Major new statement from Noam Chomsky, Sept 10, on Timor....
Comments On the Occasion of the Forthcoming APEC Summit
There are many topics of major long-term significance that should be
addressed at the APEC conference, but one is of consuming importance and
overwhelming urgency. We all know exactly what it is, and why it must be
placed at the forefront of concern -- and more important, instant action.
This conference provides an opportunity -- there may not be many more -- to
terminate the tragedy that is once again reaching shocking proportions in
East Timor. The Indonesian military forces who invaded East Timor 24 years
ago, and have been slaughtering and terrorizing its inhabitants ever since,
are right now, as I write, in the process of sadistically destroying what
remains: the population, the cities and villages. What they are planning, we
cannot be sure: a Carthaginian solution is not out of the question.
The tragedy of East Timor has been one of the most awesome of this terrible
century. It is also of particular moral significance for us, for the
simplest and most obvious of reasons. Western complicity has been direct and
decisive. The expected corollary also holds: unlike the crimes of official
enemies, these can be ended by means that have always been readily
available, and still are.
The current wave of terror and destruction began early this year, under
pretense that the atrocities were the work of "uncontrolled militias." It
was quickly revealed that these were paramilitary forces armed, organized,
and directed by the Indonesian army, who also participated directly in their
"criminal activities," as these have just been described by Indonesian
Foreign Minister Ali Alatas, still maintaining the shameful pretense that
the "military institution" that is directing the crimes is seeking to stop
The Indonesian military forces are commonly described as "rogue elements."
That is hardly accurate. Most prominent among them are Kopassus units sent
to East Timor to carry out the actions for which they are famed, and
dreaded. They have "the job of managing the militias, many observers
believe,” veteran Asia correspondent David Jenkins reported as the terror
was mounting. Kopassus is the "crack special forces unit" modeled on the
U.S. Green Berets that had "been training regularly with US and Australian
forces until their behaviour became too much of an embarrassment for their
foreign friends." These forces are "legendary for their cruelty," observes
Benedict Anderson, one of the leading Indonesia scholars. In East Timor,
Anderson continues, "Kopassus became the pioneer and exemplar for every kind
of atrocity," including systematic rapes, tortures and executions, and
organization of hooded gangsters.
Jenkins wrote that Kopassus officers, trained in the United States,
the tactics of the US Phoenix program in South Vietnam, which killed tens of
thousands of peasants and much of the indigenous South Vietnamese
leadership, as well as "the tactics employed by the Contras" in Nicaragua,
following lessons taught by their CIA mentors that it should be unnecessary
to review. The state terrorists were "not simply going after the most
radical pro-independence people but going after the moderates, the people
who have influence in their community." "It's Phoenix," a well-placed source
in Jakarta reported: the aim is "to terrorise everyone" -- the NGOs, the Red
Cross, the UN, the journalists.
All of this was well before the referendum and the atrocities conducted
its immediate aftermath. As to these, there is good reason to heed the
judgment of a high-ranking Western official in Dili. "Make no mistake," he
reported: "this is being directed from Jakarta. This is not a situation
where a few gangs of rag-tag militia are out of control. As everybody here
knows, it has been a military operation from start to finish."
The official was speaking from the UN compound in which the UN observers,
the last few reporters, and thousands of terrified Timorese finally took
refuge, besieged by Indonesia's paramilitary agents. At that time, a few
days ago, the UN estimated that violent expulsions had perhaps reached
200,000 people, about a quarter of the population, with unknown numbers
killed and physical destruction running to billions of dollars. At best, it
would take decades to rebuild the territory's basic infrastructure, they
concluded. And the army may well have still more far-reaching goals.
In the months before the August 30 referendum, the horror story continued.
Citing diplomatic, church, and militia sources, Australian journalists
reported in July "that hundreds of modern assault rifles, grenades and
mortars are being stockpiled, ready for use if the autonomy [within
Indonesia] option is rejected at the ballot box." They warned that the
army-run militias might be planning a violent takeover of much of the
territory if, despite the terror, the popular will would be expressed. All
of this was well understood by the "foreign friends," who also knew how to
bring the terror to an end, but preferred to delay, hesitate, and keep to
evasive and ambiguous reactions that the Indonesian Generals could easily
interpret as a "green light" to carry out their grim work.
