Bahasa Indonesia version on Allan Nairn's Blog:
TNI, Kopassus, Terlibat Dalam Pembunuhan Baru. Angkatan Bersenjata Yng
Dipilih Obama Dlm Pemberian Bantuan AS Tel Melakukan Pembunuhan Aktivis
Washington's Indonesian Bully Boys
by Allan Nairn
March 22, 2010
According to senior Indonesian officials and police and details from
government files, the US-backed Indonesian armed forces (TNI), now due
for fresh American aid, assassinated a series of civilian activists
The killings were part of a secret government program, authorized from
Jakarta, and were coordinated in part by an active-duty, US-trained
general in the special forces unit called Kopassus who has just
acknowledged on the record that his TNI men had a role in the killings.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told
Congress that the issue is whether there is a
"resumption" of atrocities, but in fact they
have not stopped. TNI still practices political
The news comes as President Barack Obama is reportedly due to announce
that he is reversing longstanding US policy--imposed by Congress in
response to grassroots pressure--of restricting categories of US
assistance to TNI, a force which, during its years of US training, has
killed hundreds of thousands of civilians.
The revelation could prove problematic for Obama, since his rationale
for restoring the aid has been the claim that TNI no longer murders
civilians. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Congress that the
issue is whether there is a "resumption" of atrocities, but in fact they
have not stopped. TNI still practices political murder.
senior Indonesian official who meets frequently with top commanders and
with the president of Indonesia says that the assassinations were
authorized by "higher ups in Jakarta." He provided detailed accounts of
certain aspects of the program, including the names of victims, the
methods and the names of some perpetrators.
The details cited in this piece were verified by other officials,
including senior members of POLRI, the Indonesian national police. Some
were also verified by the Kopassus general who helped run the killings.
The senior official spoke because he said he disagreed with the
assassinations. He declined to be quoted by name out of fear for his
position and personal safety.
Verified details that are known so far concern a series of
assassinations and bombings in Aceh--on the western tip of the island of
Sumatra--where local elections were being contested by the historically
pro-independence Partai Aceh (PA), a descendant of the old
pro-independence GAM (Free Aceh) rebel movement.
At least eight PA activists were assassinated in the run-up to the April
elections. The killings were, according to the officials with knowledge
of the program, an attempt to disorient PA supporters and pressure the
party to not discuss independence--an act regarded as proscribed speech,
not just in Aceh but across Indonesia under edicts from the country's
president, Gen. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
One of the PA activists, Tumijan, age 35, a palm oil worker from Nagan
Raya, was abducted and found two days later in a sewage ditch. His
throat was slit, his body mutilated and bound with electrical wire. His
corpse appeared near an army outpost. Some of his family blamed the
security forces, and, as has happened frequently in such cases, started
receiving anonymous death threats.
Another PA activist, Dedi Novandi, age 33, known as Abu Karim, was
sitting in his car outside his house with the driver's side window
cracked open when a plainclothes man strolled up with a pistol and put
two bullets in his head. A POLRI official with detailed knowledge of the
crime called it a professional killing, employing lookouts and advance
surveillance of the movements of Abu Karim.
As it happened, hours earlier Karim had sat down with a member of a
World Bank-sponsored delegation and expressed his worry about the
pre-election killings of PA people as well as a series of arson and
grenade attacks on PA offices.
Soon after, the
BBC came to the scene of the Abu Karim murder. Its
correspondent, Lucy Williamson, quoted one of the neighbors as saying
that she "thinks it strange the police have not found the people who
killed [Abu Karim]. 'Maybe it's because there were no witnesses,' she
said. 'And I think it's weird that there were no witnesses but what can
I say? Everyone said they didn't see anything.' "
"Inside the house," Williamson continued, "Abu Karim's wife, Cut Dede,
watches nervously over her four-year-old son. Like many people here she
is in no doubt this was a political killing."
In fact, according to the senior official and the others who confirmed
him, the Tumijan and Abu Karim murders were part of the TNI
assassination program coordinated on the provincial level at that time
by General Sunarko, the PANGDAM Aceh (chief of TNI forces in the
Sunarko had recently been sent to Aceh by the president, General
Susilo, after having been the nationwide commander of Kopassus, the TNI
Special Forces. Prior to that, General Sunarko had been the chief of
staff of Kostrad, the TNI army's huge Strategic Reserve Command, which
operates across the archipelago and is headquartered in Jakarta near the
Sunarko had been elevated to these key posts after overseeing militias
in occupied Timor. He was a Kopassus intelligence chief there during the
1999 TNI terror, an operation that included mass arson and
assassinations and was launched while the East Timorese were preparing
to vote for independence.
