Subject: In These Times: Brothers in Arms

Also: Asia Times: US, Indonesia Almost Back in Step

Brothers in Arms
The United States moves a step closer to restoring military aid to Indonesia, despite its massive human rights abuses

By Ben Terrall
September 13, 2005

On June 28, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to remove all restrictions on foreign military financing for Indonesia in the fiscal year 2006 Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. The restrictions were first put in place after the Indonesian military's destruction of East Timor following the half-island's pro-independence vote in August of 1999.

The House decision follows years of Bush administration lobbying aimed at rehabilitating Jakarta's image. When Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono came to the United States in late May, the White House repeatedly described Yudhoyono as a reformer. "The president told me he's in the process of reforming the military and I believe him," Bush said.

But retired Foreign Service Officer Ed McWilliams, a political counselor to the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta from 1996 to 1999 and now a human rights activist, is not convinced. He points to this year's State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices, which said of Indonesia, "Security force members murdered, tortured, raped, beat, and arbitrarily detained civilians and members of separatist movements, especially in [the province] Aceh and to a lesser extent in Papua."

"As a creature of the TNI [Indonesian military], Yudhoyono is even less likely to assert civilian control over the military than the previous three Indonesian presidents," McWilliams says. "The TNI continues to act with impunity: It resisted allowing international help into Aceh for a critical three days after the January tsunami. It repeatedly sought early departure of international non-governmental organizations, and prevented international assistance from getting to 120,000 Acehnese displaced from pre-tsunami conflict."

The TNI in Aceh

The TNI also refused calls for a ceasefire in Aceh, until just days before the government signed a tentative peace deal with Free Aceh Movement (GAM) resistance fighters on August 15. As written, the agreement gives the military a number of opportunities to circumvent it. The TNI has already exploited the deal's ambiguities by arguing that a new human rights court and separate truth commission for Aceh should not deal with past crimes.

Contradicting every credible human rights organization to issue a report on the region, the new TNI commander in Aceh, Major-General Supiadin, told the Jakarta Post on June 16 that military forces had never committed a single human rights violation in the province. Regarding the impact of the tsunami, he said, "Heart wrenching is the loss of firearms and ammunition, buried under the sand."

Shadia Marhaban, a member of a non-violent student group Aceh Referendum Information Center, which organized a rally supporting a referendum for self-determination in Aceh that brought out 1.5 million people, says, "TNI higher-ups in Aceh are mostly from the group responsible for the [1999] destruction of East Timor, and won't go along with any reform agenda."

One of those active duty commanding officers is retired general Kiki Syahnakri, indicted for crimes against humanity by a U.N.-backed court in East Timor for his actions as martial law commander during the 1999 Timor campaign. Syahnakri now represents the conglomerate Artha Graha in its efforts to profit from Aceh's reconstruction.

Marhaban, who was a civil society representative in recent peace talks between GAM and TNI in Finland, believes Jakarta only agreed to the talks because of the international attention focused on Aceh by the tsunami and the enormous amounts of international aid money at stake. The previous talks abruptly ended in July 2002 when Jakarta arrested civilian negotiators, citing a sweeping, vaguely defined anti-terror law. The former chief negotiator for GAM was among many prisoners trapped in jails destroyed by the tsunami. The New York-based group Human Rights First wrote, "among those who died in detention were many accused GAM supporters who had been denied access to a lawyer, subjected to torture, and convicted in trials that did not meet international standards."

Lessons from Iraq

In May, President Bush explained that in working to undo existing limits on military aid to Jakarta, "we want there to be exchanges between our military corps that will help lead to better understandings." But for four decades, such "exchanges" have involved U.S. training of the notoriously brutal Kopassus special forces troops and other "security" forces specializing in internal repression. (Since it won its independence from the Dutch after WWII, Indonesia has never faced a serious external military threat).

In the May 2003 imposition of martial law in Aceh--during which the TNI launched its largest operation since the 1975 invasion of East Timor--the military "embedded" journalists and established a media center to control the flow of information. TNI spokesman Major General Sjafrie Sjamsuddin explained, "These regulations were sent to us by the U.S. Pacific Command. It is what they used in Iraq. … Of course, we have adapted them to our local environment."

Human Rights First argues that another aspect of the Iraq war has served the TNI well: "Indonesian security officials responded to human rights criticism aggressively, pointing to the United States invasion of Iraq and subsequent acts of torture in Abu Ghraib prison to justify Indonesia's own military operations and question the credibility of American human rights policies."