In a display of extraordinary courage and heroism, virtually the entire
population made their way to the ballot-boxes, many emerging from hiding to
do so. Braving brutal intimidation and terror, they voted overwhelming in
favor of the right of self-determination that had long ago been endorsed by
the United Nations Security Council and the World Court.
Immediately, the Indonesian occupying forces reacted as had been predicted
by observers on the scene. The weapons that had been stockpiled, and the
forces that had been mobilized, conducted a well-planned operation. They
proceeded to drive out anyone who might bring the terrible story to the
outside world and cut off communications, while massacring, expelling tens
of thousands of people to an unknown fate, burning and destroying, murdering
priests and nuns, and no one knows how many other hapless victims. The
capital city of Dili has been virtually destroyed. In the countryside, where
the army can rampage undetected, one can only guess what has taken place.
Even before the latest outrages, highly credible Church sources had
3-5000 killed in 1999, well beyond the scale of atrocities in Kosovo prior
to the NATO bombings. The scale might even reach the level of Rwanda if the
"foreign friends" keep to timid expressions of disapproval while insisting
that internal security in East Timor "is the responsibility of the
Government of Indonesia, and we don't want to take that responsibility away
from them" -- the official position of the State Department a few days
before the August 30 referendum.
It would have been far less hypocritical to have said, early this year,
internal security in Kosovo "is the responsibility of the Government of
Yugoslavia, and we don't want to take that responsibility away from them."
Indonesia's crimes in East Timor have been vastly greater, even just this
year, not to speak of their actions during the years of aggression and
terror; Western-backed, we should never allow ourselves to forget. That
aside, Indonesia has no claim whatsoever to the territory it invaded and
occupied, apart from the claim based on support by the Great Powers.
The "foreign friends" also understand that direct intervention in the
occupied territory, however justified, might not even be necessary. If the
United States were to take a clear, unambiguous, and public stand, informing
the Indonesian Generals that this game is over, that might very well
suffice. The same has been true for the past quarter-century, as the US
provided critical military and diplomatic support for the invasion and
atrocities. These were directed by General Suharto, compiling yet another
chapter in his gruesome record, always with Western support, and often
acclaim. He was once again praised by the Clinton Administration. He is "our
kind of guy," the Administration declared as he visited Washington shortly
before he fell from grace by losing control and dragging his feet on IMF
If changing the former green light to a new red light does not suffice,
Washington and its allies have ample means at their disposal: termination of
arms sales to the killers; initiation of war crimes trials against the army
leadership -- not an insignificant threat; cutting the economic support
funds that are, incidentally, not without their ambiguities; putting a hold
on Western energy corporations and multinationals, along with other
investment and commercial activities. There is also no reason to shy away
from peacekeeping forces to replace the occupying terrorist army, if that
proves necessary. Indonesia has no authority to "invite" foreign
intervention, as President Clinton urged, any more than Saddam Hussein had
authority to invite foreign intervention in Kuwait, or Nazi Germany in
France in 1944 for that matter. If dispatch of peacekeeping forces is
disguised by such prettified terminology, it is of no great importance, as
long as we do not succumb to illusions that prevent us from understanding
what has happened, and what it portends.
What the U.S. and its allies are doing, we scarcely know. The New York
reports that the Defense Department is "taking the lead in dealing with the
crisis,...hoping to make use of longstanding ties between the Pentagon and
the Indonesian military." The nature of these ties over many decades is no
secret. Important light on the current stage is provided by Alan Nairn, who
survived the Dili massacre in 1991 and barely escaped with his life in Dili
again a few days ago. In another stunning investigative achievement, Nairn
has just revealed that immediately after the vicious massacre of dozens of
refugees seeking shelter in a church in Liquica, U.S. Pacific Commander
Admiral Dennis Blair assured Indonesian Army chief General Wiranto of US
support and assistance, proposing a new U.S. training mission.
