|Subject: Guardian/John Pilger: Our Model
Also: Obituary: Suharto [Indonesian dictator whose 30-year rule was built on ruthless repression, cronyism and manipulation of the world's rival superpowers By John Gittings; Daughter calls for forgiveness as ex-dictator Suharto dies.
Monday, January 28, 2008
Comment and Debate Pages
Our Model Dictator
The death of Suharto is a reminder of the west's ignoble role in propping up a murderous regime
By John Pilger
In my film Death of a Nation, there is a sequence filmed on board an Australian aircraft flying over the island of Timor. A party is in progress, and two men in suits are toasting each other in champagne. "This is an historically unique moment," says one of them, "that is truly uniquely historical."
This was Gareth Evans, Australia's then foreign minister. The other man was Ali Alatas, the principal mouthpiece of the Indonesian dictator General Suharto, who died yesterday. The year was 1989, and the two were making a grotesquely symbolic flight to celebrate the signing of a treaty that would allow Australia and the international oil and gas companies to exploit the seabed off East Timor, then illegally and viciously occupied by Suharto. The prize, according to Evans, was "zillions of dollars".
Beneath them lay a land of crosses: great black crosses etched against the sky, crosses on peaks, crosses in tiers on the hillsides. Filming clandestinely in East Timor, I would walk into the scrub, and there were the crosses. They littered the earth and crowded the eye. In 1993, the foreign affairs committee of Australia's parliament reported that "at least 200,000" had died under Indonesia's occupation: almost a third of the population. Yet East Timor's horror, foretold and nurtured by the US, Britain and Australia, was a sequel. "No single American action in the period after 1945," wrote the historian Gabriel Kolko, "was as bloodthirsty as its role in Indonesia, for it tried to initiate the massacre." He was referring to Suharto's seizure of power in 1965-6, which caused the violent deaths of up to a million people.
To understand the significance of Suharto is to look beneath the surface of the current world order: the so-called global economy and the ruthless cynicism of those who run it. Suharto was our model mass murderer - "our" is used here advisedly. "One of our very best and most valuable friends," Thatcher called him. For three decades the south-east Asian department of the Foreign Office worked tirelessly to minimise the crimes of Suharto's gestapo, known as Kopassus, who gunned down people with British-supplied Heckler & Koch machine guns from British-supplied Tactica "riot control" vehicles.
A Foreign Office speciality was smearing witnesses to the bombing of East Timorese villages by British-supplied Hawk aircraft - until Robin Cook was forced to admit it was true. Almost a billion pounds in export credit guarantees financed the sale of the Hawks, paid for by the British taxpayer while the arms industry reaped the profit.
Only the Australians were more obsequious. "We know your people love you," the prime minister Bob Hawke told the dictator to his face. His successor, Paul Keating, regarded the tyrant as a father figure. Paul Kelly, a prominent Murdoch retainer, led a group of major newspaper editors to Jakarta, to fawn before the mass murderer even though they all knew his grisly record.
Here lies a clue as to why Suharto, unlike Saddam Hussein, died not on the gallows but surrounded by the finest medical team his secret billions could buy. Ralph McGehee, a senior CIA operations officer in the 1960s, describes the terror of Suharto's takeover in 1965-6 as "the model operation" for the US-backed coup that got rid of Salvador Allende in Chile seven years later. "The CIA forged a document purporting to reveal a leftist plot to murder Chilean military leaders," he wrote, "[just like] what happened in Indonesia in 1965." The US embassy in Jakarta supplied Suharto with a "zap list" of Indonesian Communist party members and crossed off the names when they were killed or captured. Roland Challis, BBC south-east Asia correspondent at the time, told me how the British government was secretly involved in this slaughter. "British warships escorted a ship full of Indonesian troops down the Malacca Straits so they could take part in the terrible holocaust," he said. "I and other correspondents were unaware of this at the time . . . There was a deal, you see."