A Climate of Impunity

Yudhoyono and his supporters in the West make much of efforts to combat corruption in Indonesia. Yudhoyono told Business Week, "Fighting corruption is very, very important to our competitiveness. If we fail, we will lose the battle to attract foreign capital." But there is little evidence of any curbing of military corruption, which Karen Orenstein, Washington Coordinator of the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN), calls "massive." Orenstein points out that "the majority of the military's budget comes from legal and illegal ventures, including extortion of U.S.-based corporations operating in Indonesia, environmentally devastating illegal logging, prostitution, and both drug and human trafficking."

Nor does the climate of impunity seem to have shifted regarding past atrocities committed by the military. On May 26, a U.N. Commission of Experts appointed by Kofi Annan released a report on Jakarta's Ad Hoc Human Rights Court for East Timor, which was set up to investigate crimes against humanity perpetrated by Indonesian security forces and their militia proxies in East Timor in 1999. The U.N. experts found that the Indonesian tribunal was "manifestly inadequate, primarily due to a lack of commitment on the part of the prosecution." Of the 18 people indicted and tried, all but one (a Timorese civilian) were either acquitted or freed on appeal.

The report further noted, "The failure to investigate and prosecute the defendants in a credible manner has not achieved accountability of those who bear the greatest responsibility for serious violations." It recommended that if Jakarta does not successfully prosecute those charged within six months, the United Nations should try them before an international tribunal or refer cases to the International Criminal Court.

The Murder of Munir

Justice has been similarly elusive in the investigation of the murder of Munir, a leading Indonesian human rights activist. The 38-year-old lawyer was poisoned with arsenic on September 7, 2004, while flying to the Netherlands. An Indonesian fact-finding team found that officials of BIN, Jakarta's main intelligence agency, were involved in Munir's killing. The former BIN chief, retired general A.M. Hendropriyono, refused to respond to a summons to testify before the team. Hendropriyono is infamous for serving as district military commander in Lampung when, in 1989, the TNI massacred hundreds of Muslim youth, an incident that Munir later investigated.

Hendropriyono received U.S. military training at Fort Leavenworth in 1980. He was later involved in a training program for Indonesian officers at Norwich University in Vermont, which was cancelled after sustained activist pressure. Norwich's president conceded, "This army has not demonstrated a commitment to ... respect for civilian authority by the military."

The Commission for Disappearances and Victims of Violence (Kontras), an organization Munir founded, recently came to a similar conclusion. In a June 21 report, "Difficult to Imagine TNI's Future Without Politics of Violence," the group concluded that military impunity of human rights violations is growing stronger. Among the reasons they cited were the continued presence within structures of power of high military officers suspected of being responsible for such crimes; the cessation of efforts to revise laws on military tribunals; and the repeated refusal of the military to cooperate in efforts to uphold the law.

Back in Washington, the House Appropriations bill is currently being reconciled with the Senate version, which would keep some existing restrictions and add new reporting requirements about the TNI's behavior. The two bills could be reconciled as early as late September.

Orenstein calls the Senate version of the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill "an improvement over the House version, which was nothing less than a total sell-out on human rights and justice, under the leadership of [Republican] Arizona Representative Jim Kolbe at the behest of the Bush administration."


Asia Times
Friday, Sept. 9, 2005

US, Indonesia Almost Back in Step

By David Isenberg

Officials in Washington are increasingly confident the United States will restore full military relations with Indonesia, despite past human rights violations by that country's military.

Just last week, the countries began a two-week military exchange program in the field of planning and decision-making, according to a US Embassy statement. The program is aimed at increasing cooperation and exchanging experience between the two countries, it added.

The White House has been working hard to persuade Congress to fully lift the military embargo imposed on Indonesia. It cites as the main reason cooperation between the armed forces of the two countries in the wake of last year's tsunami as proof of improved military ties.

The Indonesian military very much wants the embargo ended, given its own of shortage spare parts. For example, on July 21 two Indonesian Air Force planes crashed in separate incidents.

Earlier this month, Minister of Defense Juwono Sudarsono expressed confidence that the embargo would eventually be lifted "because of the post-tsunami cooperation and good reputation of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Washington".

The Indonesians can point to the government's efforts to rein in the military's corruption-tainted businesses and improved human rights training for combat units in Aceh as evidence that it is no longer business as usual.

It doesn't hurt that Yudhoyono has made himself many new friends in the US since he came to power in October.

The Bush administration wants the ban lifted, arguing Washington should support Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation and a key battleground in its anti-terrorist efforts.

Congress suspended military cooperation with Indonesia in 1999 after accusations that soldiers deployed in the country's former province of East Timor committed rights abuses before, during and after the 1999 vote of independence.

The 2002 shooting of two American teachers in Papua province has also complicated ties between the two countries, with human rights groups alleging rogue Indonesian soldiers were behind the shootings.

Nevertheless, the US government has revived several joint military training exercises and endorsed limited sales of military equipment to Indonesia.

