-- including half a million corpses. A congressional report concluded they
were "enormous dividends". McNamara informed President Johnson that that
US military assistance "encouraged (the army) to move against the Communist
party when the opportunity was presented." Contacts with Indonesian military
officers, including university programmes, were "very significant factors
in determining the favourable orientation of the new Indonesian political
elite" - the army (5).
So matters continued during 35 years of intensive military aid, training,
and communication. As Indonesian troops and their back-ups were burning Dili,
and the killings and destruction had reached new heights, the Pentagon announced
that a US-Indonesian "training exercise" on rescue and humanitarian actions
in disaster situations had ended on 25 August (6), five days before the
referendum. The lessons of this co-operation were rapidly put into
A few months earlier, shortly after the massacre of dozens of refugees
who had taken shelter in a church in Liquica, Admiral Dennis Blair, the US
Pacific Commander, had assured General Wiranto, head of the Indonesian armed
forces and defence minister, of US support and assistance, proposing a new
US training mission (7).
The degree of co-operation between Washington and Jakarta is
impressive. US weapons sales to Indonesia amount to over $1 billion since
the 1975 invasion. Military aid during the Clinton years is about $150 million,
and in 1997 the Pentagon was still training Kopassus units (see article by
Romain Bertrand), in violation of the intent of congressional
In the face of this record, the US government lauded "the value of
the years of training given to Indonesia's future military leaders in the
US and the millions of dollars in military aid for Indonesia" (8).
The reasons for the disgraceful record have sometimes been honestly
recognised. During the latest phase of atrocities, a senior diplomat in Jakarta
described "the dilemma" faced by the great powers: "Indonesia matters and
East Timor doesn't" (9). It was therefore understandable that Washington
should keep to ineffectual gestures of disapproval while insisting that internal
security in East Timor was "the responsibility of the government of Indonesia,
and we don't want to take that responsibility away from them". This official
stance, reaffirmed a few days before the August referendum, was repeated
and maintained in full knowledge of how that "responsibility" had been carried
The reasoning of the senior diplomat was spelled out more fully by
two Asia specialists from the New York Times. The Clinton Administration,
they wrote, "has made the calculation that the United States must put
its relationship with Indonesia, a mineral-rich nation of more than 200 million
people, ahead of its concern over the political fate of East Timor, a tiny
impoverished territory of 800,000 people that is seeking independence."
The Washington Post quoted Douglas Paal, president of the Asia
Pacific Policy Centre, describing the facts of life: "Timor is a speed
bump on the road to dealing with Jakarta, and we've got to get over it safely.
Indonesia is such a big place and so central to the stability of the region"
In the rhetoric of official Washington, "We don't have a dog running
in the East Timor race". Accordingly, what happens there is not US
But after intensive Australian pressure, the calculations shifted.
A senior government official concluded: "We have a very big dog running down
there called Australia and we have to support it" (12). The survivors of
US-backed crimes in a "tiny impoverished territory" are not even a "small
The guiding principles were articulated in 1978, three years after
Indonesia's invasion of East Timor, by Washington's ambassador to the UN,
Daniel Patrick Moynihan. His words should be committed to memory by anyone
with a serious interest in international affairs, human rights, and the rule
of law. In his memoirs, Moynihan wrote: "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" (13).
Success was indeed considerable. Moynihan cited reports that within
two months some 60,000 people had been killed: "10 percent of the population,
almost the proportion of casualties experienced by the Soviet Union during
the second world war". A sign of the success, he added, was that within a
year "the subject disappeared from the press." So it did, as the invaders
intensified their assault.
Atrocities peaked in 1977-78. Relying on a new flow of advanced military
equipment from the Carter Administration -- with its emphasis on human rights
-- the Indonesian military carried out a devastating attack against the hundreds
of thousands who had fled to the mountains, driving the survivors to Indonesian
control. It was then that highly credible Church sources in East Timor sought
to make public the estimates of 200,000 deaths -- long denied, but now at
last accepted. As the slaughter reached near-genocidal levels, Britain
and France joined in, along with other powers, providing diplomatic support
and even arms.
This year opened with a moment of hope. Indonesia's interim president,
B. J. Habibie, had called for a referendum with a choice between incorporation
within Indonesia ("autonomy") or independence. The army moved at once to
prevent this outcome by terror and intimidation. In the months leading to
the August referendum, 3,000 to 5,000 were killed (14) - a far larger order
of magnitude of deaths than that cited by Nato (2,000) in the year leading
up to the bombing in Kosovo.
Braving violence and threats, almost the entire population voted,
many emerging from hiding to do so. Close to 80% chose independence. Then
followed the latest phase of atrocities by the Indonesian army in an effort
to reverse the outcome by slaughter and expulsion. Much of the country was
reduced to ashes. Within two weeks more than 10,000 people may have been
killed, according to Bishop Carlos Filipe Belo, the Nobel Peace laureate
(see article by Sylvain Desmille). The bishop was driven from his country
under a hail of bullets, his house burned down, and the refugees sheltering
there dispatched to an uncertain fate (15).