The deal was that Indonesia under Suharto would offer up what Richard Nixon had called "the richest hoard of natural resources, the greatest prize in south-east Asia". In November 1967 the greatest prize was handed out at a remarkable three-day conference sponsored by the Time-Life Corporation in Geneva. Led by David Rockefeller, all the corporate giants were represented: the major oil companies and banks, General Motors, Imperial Chemical Industries, British American Tobacco, Siemens, US Steel and many others. Across the table sat Suharto's US-trained economists who agreed to the corporate takeover of their country, sector by sector. The Freeport company got a mountain of copper in West Papua. A US/European consortium got the nickel. The giant Alcoa company got the biggest slice of Indonesia's bauxite. America, Japanese and French companies got the tropical forests of Sumatra. When the plunder was complete, President Lyndon Johnson sent his congratulations on "a magnificent story of opportunity seen and promise awakened". Thirty years later, with the genocide in East Timor also complete, the World Bank described the Suharto dictatorship as a "model pupil".
Shortly before the death of Alan Clark, who under Thatcher was the minister responsible for supplying Suharto with most of his weapons, I interviewed him, and asked: "Did it bother you personally that you were causing such mayhem and human suffering?"
"No, not in the slightest," he replied. "It never entered my head."
"I ask the question because I read you are a vegetarian and are seriously concerned with the way animals are killed."
"Doesn't that concern extend to humans?"
The Guardian Monday, January 28, 2008
Indonesian dictator whose 30-year rule was built on ruthless repression, cronyism and manipulation of the world's rival superpowers
By John Gittings
Suharto, soldier and politician, born June 8 1921; died January 27 2008
With the death of the former Indonesian president Suharto, at the age of 86, we are reminded that even the most stubborn dictatorship comes to an end. Despite predictions by his ruling clique that he would lead Indonesia into the 21st century, his term of office, which began with bloodshed in 1967, ended equally bloodily in 1998.
Although known as the "smiling general", Suharto had a complex character, which, for most of his lifetime, successfully deflected analysis. He was acclaimed as a man of modest origins who had been impelled to take power out of disgust for the corruption of the last years of Sukarno, Indonesia's first president from its independence from the Netherlands in 1949 until 1967. This myth coexisted for years with the public knowledge that Suharto presided over a regime in which his closest friends controlled huge monopolies and lucrative concessions, while his children acquired assets worth billions of dollars.
Under his rule Indonesia became closely aligned with western interests during the cold war and was rewarded with aid and investment to foster rapid economic growth - which made fortunes for Suharto's cronies and favoured ambitious, but often unsound, development projects. Schemes to relocate millions of landless peasants and open up virgin forests paved the way for the country's current environmental crisis. Vast numbers of political opponents were killed, jailed or sent to labour camps during three decades of Suharto's rule: tens of thousands died in East Timor alone after its illegal annexation in 1975. Suharto lost his grip on power only when the Asian financial crisis of 1997 led to popular unrest over rocketing prices and unemployment, to which he had no answer except military repression.
His political career ended in May 1998, two months after he had insisted on standing for a seventh presidential term and appointed a cabinet dominated by his old chums and his family. The killing of six students by security forces at Trisakti University on May 12 triggered a revulsion to which even Suharto had to yield. It was grimly fitting that a regime which had begun in blood - with the slaughter of hundreds of thousands in an anti-communist crackdown in 1965-66 - ended with stained hands. Only then could the Suharto myth begin to be unravelled.
It was a long journey from Suharto's birthplace, the village of Godean, about 25 miles from Jogjakarta, the former royal capital in central Java. His father was a minor official under Dutch rule, a man who supervised water distribution to the fields, in return for which he was allocated two acres to farm. His mother had distant aristocratic origins, being descended from one of the sultan of Jogjakarta's concubines some generations back. Suharto himself seems to have been rather unhappy: he frequently changed his name through life - a Javanese device to fend off evil spirits at a time of personal failure.