The 2009 PA killings occurred across Aceh. The Abu Karim murder, in
Bireuen, was said by the officials to have been managed for General
Sunarko by Lt. Col. R. Suharto, the local TNI army commander, using
troops aided by civilians from the old military-sponsored FORKAB and
Lt. Col. Suharto has long worked with the TNI's BAIS intelligence unit,
which played an integral role in these assassinations and others
nationwide, and is famous for its killings and torture in formerly
occupied Timor and, currently, in de facto occupied Papua.
When I asked knowledgeable POLRI officials about Lt. Col. Suharto and
the killing of Abu Karim, they became as nervous as the neighbors cited
in the BBC report.
They reluctantly discussed his role, but privately. We then went on the
record and I asked whether Lt. Col. Suharto had in fact run the Abu
Karim and other assassinations, and further asked whether he was among
those still running "black operations." The key POLRI official did not
deny anything but instead said "I cannot comment on that," and then
insisted that his name not be attached to even that remark.
On Friday, around 10:30 pm Western Indonesia Time, I called Lt. Col.
Suharto's cell phone. There was no answer so I sent a text message and
he replied by text asking who it was. I told him and we began a text
message exchange that lasted until after midnight. In the midst of the
texts I tried to call him five times, but each time he merely let the
By text, Lt. Col Suharto asked me where I was, and then, how I'd gotten
his number. He asked me why I wanted to speak to him. I replied, to
discuss the PA assassinations, including that of Abu Karim. Suharto
wrote back that that was a police matter. I asked him if TNI did the
killings. Lt. Col. Suharto replied no, and then I asked by text, "So,
does that mean you know who the killers are?" He said no to that too, so
then I asked him, "So how can you know TNI wasn't involved?"
At that point, Lt. Col. Suharto disconnected his cell phone. I tried to
call but got a phone company recording. I then sent a text message
asking whether he, Lt. Col. Suharto, was "involved in the murder of Abu
Karim, or the murders of other PA activists." Phone-company signaling
indicates that that message was delivered, but as of now, Lt. Col.
Suharto has not replied.
Militia members have said that Lt. Col Suharto's men also burned and
threw grenades at the PA offices. But all this was apparently only one
small part of the operation. In Nagan Raya, in another part of Aceh, the
snatching and assassination of Tumijan was carried out by another TNI
team, also working under General Sunarko. This is according to numerous
officials, including some from POLRI--and, in part, according to General
In the Tumijan murder the evidence includes not just statements by
inside officials but also a complex series of actions, including the
unpublicized detention of some of the low-level hit men who were
subordinates of Gen. Sunarko.
The senior Indonesian official who first spoke of the assassination
program said that Tumijan had been taken and finished off by a group of
young Kopassus and other soldiers who, as in the Abu Karim case, also
used civilians from TNI's old militias. He gave the names of some of
them, the soldiers Capt. Wahyu and Oktavianus, and the civilian TNI-run
militia followers Muhyari, Supardi, Kadir, Herwan, M. Yasin, Suprayogi,
Tahmid and Suparno.
He then made the remarkable claim that though no outsider yet knew it,
these lower-ranking killers of Tumijan had been secretly detained and
held for many months as part of a sensitive political deal involving
POLRI, TNI and officials who had unexpectedly gotten wind of certain
aspects of the still-secret TNI assassination program.
POLRI, he, said, agreed to take the militiamen, the military police
handled two of the soldiers, and the officials who had stumbled upon the
operation agreed to not discuss it publicly, as did POLRI, which never
announced the detentions and never attempted to charge the men. Most
important, the detentions were confined to street operatives in just one
of the murders. The more senior officers were left untouched to continue
POLRI officials I spoke to confirmed the senior official's account. But
they did so with evident reluctance, even fear. They made it clear that
they had no intention of going after the "higher ups in Jakarta," or
General Sunarko--or even Lt. Col. Suharto, who is a mere local
POLRI also kills and tortures civilians, and mounts joint task forces
with TNI, but they are fierce institutional rivals, wrestling for money,
power and extortion turf, and though POLRI has recently ascended
somewhat, TNI still has more guns and cash, and it lacks POLRI's
political burden of having to claim that it's enforcing the laws against
On Thursday, I reached the Aceh POLRI commander, Police General Aditya,
on his cell phone, and though he first said he would only speak
privately, face to face, and then tried to end the conversation, he did
confirm--for the first time publicly--that the lower-level hit men in
the Tumijan assassination had indeed been detained. When I asked him if
it was true that TNI General Sunarko had in fact supervised
assassinations of activists, Police General Aditya replied, "It is not
in my capacity to disclose that information," and abruptly hung up the
On Friday, I reached General Sunarko on his cell phone and asked him
about the assassinations, and Sunarko acknowledged that his TNI men had
a role in the killings. But he said that assassinations by TNI officers
and men should not necessarily be classified as being official acts of
TNI "as an institution." General Sunarko was remarkably calm. Though it
was not yet public, he knew about the detention of his subordinates for
the Tumijan murder (General Sunarko raised the matter before I mentioned
it), but the general indicated that he was not worried about any
follow-up action by POLRI or other authorities.