Even before Habibie's surprise call for a referendum, the army anticipated
threats to its rule, including its control over East Timor's resources, and
undertook careful planning with "the aim, quite simply, ... to destroy a
nation". The plans were known to Western intelligence. The army recruited
thousands of West Timorese and brought in forces from Java. More ominously,
the military command sent units of its dreaded US-trained Kopassus special
forces, and, as senior military adviser, General Makarim, a US-trained
intelligence specialist with experience in East Timor and "a reputation for
callous violence" (16).
Terror and destruction began early in the year. The army forces
responsible have been described as "rogue elements" in the West. There is
good reason, however, to accept Bishop Belo's assignment of direct responsibility
to General Wiranto (17). It appears that the militias have been managed by
elite units of Kopassus, the "crack special forces unit" that had, according
to veteran Asia correspondent David Jenkins, "been training regularly with
US and Australian forces until their behaviour became too much of an
embarrassment for their foreign friends" (18).
These forces adopted the tactics of the US Phoenix programme in the
Vietnam war, that killed tens of thousands of peasants and much of the indigenous
South Vietnamese leadership, Jenkins writes, as well as "the tactics employed
by the Contras" in Nicaragua. The state terrorists were "not simply going
after the most radical pro-independence people, but going after the moderates,
the people who have influence in their community."
Well before the referendum, the commander of the Indonesian military
in Dili, Colonel Tono Suratman, warned of what was to come: "If the
pro-independents do win ... all will be destroyed... It will be worse than
23 years ago" (19). An army document of early May, when
international agreement on the referendum was reached, ordered that "Massacres
should be carried out from village to village after the announcement of the
ballot if the pro-independence supporters win." The independence movement
"should be eliminated from its leadership down to its roots" (20). Citing
diplomatic, church and militia sources, the Australian press reported "that
hundreds of modern assault rifles, grenades and mortars are being stockpiled,
ready for use if the autonomy option is rejected at the ballot box"
All of this was understood by Indonesia's "foreign friends", who also
knew how to bring the terror to an end, but preferred evasive and ambiguous
reactions that the Indonesian generals could easily interpret as a "green
light" to carry out their work.
The sordid history must be viewed against the background of US-Indonesia
relations in the post-war era (22). The rich resources of the archipelago,
and its critical strategic location, guaranteed it a central role in US global
planning. These factors lie behind US efforts 40 years ago to dismantle
Indonesia, perceived as too independent and too democratic -- even permitting
participation of the poor peasants. These factors account for Western support
for the regime of killers and torturers who emerged from the 1965 coup. Their
achievements were seen as a vindication of Washington's wars in Indochina,
motivated in large part by concerns that the "virus" of independent nationalism
might "infect" Indonesia, to use Kissinger-like rhetoric.
Surely we should by now be willing to cast aside mythology and face
the causes and consequences of our actions, and not only in East Timor. In
that tortured corner of the world there is still time, though precious little
time, to prevent a hideous conclusion to one of the most appalling tragedies
of the terrible century that is winding to a horrifying, wrenching close.
(1) Report of the Security Council Mission to Jakarta and Dili, 8
to 12 September 1999.
(2) New York Times, 15 September 1999.
(3) Boston Globe, 15 September 1999.
(4) Benedict Anderson, Statement before the Fourth Committee of the UN General
Assembly, 20 October 1980. See also Noam Chomsky, Towards a New Cold
War, Pantheon, New York, 1982.
(5) For review and sources, see Noam Chomsky, Year 501, South End, Boston,
(6) AP on line, 8 September 1999.
(7) The Nation, New York, 27 September 1999.
(8) New York Times, 14 September 1999.
(9) Financial Times, London, 8 September 1999; Christian Science
Monitor, Boston, 14 September 1999.
(10) Sydney Morning Herald, 25 August 1999, citing State Department
spokesman James Foley. Defence Secretary William Cohen, press briefing, 8
(11) Elizabeth Becker and Philip Shenon, New York Times, 9 September
1999. Steven Mufson, Washington Post, 9 September 1999.
(12) Australian Financial Review, Sydney, 13 September 1999.
(13) Daniel Patrick Moynihan, A Dangerous Place, Little Brown, Boston,
(14) Washington Post, 5 September 1999.
(15) New York Times, 13 September 1999.
(16) The Observer, London, 13 September 1999.
(17) Shenon, op. cit.
(18) Sydney Morning Herald, 8 July 1999.
(19) Australian Financial Review, 14 August 1999.
(20) The Observer, op. cit.
(21) Sydney Morning Herald, 26 July 1999.
(22) See Noam Chomsky, "Indonesia, master card in Washington's hand",
Le Monde diplomatique, English Internet edition, June 1998,
English print edition, September 1998.
Original text in English -- "HYPOCRISY OF THE WEST: East Timor, horror
and amnesia," by NOAM CHOMSKY, October 1999; Professor at Massachussetts
Institute of Technology, Boston. He has just published The New Military
Humanism: Lessons from Kosovo, Common Courage Press, Monroe.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED © 1999 Le Monde diplomatique
for paid subscribers.
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