Subject: WP: No Retreating on Indonesia

Letter to editor from Senator Leahy in response to Washington Post editorial on U.S.-Indonesia military relations. Original editorial follows letter.

No Retreating on Indonesia

The Feb. 8 editorial "Next Step With Indonesia" appears to argue that because Indonesia let U.S. soldiers help clean up after the tsunami, the United States should drop its requirement that the Indonesian military cooperate with the FBI's investigation of the August 2002 murder of two Americans and one Indonesian.

Perhaps The Post's argument is based on a mistaken understanding of U.S. law. Contrary to the assertion that "most" military training "has been suspended," the Indonesian military is participating in the types of U.S. training activities and exercises that the Pentagon wants it to receive, through the Counterterrorism Fellowship Program, the Expanded International Military Education and Training Program, and the Theater Security Cooperation Program. Its inability to participate in the one training program covered by our law is symbolic. But symbols are important in Indonesia, especially when justice is involved, and human rights and justice are values that our nation strives to uphold and promote at home and abroad, as President Bush declared in his inaugural address.

Indonesia is a proud Muslim democracy facing immense challenges. We should work with reformist President Bambang Yudhoyono and Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono. But it is in the interests of both our countries that the rule of law is respected, and that the Indonesian military officers responsible for heinous crimes be prosecuted and punished.

-- Patrick Leahy


The writer is a Democratic senator from Vermont.

Original Editorial: Washington Post

Next Step With Indonesia

Tuesday, February 8, 2005; Page A22

AS THE AIRCRAFT carrier USS Abraham Lincoln departed Indonesia last week, the massive aid operation mounted by the U.S. military after December's tsunami appeared to have paid off, both in saving lives and in bolstering U.S. relations with the world's largest Muslim country. The vital role played by the planes and helicopters, Navy ships and 15,000 troops dispatched by the Pentagon to the wrecked shores of the province of Aceh won recognition in a country where anti-American feeling has been running high. "The U.S. military . . . has been the backbone of the logistical operations providing assistance to all afflicted after the disaster," said Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono.

The positive feeling has given new life to an old question: Should the United States restore full military relations with Indonesia? Mr. Juwono has appealed for closer cooperation; senior Bush administration officials sympathize. Quite apart from the needs created by the disaster, a review by the administration and Congress is overdue. Most U.S. military training for Indonesia, as well as arms sales, has been suspended since 1992 because of the Indonesian military's record of human rights violations. Congress imposed restrictions on lifting the ban in 1999 and 2003.

The congressional limits came at a time when the Indonesian army was unrestrained by weak civilian rulers and stood accused of serious human rights crimes in the breakaway province of East Timor. Since then the army has waged another ruthless campaign against a separatist movement in Aceh; until the tsunami, the province was ruled under martial law. Yet as Indonesian democracy has grown stronger, so has civilian control over the military. Direct presidential elections last year brought to power a former general trained in the United States, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who appears committed to reform. His defense minister, Mr. Juwono, acknowledges the human rights abuses of the past; he says his mission is "to try and reconfigure the Indonesian defense force, particularly the army, so that it will be more accountable to democracy [and] more accountable to parliament." To do that, he says, he'd like to send many more of his officers to the United States for training.

This sounds like a reasonable request. Meeting it would require the administration and Congress to resolve previous demands that Indonesia take measures against military officers guilty of human rights crimes and cooperate in the investigation of the 2002 killing of two Americans. While the United States has no interest in supporting an army that violates human rights with impunity, it's counterproductive to refuse to cooperate with democratic leaders who are trying to carry out reforms. In Aceh, the tsunami led to a truce between the army and local insurgents, and Mr. Yudhoyono's government has reopened peace talks in Europe with representatives of the rebels. As Indonesia pursues such initiatives, Congress should remove restrictions on training.

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