U.S. intelligence officials based in Indonesia knew about the abductions
of political activists as they occurred reports Allan Nairn in an article to be published
in the forthcoming Nation magazine.
The article, "Our Men in Jakarta" in the June 15/22, 1998 issue, reveals that
U.S. intelligence knew for months about the disappearances as they were taking place.
Further Nairn reports "the activists' situation was thoroughly known to Colonel McFetridge of the D.I.A. and to the embassy C.I.A. station. Yet it was not until
mid-April, after a crisis caused by public protest, that the State Department went to
Prabowo and pushed for the release of some activists."
The U.S. has long been a supporter of Lt. General Prabowo, ex-President Suharto's
son-in-law and until recently commander of KOPASSUS, one of the units responsible for the
activists' disappearances. The training of KOPASSUS and other Indonesian army units
through the JCET (Joint Combined Exchange Training) program has caused a firestorm of criticism by members of Congress and human rights activists. In
January, Defense Secretary William Cohen praised KOPASSUS for its "very impressive...
The U.S. government last week claimed through the Washington Post that it had
discovered that Prabowo was involved in the disappearances, but Nairn says they knew all
along: "KOPASSUS Group 4, which U.S. officials singled out for blame in the PostB
were, from the start of the abductions, in close and friendly liaison with U.S.
intelligence," he writes.
In the article, Nairn interviews Col. Chairawan, the Group 4 commander, who says that
he directly deals with Col. McFetridge of the D.I.A.
General Wiranto, commander-in-chief of ABRI (the Indonesian Armed Forces) and Defense
minister under both Presidents Suharto and Habibie, recently pushed his rival Prabowo
Nairn reports -- contrary to claims that Prabowo acted alone -- that all the units
involved in the disappearances were under Wiranto's control and that one of them, the BIA,
is under his daily supervision has also been involved in the arrest and torture of
activists. (In last week's Nation ["Indonesia's
Disappeared," May 30] Nairn revealed and detailed the roles of BIA and Group 4 in
During the growing protests against Suharto, Wiranto personally issued a number of
threats against demonstrators and his spokesman mocked the 'disappeared' and said that
ABRI would not "tolerate any campaigns for drastic political reform." Wiranto
has also received extensive U.S. backing and praise. His units have been JCET trained and
the U.S. Pacific Commander has hailed him as "a man of integrity and a true
Although some formally arrested political prisoners along with some of the
"disappeared" activists have been released due to activist pressure, at least 5
abducted Indonesians and many dozens of "disappeared" in East Timor remain
Nairn, a prize-winning investigative journalist and activist with the East Timor Action
Network (ETAN) and Justice for All, recently reported in The Nation that the
Pentagon has been training Indonesian armed forces without the knowledge of Congress. The
report caused an outcry in Congress and on May 8, 1998, the Pentagon suspended its Joint
Combined Exchange and Training (JCET) program. Following the report, Nairn was detained,
interrogated and deported from Indonesia as "a threat to national security."
OUR MEN IN JAKARTA
By Allan Nairn
The Nation magazine (US), June 15/22, 1998
As the Suharto dictatorship collapsed, suddenly, on May 21, the Indonesian
Armed Forces (ABRI), scrambled to safeguard their police state. Rather than
have Suharto quit as a scheduled mass protest surged through the streets,
the ABRI commander, General Wiranto, threatened the students with a
"Tiananmen," and then persuaded Suharto to resign quietly.
Although many students did not seem to realize it, the ABRI leaders were
frightened. They knew that if millions took to the streets and the army lost
control, the question would become not just Suharto's rule but their own
political survival. As it happened, ABRI dodged the bullet: Suharto left,
and so did the students, pushed out of the parliament building they had held
for five days.
Afterward, General Wiranto, consulting nonstop with the U.S. Embassy, moved
to cover some of ABRI's bloody tracks. He demoted Lieut. Gen. Prabowo,
Suharto's hated son-in-law, and moved boldly to blame him for all ABRI
offenses of recent months. The U.S. government, through The Washington Post,
announced on May 23 that it had discovered that Prabowo was behind recent
"disappearances" of Indonesian activists. Two days earlier, on May 21, The
Nation had released an article that named the ABRI units involved in the
abductions--some of them under Prabowo's control but all of them under
Wiranto's [see Nairn, "Indonesia's 'Disappeared,'" June 8 cover date]. In
the Post piece, U.S. officials professed shock and "anger" at Prabowo, and
said the embassy had been working "to gain the activists' release."
