|Subject: DN: President Gerald Ford Dies at
93; Supported Indonesian Invasion of East Timor that Killed 1/3 of
Wednesday, December 27th, 2006
President Gerald Ford Dies at 93;
Supported Indonesian Invasion of East Timor that Killed 1/3 of Population
or watch segment
Former President Gerald Ford died last night at the age of 93. We begin
our coverage of Ford’s time in office with a look at his support for the
Indonesian invasion of East Timor that killed one-third of the Timorese
population. We’re joined by Brad Simpson of the National Security
Archives and journalist Alan Nairn. [rush transcript included]
Former President Gerald Ford died last night at the age of 93. He
became president in 1974 following the resignation of Richard Nixon. Ford
is the only person to become president that was never elected president or
vice president. Some described him as the Accidental President. At his
inauguration he famously declared “the long national nightmare is
over." But a month later Ford granted Richard Nixon a full and
absolute pardon for all federal crimes that he committed when he was in
the White House including for crimes connected to the Watergate
scandal. The decision stunned the country.
Gerald Ford served as president until he lost to Jimmy Carter in the
1976 election. In 1975 He ordered the final pullout of U.S. troops from
Vietnam. He later offered amnesty to Vietman era draft resisters. Gerald
Ford surrounded himself by advisers who would later play key roles in the
current Bush administration and in shaping Bush’s Iraq war policy.
Donald Rumsfeld served first as his chief of staff and then as Secretary
of Defense. Dick Cheney also served as Ford’s chief of staff. Paul
Wolfowitz served in the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.
Less well known is President Ford involvement in East Timor. Both the
New York Times and Washington Post failed to mention in their obituaries
today that Ford and Henry Kissinger, his Secretary of State, offered
advance approval of Indonesia’s brutal invasion of East Timor.
This is clip of the documentary "Massacre: the Story of East
Timor" that I produced with journalist Alan Nairn. Excerpt of
"Massacre: the Story of East Timor.” Brad Simpson. Research Fellow
at the National Security Archives. Alan Nairn. Investigative Journalist.
This transcript is available free of charge. However, donations help us
provide closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing on our TV
broadcast. Thank you for your generous contribution. Donate - $25, $50,
AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of the documentary Massacre: The Story of East
Timor which I produced with journalist Alan Nairn who’ll be joining us
in a minute. But first to talk more about President Ford's legacy and his
role in East Timor, we are joined by Brad Simpson. Brad Simpson works for
the National Security Archives and is a Professor at the University of
Maryland. Brad, welcome to Democracy Now!.
BRAD SIMPSON: Thank you, very much, for having me on.
AMY GOODMAN: Brad, you recently got documents declassified about
President Ford and his role in 1975, in meeting with the long reigning
dictator of Indonesia, Suharto. Can you explain what you learned?
BRAD SIMPSON: Yes. Gerald Ford actually met twice with Suharto, first
in July of 1975 when Suharto came to the United States. And later in
December of 1975, of course, on the eve of his invasion of East Timor. And
we now know that for more than a year Indonesia had been planning its
armed takeover of East Timor, and the United States had of course been
aware of Indonesian military plans. In July of 1975, the National Security
Council first informed Henry Kissinger and Gerald Ford of Indonesia’s
plans to take over East Timor by force. And Suharto of course raised this
with Gerald Ford in July when he met with Gerald Ford at Camp David on a
trip to the United States. And then in December of 1975 on a trip through
Southeast Asia, Gerald Ford met again with Suharto on the eve of the
invasion, more than two weeks after the National Security Council, CIA,
other intelligence agencies had concluded that an Indonesian invasion was
eminent. And that the only thing delaying the invasion was the fear that
US disapproval might lead to a cut-off of weapons and military supplies to
AMY GOODMAN: How knowledgeable was President Ford at the time of the
BRAD SIMPSON: Well, Ford was very much aware. He was receiving hourly
briefings, as was Henry Kissinger, as his plane lifted off from Indonesia,
as the invasion indeed commenced. And immediately afterwards Gerald Ford
flew to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, or to Guamexcuse me, where he gave a
speech saying that never again should the United States allow another
nation to strike in the middle of the night, to attack another defenseless
nation. This was on Pearl Harbor Day, of course. Realizing full well that
another day of infamy was unfolding in Dili, East Timor. As thousands of
Indonesian paratroopers, trained by the United States, using US supplied
weapons, indeed jumping from United States supplied airplanes, were
descending upon the capital city of Dili and massacring literally
thousands of people in the hours and days after December 7, 1975.
AMY GOODMAN: Brad, how difficult was it to get this declassified? The
memos that you got? And how long were these memos about Ford and
Kissinger's meeting with the long reigning Suharto? How long were they
BRAD SIMPSON: Well, they are kept classified until the fall of 2002. We
now know, actually, that a Congressman from Minnesota, Donald Fraser, had
actually attempted to declassify the memo, the so-called Smoking Gun Memo,
the transcript of General Suharto’s conversation with Gerald Ford, in
December of 1975. Congressman Fraser actually tried to declassify this in
document in 1978 during the Suharto adm--or during the Carter years and
Carter's National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, realizing full
well the explosive nature of this cable would show that the United States
had been an accomplice in an international act of aggression, recommended
that the State Department refuse to declassify the memo, a mere three
years after the invasion.
And it took another 25 years after this episode before the cables were
finally declassified and of course much more has come out. And I think
it's incontrovertible that the United States played the crucial role in
enabling the Indonesian invasion of East Timor. And I think it's wrong to
say that Gerald Ford was completely unconcerned with the aftermath of the
invasion. We now know that just a few days after the invasion Gerald Ford
sent a telegram to the State Department asking that an emergency
diplomatic cable be sent to General Suharto, in response to his recent
visit. And inside the cable, which was sent by diplomatic pouch from the
US Embassy, was a set of golf balls from Gerald Ford.
AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap up, the--you have a large body of declassified
documents surrounding Indonesia and East Timor, of which this is a part,
at the National Security Archive. If people want to look, where do they go
online, Brad Simpson?
BRAD SIMPSON: They can go to www.nsarchive.org. And there is a link to
the Indonesia and East Timor document case and project on that website.
AMY GOODMAN: Brad Simpson, I want to thank you for being with us. Of
the National Security Archive and Professor of History at the University
of Maryland, College Park.
AMY GOODMAN: : To talk more about President Ford’s legacy and his
role in Indonesia and East Timor, joined by colleague and Independent
Journalist Allen Nairn, who Co-produced the Documentary Massacre: The
Story Of East Timor. Alan, welcome to Democracy Now!
ALLAN NAIRN: : Thanks.
AMY GOODMAN: : We just talked to Professor Brad Simpson who got the
document declassified on the National Security Archive website, of
President Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's role in giving the
green light for the invasion of Timor, December 7, 1975. Can you talk
about your interview with President Ford, and the significance of the
information that has come out since?
ALLAN NAIRN: : Well, I interviewed Ford by phone, and beforehand had
told his assistant that I wanted to discuss his meeting with General
Suharto, the Indonesian Dictator, on December 5th. So coming into the
interview Ford knew the topic. And when I asked Ford whether he did in
fact authorize the invasion of East Timor, he said, “Frankly, I don't
recall.” He didn't remember. And I believed him.
What Ford said was that there were many topics on the agenda that day
with Suharto. Timor was not very high on the agenda. It was one of the
lesser topics, and he just couldn't remember whether he had authorized
this invasion, which ended up killing 1/3 of the Timorese population. And
it's kind of an illustration of the fact that when, like the United
States, you're a global power with regimes everywhere dependant on your
weapons, you can start wars, authorize wars, take actions that result in
mass deaths in a fairly casual way.
In this case, the US didn't have a great interest in East Timor. All
the evidence suggests that they didn’t particularly care one way or the
other whether Timor became independent. But as a favor to Suharto, who was
close to Washington, who was their protégée, they decided to let him go
ahead with the invasion. So, for just a marginal, fleeting gain or, out
of doing a favor for a buddy -- they ended up causing a mass murder that
proportionally was the most intensive killing since the Nazis, a third of
the population killed.
AMY GOODMAN: : Now documents, Allan Nairn that you did get declassified
were a memo that involved Henry Kissinger, again, it was Kissinger and
Ford that gave the go ahead for the invasion when they visited Suharto,
the long-reigning dictator. And that was information they were getting as
they flew out of Indonesia through to Guam and Pearl Harbor, as Brad
Simpson described. But what about those documents and Kissinger's
ALLAN NAIRN: : Well, Kissinger, and Ford, they, one of the points they
made to Suharto, was that you have to try to get this invasion over with
quickly. And Kissinger when he-- they wanted them to go in intensively,
presumably kill as many Timorese as they could quickly. So that it
wouldn't get international attention, and also, apparently they were
worried that it could get attention in Congress. Because Ford and
Kissinger knew that by authorizing this invasion, they were technically
violating US law. Because the US weapons laws at the time stated US
weapons given to foreign clients could not be used for purposes of
aggression. And this was in the judgment of the State Department's own
legal analysts, this looked like it would be an act of aggression if
Indonesia were to invade East Timor, and that could, technically, if
Congress got wind of it and started to pay attention to it, be grounds for
stopping, cutting off US weapons supply to Indonesia.
That would have been devastating for the invasion of Timor because
about 90% of the Indonesian weapons were coming from the US and they
needed spare parts, they needed ammunition, they needed a re-supply. And
it also would have been dangerous for the regime of Suharto which was
based on repression within Indonesia and needed those weapons to keep
their own population down. So Kissinger, in his internal discussions
within the state department, was pressing his people to make sure that all
information about Timor be kept under wraps. They didn’t want the US
Congress paying too much attention to it. As it turned out, I think
Kissinger was giving Congress a little too much credit because there was
not much evidence at the time that apart from a few members like
then-Congressman Tom Harkin, that there was much interest in probing what
the US was doing. But Kissinger knew this was an illegal operation so he
was trying to keep it quiet.
AMY GOODMAN: : And the information about Suharto's role in general, in
Indonesia at the time, as you mentioned both the invasion of East Timor,
but Suharto--what happened, how he came to power? The man that eventually
Ford and Kissinger would meet with in the capital of Indonesia, Jakarta?
ALLAN NAIRN: : Well, Suharto came to power on the back of essentially a
military coup which overthrew Sukarno who was the founding President of
Indonesia. And from the period of 1965 to 67, when General Suharto was
consolidating his power, his army and groups working with the army carried
out a mass slaughter of Indonesian civilians. It's not clear exactly how
many were killed, but anywhere from 400,000 to perhaps more than a million
Indonesians were massacred as the Suharto regime gained power. And they
did this, the military did this with US weaponry. And in fact, the US CIA
station even gave a list of 5,000 names of people who they had identified
as communists and potential opponents of the army, and they turned this
list over to Suharto and his military intelligence people and many of
those people were subsequently assassinated.
AMY GOODMAN: : Well, Allan Nairn, I want to thank you, very much for
being with us. Allan Nairn, a journalist who interviewed President Ford
roughly a decade and a half ago about Ford's involvement in the invasion
of East Timor. That was December 7th, 1975 that the invasion occurred.
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