|Subject: SMH & Age editorials - The
Truth About East Timor
Sydney Mornig Herald March 16, 2002
The truth about East Timor
The disclosure in the Herald this week of highly classified Defence Signals Directorate intercepts gathered during the 1999 East Timor crisis has, understandably, raised concerns within the Government that vital "sources and methods" of intelligence may be compromised. However, equally concerning is the Australian Government's concealment of evidence pointing to the higher level of responsibility in the Indonesian military for the serious crimes against humanity in East Timor, previously blamed on "rogue elements". Such concerns are clearly shared by members of the defence community, as the unprecedented leaking of contemporary, "raw" DSD intercepts attests.
While the Indonesian military may respond to the disclosure with measures to increase its communications security, and making the job of DSD more difficult, the benefits of disclosing this crucial evidence must be considered. The intercepts detail the command structure, objective and the methods of the Indonesian military's proxy campaign to retain territorial control of a restive East Timor. This unsuccessful campaign, using local armed militia groups, caused widespread damage, death and disruption. The legal accounting for these crimes is yet to take place. The Indonesian trials, which began this week, so far include a limited number of suspects.
The senior officers among the accused are charged with the lesser offences of failure to control their subordinates. The DSD intercepts, however, outline a much more direct and sinister role in orchestrating the violence by these and other senior military officers, who remain untouched. Indeed, several of these officers have since been promoted into important positions. This failure of accountability is not just Indonesia's, but also that of the international community which has left Jakarta to try its own. It is still just possible that the provision of this Australian intelligence material may persuade Indonesian prosecutors to widen the scope of their trials. It should also refocus the attention of the United Nations on the possibility of an international war crimes tribunal should Jakarta fail to punish those who planned and controlled the operation. It would also be useful to consider the possibility that Australia's broader political objectives could be advanced with the use of these intercepts. The exposure of such a high-level conspiracy within the Indonesian armed forces could assist Indonesia's own efforts to reform the military and to exclude corrupted officers from senior positions. This may contribute more to Australia's long-term security than the preservation, in the short term, of intelligence assets.
A silent witness to East Timor's horror
A witness to any crime has responsibilities that are essential to maintaining a civilised society. The first responsibility is to the victim, to offer whatever help is possible. The second is to help bring the offender to justice. Australia, as a result of its intelligence gathering, has emerged as a key witness to crimes against humanity. Material provided to The Age this week confirms that the Australian Government is uniquely able to provide evidence against those in the Indonesian military and government who oversaw the violence inflicted on East Timor before and after its people voted for independence on August30, 1999. That the orders came from high up is clear from the sheer magnitude of what happened: the terrorising of an entire population and murder of up to 2000 people; the forced removal of 250,000 to West Timor; the razing of most infrastructure. All the while, Australian eyes and ears, using advanced monitoring equipment, watched and listened. They heard Indonesian generals direct and conspire with militia leaders. They saw high-resolution images, capable of identifying individuals. Everything was systematically recorded: identities, chains of command, dates and times. The guilty parties went to great lengths to cover their tracks in East Timor, but they could not destroy the secret evidence that the Defence Signals Directorate now holds in Canberra.
More than two years later, however, Australia remains a silent witness. The government has shared little of what it knows with any court (two are sitting, one in Indonesia and one in East Timor). This week a special court in Jakarta began trying 18 suspects, but the big fish - many of whom still occupy positions of power - appear to have slipped through the net. Tellingly, Indonesia has repudiated a 2000 agreement to honour United Nations extradition requests. Australia co-sponsored the 1999 resolution that set up the UN investigations that could yet lead to a UN war crimes tribunal. In the same year, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Australia would "obviously assist with the UN inquiry" and would take into account precedents such as in Rwanda and the Balkans. Last July, he welcomed the prosecution of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic. A crucial factor in that case was that the US and Britain supplied intelligence material.
Australia has a moral obligation to follow suit. Doing so would not only help bring crimes to court, but would deliver a warning to regimes that even now are committing or contemplating atrocities: they will be called to account. Canberra may have concerns about compromising its intelligence gathering and its ties with Jakarta, but a crime against humanity, by definition, is a crime against us all, which transcends issues of politics or sovereignty. When justice was compromised in the past, from Nazi Germany through to Cambodia, the decisions came back to haunt us. Indeed, the release of the DSD documents reflects disquiet within the defence community about this nation's present culpability. Ironically, Australia and Indonesia recently agreed to share intelligence to combat terrorism. In the defence of civilisation, how Australia responds to crimes against humanity is no less significant.
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