And regardless of whether the US restores the
aid for Kopassus, TNI as a whole already has the
General Sunarko seemed familiar with the Tumijan killing,
and said that Capt. Wahyu and Oktavianus, two of those
detained, had worked for his, Sunarko's, then-headquarters
in Aceh, the Iskandar Muda regional KODAM (the command
covering all of Aceh). When I asked specifically if he,
General Sunarko, was involved in the assassinations, he
responded lightheartedly, "That would be the work of a crazy
person," he said, "and I am not yet crazy."
When I asked General Sunarko about his subordinate, Lt. Col.
Suharto, he said that he knew him well, but when I asked him
if Lt. Col. Suharto had run the killing of Abu Karim,
General Sunarko replied, "I don't know," but then added, "If
that had happened, I'd know."
General Sunarko also said, before I broached the matter of
the assassinations, that he was an enthusiastic supporter of
President Obama's plan to boost aid to Kopassus and to TNI
generally. Sunarko said that the United States and TNI had
had a long, close partnership that had "raised the capacity
of TNI," and that Obama's restoration of aid would make for
"a still more intimate [akrab] collaboration."
The general said that he was himself was a longtime
colleague and admirer of US forces, having received US
training at various sites in Indonesia "many times" since
the 1980s. Using the English-language names of some of the
courses and of the US units that gave them, he said that US
Army instructors in Mobile Training Teams (MTTs) from the
Pentagon's Pacific Command (PACOM, in Hawaii) had trained
him in Jungle Warfare and Logistics as well as in other
subjects that he did not name. He said his US training
included special exercises in 1994 and 1998, and that his
fellow TNI trainees included other Kopassus and Kostrad men.
General Sunarko said his most recent US training was in
2006, when he was the chief of staff of Kostrad, soon to
become the Kopassus commander.
The general also suggested that the training was good for
the Americans too, since it enabled TNI and the US military
to "learn lessons from each other," and best situated the US
to "get what it needs" from TNI.
President Obama had been due to leave for Indonesia today,
but the visit has been postponed. Still on the table is a
big aid package for TNI, negotiated over recent months, the
political centerpiece of which is an apparent renewal of
open aid for Kopassus.
Though most every unit of TNI (and POLRI) has been
implicated in mass atrocities, those of Kopassus are the
most notorious, and, as its former commander, the US-trained
General Prabowo, once told me, it has historically been the
unit most closely identified with Washington. It was thus
especially galling to TNI when US activists, myself
included, were able to successfully press Congress to
interrupt US aid to Kopassus in the 1990s.
Obama's planned renewal of aid to Kopassus is now awaited by
TNI as sweet vindication, and by many of the survivors of
TNI terror as America's green light for more.
But, as with most of the other atrocities by TNI, the
assassination program reported in this piece involves
multiple TNI components beyond Kopassus: Kopassus, but also
BAIS intelligence and the mainline regional and local
commands, KODAM, KOREM and KODIM, all of them, most
importantly, reporting ultimately to the national TNI
commanders and other "higher ups in Jakarta."
And regardless of whether the US restores the aid for
Kopassus, TNI as a whole already has the green light. There
are now 2,800 TNI men reportedly being trained in the United
States (this according to Indonesia's defense minister; see
Olivia Rondonuwu and Ed Davies, "Interview--Indonesia Sees
U.S. Lifting Military Training Ban," Reuters, March 4), and
Obama's Pentagon is pushing weapons and equipment sales and
US loans that would further empower TNI overall.
That being said, Kopassus does indeed have a special swagger
and symbolic potency. During the recent Obama-TNI aid
negotiations in anticipation of his trip, the Kopassus
commanding general came to Washington and was welcomed by
the Obama team. Back in Indonesia, also during the talks, a
Kopassus man felt confident enough to attempt to board a
commercial flight out of Aceh while carrying a pistol fitted
with a silencer--a classic assassination weapon. This was of
interest to the Indonesian official who described the
incident, because one victim in Aceh had apparently been
executed with a silenced pistol, at night (the victim's
roommate didn't awaken).
An airport security man affiliated with the air force took
the Kopassus man's pistol away, but later, a Kopassus
delegation arrived and made him give it back.
Allan Nairn is an award-winning journalist whose writings
have focused on the role of the United States in subverting
governments abroad, with a particular emphasis on Guatemala,
Haiti and Indonesia, including East Timor. His 1994 article
for The Nation on covert US policy in Haiti was awarded the
George Polk Award for Civic Journalism.