This was in contrast to the actual U.S. position. As one embassy official
described it for me at the height of the disappearances: "Prabowo is our
fair-haired boy; he's the one who can do no wrong." In fact, Prabowo's units
that participated in the disappearances--particularly KOPASSUS Group 4,
which U.S. officials singled out for blame in the Post--were, from the start
of the abductions, in close and friendly liaison with U.S. intelligence.
Reached at his Jakarta home the night after Prabowo was replaced, Colonel
Chairawan, the Group 4 commander, confirmed to me that he deals with Col.
Charles McFetridge, the Defense Intelligence Agency (D.I.A.) attache at the
U.S. Embassy, with whom, he said, he speaks in Indonesian.
Although Chairawan denied it to me, other ABRI people say he has said that
Group 4's men have been trained by U.S. intelligence, a claim that U.S.
officials privately confirm. Last year, during the run-up to the staged
elections, KOPASSUS, with U.S. support, was expanded from 3,000 to 4,800
combat troops. According to an article by Col. John Haseman, formerly D.I.A.
attache in Jakarta, this was done "with an eye on potential domestic
The Pentagon built up KOPASSUS with more than twenty-four JCET training
exercises and backed Prabowo's plan to obtain U.S. helicopters. The United
States openly lauded Prabowo after a 1996 hostage-rescue raid in West Papua
in which, a knowledgeable official says, his men murdered eight civilians
after alighting in a helicopter falsely (and illegally) marked with the Red
Although Prabowo's personal relish for atrocity is legendary (a Timorese man
told me of having his leg and teeth broken by Prabowo), high-level U.S.
officials paraded him this year as the political crisis gathered steam. In
January, Defense Secretary William Cohen praised the "very impressive...
discipline" of KOPASSUS. Assistant Secretary of State Stanley Roth took
Prabowo along twice when he went to prison meetings with Xanana Gusmao, the
leader of the resistance in occupied East Timor, where Prabowo has done his
most extensive killings.
No less consistent has been U.S. support for Prabowo's professional rival,
General Wiranto, whose units were also JCET trained and who has been hailed
as "a man of integrity and a true Indonesian patriot" by Adm. Joseph Prueher,
chief of the U.S. Pacific Command. On March 4 Admiral Prueher told Congress
that the U.S. military was on alert for "early signs of instability" in East
Asia, including "labor disputes." Five days later, the ABRI intelligence
unit, BIA, which is under Wiranto's daily control, picked up nine labor
activists who had called for an increase in the minimum wage. One U.S.
official told me some of the activists were tortured and noted that in
previous weeks BIA had staged a series of break-ins and ransackings at the
offices of labor, student and women's organizations. He added that in East
Timor, BIA was using a new tactic: breaking the hips of prisoners.
On March 8 Lieut. Gen. Yunus Yosfiah, one of the key men of the Wiranto
faction, told students that ABRI would not "tolerate any campaigns for
drastic political reform." (Yosfiah, now Information Minister in the new
government, has been implicated in the 1975 murder of five foreign
journalists in East Timor.) The following night, a U.S. official, speaking
off the record in Jakarta, told me that ABRI was about to launch a thorough
Even as we spoke, Haryanto Taslam, Megawati Sukarno's chief field organizer,
had already been run off the road and taken to a torture center under the
control of BIA, with participation from KOPASSUS Group 4. As abductions
continued and as Wiranto's spokesman, Brig. Gen. Wahab Mokodongan, mocked
the victims--"perhaps the people who are said to have disappeared are
wandering around in the jungle"--knowledgeable officials told me that the
activists' situation was thoroughly known to Colonel McFetridge of the D.I.A.
and to the embassy C.I.A. station. Yet it was not until mid-April, after a
crisis caused by public protest, that the State Department went to Prabowo
and pushed for the release of some activists.
Even after that, the Pentagon continued to provide new JCET training, and
State kept pressing the democracy movement to back a new government formed
Today, as Prabowo has been thrown over and the United States has thrown in
with Wiranto, ABRI remains wary of the potential for mass upheaval and has
started releasing some formally arrested political prisoners. But many
dozens of "disappeared" remain missing in East Timor, as do at least five of
the abducted Indonesian activists (Sonny, Rian, Herman, Bimo Petrus and
The Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital in Jakarta reported this spring that unknown
and mutilated bodies were turning up along railroad tracks. It is perhaps
ominous for some of the missing that when Megawati--searching for Taslam--went
to a top ABRI commander she was told an absurd but chilling tale. Some of
the "disappeared," the general claimed, were actually BIA infiltrators who
had penetrated the democracy movement and had now returned to base. The
implication: Their associates should not expect to see them again.
Allan Nairn has reported frequently on Indonesia. Research support was
provided by the Investigative Fund of The Nation Institute.