In late July a US Navy task force with about 800 personnel arrived in the Indonesian town of Surabaya to hold annual military exercises with the Indonesian Navy after a two-year delay. The Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) was the ninth since it was initiated in 1995. The annual exercises were canceled in 2003 and 2004 at the request of the Indonesian Navy. And the United States has allocated millions of dollars to equip and train Indonesian police's strike force, Brimob, along with police from the Philippines and Thailand.

But a US Government Accountability Office report noted that the US violated its own law by training 6,900 Indonesian, Filipino and Thai police without determining beforehand whether they had a history of human rights violations.

The Southeast Asian police were trained by the US Justice Department with State Department law enforcement assistance between 2001 and 2004 at a cost of US$265.7 million, the report said.

Among the 4,000 Indonesians trained in civil-military relations and human rights issues were 32 trainees "from a notorious special-forces police unit previously prohibited under State (Department) policy from receiving US training funds because of the unit's prior human rights abuses", the report said, referring to Brimob. The administration of President George W Bush resumed the training program in February.

In late July the United States Agency for International Development announced it had agreed to provide US$20 million worth of assistance to help the Indonesian government reform the country's weak court system.

On August 2, US ambassador to Indonesia B Lynn Pascoe spoke at the start of a two-day security dialog between senior US and Indonesian defense officials in Jakarta. He said, "You can be sure that the executive branch is working to open the way for the normalization of military to military relationships."

The forum was the third round of talks between Indonesia and the US. The first dialog was held in Indonesia in 2002, the second in 2004 in Washington.

Brigadier General John Allen, a director for Asian and Pacific Affairs at the Pentagon, led the US delegation, while the delegation from Indonesia was led by Major General Dadi Susanto, who is also director general on defense strategy at the Ministry of Defense.

Toward the end of the forum Allen said, "The restoration of the cooperation is proof of the growing positive atmosphere." Allen also expressed the appreciation of the US government over President Yudhoyono's commitment to step up military reforms, civil control and accountability.

On the basis of these considerations, Allen said the US government will soon normalize its military relations with Indonesia including the lifting of the embargo on military equipment.

At the same time that the forum was concluding Allen said the United States supports a plan by Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore to start coordinated air patrols next month over the pirate-infested Malacca Strait.

The plan is seen, in part, as helping to quell foreign jitters about security in the world's busiest shipping lane, seen by many as a prime target for terrorists.

This appears to be the successor to the Regional Maritime Security Initiative (RMSI) for Southeast Asia, (with a particular focus on the Malacca Strait), which the United States proposed in the spring of 2004, an extension of the Proliferation Security Initiative. The initiative proposed the use of US special forces to police sea traffic on the strait. But the initiative was not acceptable to Indonesia and Malaysia.

On July 20 the Senate approved its version of the fiscal year 2006 Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. The bill would continue restrictions on Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and export of "lethal" military equipment to Indonesia until certain conditions are met.

The Senate bill, however, would provide $1.5 million in FMF for the Indonesian Navy. International Military Education and Training funds would not be made available until the Secretary of State submits a detailed report on US and Indonesian efforts to bring to justice those responsible for the ambush and murder of two US citizens and an Indonesian in West Papua on August 31, 2002.

But the House version would remove all restrictions on military assistance. When the House passed its version, only a reporting requirement introduced by Democrat Representative Patrick Kennedy, who supports legislated restrictions blocked by the Republican leadership, referenced the poor human rights and justice records of the Indonesian military.

A conference committee with representatives from both chambers must reconcile the two versions of the bill after Congress reconvenes before it is sent to the president for signature.

But it is unclear when that might happen. Currently, Congress has a full agenda and not much time left. Only two of the 13 annual appropriations bills have been finalized and sent to Bush for his signature. Legislatively, Congress has many higher priorities than Indonesia. These include the defense appropriations bill, Iraq, the nomination of John Roberts as the next chief justice of
the Supreme Court, all of which will take up substantial Senate floor time, as will various domestic programs.

Reached by phone, one senior congressional defense specialist said: "There are so many moving parts in the budget and appropriations cycle that one cannot blow off the prospect of budget reconciliation between the Senate and House as a mere technicality. In fact, it is a virtual certainty that the foreign operations bill will not be finished by the October 31 deadline."

That means that the foreign operations bill will be funded by a continuing resolution, which is legislation in the form of a joint resolution enacted by Congress, when the new fiscal year is about to begin, to provide budget authority for federal agencies and programs to continue in operation until the regular appropriations bill is enacted.

David Isenberg, a senior analyst with the Washington-based British American Security Information Council (BASIC), has a wide background in arms control and national security issues. The views expressed are his own.

see also: U.S.-Indonesia Military Assistance page

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