His parents separated when he was small, and he then lived with relatives. He spent some time in the house of Daryatmo, a local dukun (or curer of supernatural problems) who became the first guru in Suharto's life. Such mystical guidance always remained important to him.
In gregarious Indonesian society, Suharto's early years set him apart: when, in later life, he became the "smiling general", no one could be sure what lay behind the smile. Even the most hagiographic profiles called him aloof, calculating and bent on getting results. He graduated from high school in 1939 and worked briefly in a village bank. He would later claim that he lost the job because his only sarong was accidentally torn and he could not afford to replace it. The alternative version is that he was sacked for stealing clothes, and was ordered by the court to join the army as an alternative to prison.
The only path forward for young men in what was then the Dutch East Indies - outside the tiny elite sent to college - was, indeed, through the army. Suharto joined the Royal Netherlands Indies army in 1940 and soon became a sergeant. When the Japanese invaded in 1942, the Dutch commander-in-chief, Lieutenant General Ter Poorten, surrendered precipitately. Any respect for the colonial power was lost. Suharto, with tens of thousands of others from the disbanded force, joined Peta, the Volunteer Army of Defenders of the Motherland, whose explicit aim was to help Japan defend Indonesia against invasion by the western allies. In fact, nationalist leaders, such as Sukarno and Mohammed Hatta, skilfully used support for Japan to arouse a more general sense of anti-imperialism.
The Japanese turned ex-NCOs, including Suharto, into officers and gave them further military education - including lessons in the use of the samurai sword. Suharto's adulatory biographer, OG Roeder, records in The Smiling General (1969) his subject was "well known for his tough, but not brutal, methods".
When, in August 1945, the Japanese surrender brought the second world war to a close, its forces were ordered by the allies to prevent an Indonesian nationalist takeover. But Peta units refused to disarm, and seized control of several large towns. Suharto himself led a raid on the Japanese garrison at Jogjakarta, seizing weapons. In the official account, he is also credited with foiling a coup by supporters of the communist leader Tan Malaka against Sukarno. In a more plausible interpretation, he supported the conspiracy when it appeared likely to succeed, but betrayed it once it had failed. Fact and myth are equally hard to disentangle in Suharto's subsequent career.
When Indonesia gained its independence in 1949, after a four-year struggle against the Dutch, Sukarno became the country's first president. Suharto, by then a colonel in the new national army, took part in the pacification of rebellious forces in south Sulawesi, where his troops earned a reputation for extreme brutality. At this point, unlike many senior officers, he revealed no political ambitions. He later claimed to have warned early on about the rise of the Communist party (PKI), which had won considerable support in the 1955 general elections. In fact, as chief-of-staff of the Diponegoro division in central Java, he worked alongside PKI-led civil authorities for a while.
This was also a time when Suharto established close ties with business and finance, and brought together a group of intelligence officers who would assist his subsequent rise to power. These included Sujono Humardani, his future financial and economic adviser, and also spiritual "senior" who counselled him on relations with the dukuns. Other partners acquired then included Liem Sioe Liong and Bob Hasan, both of whom would develop powerful multi-business enterprises under Suharto's presidential patronage.
In 1959, Suharto was sent back to staff college. In the orthodox account, this was because he was viewed as material for promotion; others suggest he was tarnished by a financial corruption scandal involving Humardani in the finance section of the divisional headquarters. He joined the college just when, under the influence of the US military training programmes, its agenda was shifting to "winning hearts and minds" and suppressing internal rebellion. For the first time, he acquired ideas with a political edge, and soon became assistant to the chief of staff, General Nasution.
Suharto was now regarded as a sound man, loyal for sensitive assignments. He oversaw the 1962 operation that paved the way for Indonesia's annexation of former Dutch West Irian (now Western New Guinea). He then became head of Kostrad, the Indonesian army's strategic command, and took over as deputy of Sukarno's policy of "confrontation" with Malaysia.