On September 8, the Pacific Command announced that Admiral Blair is
again being sent to Indonesia to convey U.S. concerns. On the same day,
Secretary of Defense William Cohen reported that a week before the
referendum in August, the US was carrying out joint operations with the
Indonesian army -- "a U.S.-Indonesian training exercise focused on
humanitarian and disaster relief activities," the wire services reported.
The fact that Cohen could say this without shame leaves one numb with
amazement. The training exercise was put to use within days -- in the
standard way, as all but the voluntarily blind must surely understand after
many years of the same tales, the same outcomes.
Every slight move comes with an implicit retraction. On the eve of the
meeting, on September 9, Clinton announced the termination of military ties;
but without cutting off arms sales, and while declaring East Timor to be
"still a part of Indonesia," which it is not and has never been. The
decision was delivered to General Wiranto by Admiral Blair. It takes no
unusual cynicism to watch the current secret interactions with a skeptical
Skepticism is only heightened by the historical record: to mention one
recent case, Clinton's evasion of congressional restrictions barring U.S.
training of Indonesian military officers after the Dili massacre. The
earlier record is far worse from the first days of the U.S.-authorized
invasion. While the U.S. publicly condemned the aggression, Washington
secretly supported it with a new flow of arms, which was increased by the
Carter Administration as the slaughter reached near-genocidal levels in
1978. It was then that highly credible Church and other sources in East
Timor attempted to make public the estimates of 200,000 deaths that came to
be accepted years later, after constantly denial.
Every student in the West, every citizen with even a minimal concern
international affairs, should know by heart the frank and honest description
of the opening days of the invasion by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then
America's U.N. Ambassador. The Security Council ordered the invaders to
withdraw at once, but without effect. In his memoirs, published as the
terror peaked 20 years ago, Moynihan explained the reasons: "The United
States wished things to turn out as they did," and he dutifully "worked to
bring this about," rendering the UN "utterly ineffective in whatever
measures it undertook." As for how "things turned out," Moynihan comments
that within a few months 60,000 Timorese had been killed, "almost the
proportion of casualties experienced by the Soviet Union during the Second
World War." End of story, though not in the real world.
So matters have continued since, not just in the United States. England
a particularly ugly record, as do Australia, France, and all too many
others. That fact alone confers on them enormous responsibility to act, not
only to end the atrocities, but to provide reparations as at least some
miserable gesture of compensation for their crimes.
The reasons for the Western stance are very clear. They are currently
with brutal frankness. "The dilemma is that Indonesia matters and East Timor
doesn't," a Western diplomat in Jakarta bluntly observed a few days ago. It
is no "dilemma," he might have added, but rather standard operating
procedure. Explaining why the U.S. refuses to take a stand, New York Times
Asia specialists Elizabeth Becker and Philip Shenon report that the Clinton
Administration "has made the calculation that the United States must put its
relationship with Indonesia, a mineral-rich nation of more than 200 million
people, ahead of its concern over the political fate of East Timor, a tiny
impoverished territory of 800,000 people that is seeking independence."
Their fate as human beings apparently does not even reach the radar screen,
for these calculations. The Washington Post quotes Douglas Paal, president
of the Asia Pacific Policy Center, reporting the facts of life: "Timor is a
speed bump on the road to dealing with Jakarta, and we've got to get over it
safely. Indonesia is such a big place and so central to the stability of the
Even without secret Pentagon assurances, Indonesian Generals can surely
these statements and draw the conclusion that they will be granted leeway to
work their will.
The analogy to Kosovo has repeatedly been drawn in the past days. It
singularly inappropriate, in many crucial respects. A closer analogy would
be to Iraq-Kuwait, though this radically understates the scale of the
atrocities and the culpability of the United States and its allies. There is
still time, though very little time, to prevent a hideous consummation of
one of the most appalling tragedies of the terrible century that is winding
to a horrifying, wrenching close.