Suharto and his colleagues regarded themselves as operators - and the army as the mechanism - to steer Indonesian society through a transition beset by militant communism and Islam. Less visible than the senior generals who manoeuvred around Sukarno, they were waiting in the wings of power for the president's uneasy coalition of Muslims, the PKI and the army to come apart. The moment came on the night of September 30 1965, when the PKI leader DN Aidit (apparently acting on his own) and a small group of leftwing officers launched a botched coup, in which six senior generals were killed. Suharto, who mysteriously survived, quickly suppressed the rising.
Over the next six months, army units and local vigilante groups launched a nationwide purge of so-called "communists", a catch-all label that included labour and civic leaders and thousands of others who would never even have heard of Karl Marx. Most were shot, stabbed, beaten to death or thrown down wells in acts of horrifying violence. The CIA supplied its own list of suspects and the US ambassador in Jakarta said that he was "generally sympathetic and admiring of what [the] army [is] doing".
The purge was masterminded by Suharto, who soon persuaded Sukarno to vest in him leadership of the armed forces, and used trusted officers to carry it out. One of these, the ParaCommando chief of staff Sarwo Edhie, later told how "we decided to encourage the anti-communist civilians to help with the job . . . We gave them two or three days' training, then sent them out to kill the communists."
A commission sent by Sukarno to investigate the killings concluded that "only" 80,000 had died throughout Indonesia - though the president was secretly advised that the real figure was between four to six times higher (somewhere around 400,000). Foreign minister Adam Malik, who coordinated Indonesia's new anti-communist foreign policy with the US, said privately that the number of deaths could be as high as 600,000. The US embassy reported to Washington that: "We frankly do not know whether the real figure is closer to 100,000 or 1 million." Even today, there has been no proper accounting for what was one of the worst massacres of the last century.
The Dutch scholar WF Wertheim was the first to suggest that Suharto did not profit from the abortive coup of September 30 by accident. We know that he was warned in advance by one of the conspirators - his former subordinate, Colonel Latief, who in March 1949 had led the troops commanded by Suharto in retaking Jogjakarta from the Dutch. Suharto would later admit that he had met Latief on the night of the coup, but maintained that this was a chance encounter at a hospital where his son was being treated. Latief has always maintained that at an earlier meeting, on September 28, he informed Suharto that a group of officers were intending to take action. If Suharto already knew, why did he not warn his fellow generals?
Latief's real role was apparently to monitor Suharto on behalf of the plotters, so they could decide whether or not to include him on the hit list. On the face of it, Sukarno, as commander of the strategic reserve, should have been a key target. But Latief reported back that he was neutral and could be exempted from assassination.
Suharto, while professing complete loyalty, quickly marginalised Sukarno. One former Sukarno minister recalled that he tried to test Suharto's loyalty to the president: "I looked in his eye and could see that Sukarno had lost the game. Suharto hated the president." By March 1966 Sukarno had transferred most of his power to Suharto, who became acting president a year later. By March 1968, he was formally elected president by the tame provisional parliament. Sukarno remained under house arrest till his death in 1970.
Suharto shrewdly retained Sukarno's pancasila ideology, first put forward as Indonesian state philosophy in 1945 - the five vague principles were a belief in God, national unity, humanitarianism, social justice and democracy. He presented his own regime as a rational choice between communism and Islamism, with occasional forays against the overseas Chinese business interests on whom he generally relied.
Under Suharto, Indonesia enjoyed a favourable international climate. His regime was applauded by the west for its "suppression of communism", a policy the US covertly encouraged. It also won approval from Moscow, which had regarded with alarm the PKI's close links with China. An international consortium of donors was formed and the foreign investment law of 1967 reduced restrictions on inward investment, while Indonesia also gained from the early 1970s rise in oil prices. Over the following decade, US oil companies invested more than $2bn in Indonesia's petroleum industry, accounting for 90% of the country's total production. More than 1.5 million people were "transmigrated" from Java and Bali to relieve population pressure and colonise outlying islands, with the support of the World Bank.
Suharto gained his biggest reward for destroying the Indonesian left when he invaded East Timor in December 1975 - just one day after US President Gerald Ford and his secretary of state Henry Kissinger had dined with the Indonesian leader in Jakarta. As secret documents obtained in 2001 by the independent, Washington-based National Security Archive would reveal, Suharto asked for US "understanding if we deem it necessary to take rapid or drastic action". In reply, Ford told Suharto that "we will understand and will not press you on the issue". Kissinger advised him that "it is important that whatever you do succeeds quickly" but that "it would be better if it were done after we returned [to the United States]".
Proclaiming a "new order", Suharto confined domestic politics to set-piece elections, contested by two federations of former parties and an army-dominated body (Golkar), which had no party members yet won 60% to 70% of the vote. It seemed a recipe for an Iranian-type upheaval, yet Suharto survived the growth of discontent through the ruthless use of an intelligence apparatus dominated by his trusties. Muslim militants were jailed and social protest suppressed. More subtly, the older politicians whom he had supplanted were allowed in 1980 to form an ineffective "group of 50".
Suharto's real talent lay in manipulating the military elite on which he relied and yet needed to divide and rule. Those he depended on most would find themselves discarded when they might threaten to become too powerful. With the passing of each term of presidential rule, there were expectations that his regime was becoming "shaky" - but they were never fulfilled. Assisted by a gentle natural environment and a benign foreign financial climate, the Indonesian economy at last began to take off, with a marked reduction in poverty by the late 1980s. Nearly all children now attended primary school, and by the mid-1990s the official estimate of people below the poverty line had fallen from 60% to 15%, although millions still remained on the margin.
Yet from 1993, in Suharto's sixth term of office, signs of shakiness multiplied. Increasingly, senior positions in Golkar were occupied by his children or those of figures close to him. The 1990s also saw revived labour unrest. Crude manoeuvres were used to reduce the influence of Sukarno's daughter, the then popular Megawati Sukarnoputri, in the Indonesian Democratic party.
The biggest source of dissent was the massive growth in cronyism and the blatant pursuit of financial gain by the Suharto family. As chief money-grabber, his wife, Tien Suharto, was known as "Madame Ten Per Cent". Much of this activity devolved, before her death in 1996, to her six children, for whom family businesses ranged from toll-roads to publishing, from shipping to TV stations and chemical plants to hotels.
Such nepotism was not essential for the Suharto regime; rather, it reflected his adoption of a ruling style increasingly akin to that of a traditional Javanese king. The village in which he had been born was graced with a palace, and it was ordained that he should be buried in the nearby family mausoleum, echoing the royal custom of hilltop interment.
Following nationwide protests, Suharto resigned in May 1998, having finally lost the confidence of even his own military clique. BJ Habibie, his protege and vice president, succeeded him from 1998 to 1999. It was under his disastrous interim rule that the Indonesian army - and particularly the special forces groomed by Suharto - encouraged the mass bloodshed in East Timor that sought to frustrate the overwhelming demand for independence voiced in a UN-supervised referendum.
Suharto, meanwhile, claimed to spend his time fishing, playing golf and getting closer to God. The democratic opposition suspected that he continued to manipulate politics: some described him as an Indonesian Godfather. The armed services chief, General Wiranto, visited him regularly, while Habibie kept in ambiguous touch and investigations into Suharto's malfeasance got nowhere. After a year's silence, the former president emerged to deny claims that he had amassed a fortune and to file a suit against Time magazine for publishing detailed allegations. There were suggestions that he had threatened to implicate other members of the Jakarta elite if the investigation into his wealth proceeded too vigorously.
The country he left behind continued to struggle beneath the weight of his legacy. This comprised shaky financial institutions, chronic corruption, environmental degradation, the disruption of settled communities, the encouragement of ethnic division, millions on the edge of poverty and an atrophied political culture.
The Muslim leader Amien Rais compared Suharto in his last years to a Javanese king who thinks that "if he's going to collapse, he'll bring down the whole country too". Yet in spite of continuing violence in East Timor, Ambon and Aceh, the good humour and enthusiasm with which the June 1999 elections were conducted was a triumphant rebuttal of Suharto's paternalism. The majority of Indonesians accepted a flawed but necessary transition to coalition rule, in which Abdurrahman Wahid became president and Megawati Sukarnoputri vice-president (she then replaced Wahid as president in 1991).
After Suharto suffered a stroke, his lawyers claimed he was too ill to be questioned by Indonesia's attorney general. In April 2000 he was banned from leaving Jakarta, but Wahid said that if the former president was found guilty of any crime, he would pardon him. That August Suharto was charged with corruption, but the following month he was ruled unfit to stand trial on physical and mental grounds.
The game continued for the next five years, in spite of complaints that Suharto was malingering. In 2005, the Indonesian supreme court issued a decree making the attorney general responsible for supervising the former leader's medical care, but the charges were dropped a year later. When Suharto was hospitalised again, the current president, Susilo Yudhoyono, and other political leaders paid respectful visits to his bedside.
While Indonesia has made significant progress in the decade since the fall of Suharto, many of the candidates standing in the presidential election in 2009 are figures from his era. As an Indonesian journalist commented, it was difficult for others to grow under Suharto's "big banyan tree". Even with his death, the shadow of Suhartoism has not been dispelled.
He is survived by his six children, among them Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra, who served four years in prison for hiring a hitman to assassinate the judge who had convicted him of graft.
Suharto, soldier and politician, born June 8 1921; died January 27 2008
Suharto celebrating his 86th birthday in Jakarta last year - over the years his style changed from smiling general to Javanese king Photograph: AP
The Guardian Monday, January 28, 2008
Daughter calls for forgiveness as ex-dictator Suharto dies
Ian MacKinnon South-east Asia correspondent
Former president Suharto, the dictator who held an iron grip on Indonesia for 32 years, died of multiple organ failure yesterday in a Jakarta hospital, with his six children at his bedside.
The 86-year-old former general, who was cast from office a decade ago by an economic crisis that sparked riots and street protests, was taken to hospital in a critical condition three weeks ago with heart, lung and kidney problems.
His eldest daughter, Siti Hariyanti "Tutut" Rukama, broke down in tears as she spoke outside the hospital. "Father has returned to God," she said. "We ask that if he had any faults, please forgive them . . . may he be absolved of all his mistakes."
Indonesia's president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, broke the news in a televised address to the nation, which is to observe a week of mourning after the funeral today in the royal city of Solo, central Java.
"I invite all the people of Indonesia to pray that may the deceased's good deeds and dedication to the nation be accepted by Allah the almighty," he said. "Suharto has done a great service to the nation."
The president and his deputy, Yusuf Kalla, paid their respects, kneeling before Suharto's body shrouded in white at his home in Jakarta. Hundreds of Indonesians crowded the streets outside, weeping and chanting verses from the Qur'an.
The former prime minister of Singapore, Lee Kwan Yew, and Malaysia's former leader, Mahathir Mohamad, flew to the capital, paying tribute to his part in bringing stability and economic growth.
Suharto held no political power but his legacy cast a long shadow in the deferential nation of 240 million. In a measure of his lingering influence, a court in 2006 awarded him pounds 50m in damages against Time magazine, which accused him of appropriating pounds 7.5bn of government funds. Last year the UN and the World Bank put Suharto top of the world's most corrupt leaders, quoting a Transparency International estimate that he embezzled up to pounds 17.5bn.
Indonesian courts dropped criminal proceedings against him in 2006 saying he was too ill to face trial. Yet even as corruption cases faltered, Indonesia's national commission on human rights three months ago said it was examining human rights abuse actions against him.
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