Here I reproduce 1 extensive commentary on Timor Leste and Whitlam; 2 on the new Chega website and President Jokowi and human rights; General admits war crimes; 3 other current TL issues
1. a. From Richie Gunn, former SA ALP MP in the Whitlam caucus, tells this vital account.
“I am one of the diminishing number of survivors of the Whitlam government, and was a member of the delegation to Portuguese East Timor in mid-1975. I have attached my account of the events leading up to the Indonesian invasion.
In 2007 I met Rufino Alves Correira, one of the last surviving Timorese who helped the Australian commandos who had landed in what was then Portuguese Timor ahead of Japanese occupation. By the end of 1942 the Australian Commando force in East Timor was the only Australian force in south-east Asia that had not been captured by the Japanese. This was in no small part due to the East Timorese, whose courageous support enabled the Commando force to survive until it was withdrawn in early 1943. I met Rufino, who died in 2010, through Paul Cleary, whose book The Men Who Came Out of the Ground, describes how the Australian soldiers maintained a rearguard guerrilla action against a much larger Japanese force with the aid of East Timorese, many of whom lost their lives in their efforts.
It would be reasonable to expect that Australia would remember the heroic sacrifice of so many Timorese in the years following the war against Japan. On the contrary, when a newly independent East Timor faced an unprovoked invasion from Indonesia in 1975, Australia chose appeasement of Indonesia over support for our World War II allies in Timor, and their descendants. More recently, now that an independent Timor Leste has emerged, successive Australian governments have held to a treaty which appropriates a significant share of gas royalties which rightly belongs to Timor Leste – a treaty which the Timorese government at the time signed under duress.
Through all the years since 1975 spent supporting the cause of East Timorese independence from Indonesian rule, I was never really convinced that independence would actually happen. For most of the 24 years between the Indonesian invasion and the referendum on independence I chaired the Campaign for an Independent East Timor (CIET (SA)), a small group of activists who maintained a campaign to change Australian government policy on the Indonesian occupation. Although we never gave up hope of changing Australian government policy (after all, most Australians probably agreed with us) my personal view was that the Indonesian policy wasn’t ever going to change. The events following the fall of Suharto didn’t just take the Indonesians by surprise: the eventual Indonesian withdrawal wasn’t really anticipated by anyone in Australia either.
My interest in what was then Portuguese East Timor was kindled through James Dunn (see his comment below). A former Australian consul in East Timor, Jim was a research officer in the Foreign Affairs research division of the Federal Parliamentary Library. When the longstanding Portuguese fascist dictatorship fell in April 1974, the new administration decided to shed its colonies in Africa. The emergence of pro-independence movements in Angola and Mozambique was soon emulated in Portuguese East Timor, the oldest European colonial administration in Southeast Asia, and the pro-independence Fretilin quickly established itself as the dominant political movement in the colony. With other members of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, I was provided with a briefing paper by Jim Dunn on political developments in East Timor. To all of us on the committee it was a no-brainer that if the people of East Timor wanted decolonisation and full independence, they should be entitled to it, as had been the case with other ex-colonial societies throughout the decades following the end of World War II. However this didn’t appear to be the opinion of Whitlam. In 1974 we first encountered the now familiar representative of East Timor, Jose Ramos Horta, who arrived in Canberra to plead his country’s case to determine their own future. To our dismay he received little encouragement from Whitlam. To add to our discomfort, Horta received a relatively friendly hearing from the opposition spokesman on foreign affairs, Andrew Peacock, although subsequently it transpired that his support had been cynical and opportunistic.
From when the Portuguese determined that it would quit its colonial possessions, there was a clear divergence between Whitlam’s approach to the issue and that of the Caucus Foreign Affairs Committee, of which I was a member, The Caucus minutes of 4/3/75 state:
J Kerin (Secretary of Defence and Foreign Affairs Committee) advised that the committee has resolved:
That we believe the principle of self-determination is fundamental to Labor policy and that it is essential that this principle be applied with respect to future Australian Government policy towards Portuguese Timor. Further the committee expresses its concern with the situation in Portuguese Timor and believes that the Australian Government should establish a mission in Dili.
With talk of a threatened Indonesian takeover if Portugal were to cut its ties with East Timor, a delegation from the caucus foreign affairs committee visited the territory for one week in March 1975. The delegation consisted of Arthur Gietzelt, Gordon McIntosh, Ken Fry, Gareth Clayton, John Kerin (later to become a cabinet minister in the Hawke Labor Government) and me. The Portuguese military hosted our visit. We were cordially welcomed at the Governor’s residence, and they took us to centres outside Dili, including Baucau, and to Lospalos on the eastern end of the territory, which we visited in a Portuguese army helicopter (landing on the soccer field).
The Portuguese also facilitated meetings with the main political parties, although not much encouragement was needed, since most local political leaders were for their part keen to meet us. This was particularly so in the case of the Fretilin leadership, which organised a couple of mass rallies for our benefit, to demonstrate their undoubted mass support. Fretilin and UDT were at that time in a coalition, which was uneasy and ended a few months later when they were at war with each other. The most cordial meetings were with the Fretilin leadership, led by the ex-seminarian Francisco Xavier do Amaral, who became leader of the PSDT in the Timorese Parliament after independence. We were also met one Roque Rodriguez, who later became a minister in the Fretilin Government following independence. Rodriguez subjected us to a prolonged monologue. I personally found him an obnoxious individual, an ideologue who seemed to model himself on Fidel Castro. He spent the years of Indonesian rule in exile, and I again met him when he visited Adelaide in the late 1970s. Again he thought it his role to deliver an uninterrupted address, to a small meeting of about five people, which after half an hour I reduced to four. (Subsequently he became Defence Minister in the Fretilin government after the first post-independence elections in the early 2000s.)
We also met UDT representatives, led by Lopes da Cruz. The leadership of Apodeti, which favoured integration with Indonesia, seemed more reticent about meeting us, but we did have a short meeting with them.
We all formed the impression that the East Timorese generally favoured independence, and that Fretilin enjoyed majority support. In retrospect it could be said that we were unduly influenced by the large and vocal pro-Fretilin rallies put on to impress us; it is possible that there was a silent majority, especially outside the capital Dili, with concerns about Fretilin policies. Nevertheless the 57% support Fretilin received at the first parliamentary election after independence would seem to have vindicated our judgement.
The Indonesian government had a consular representative in Dili, EM Tomodok. At a meeting with the delegation he denied any territorial ambitions on the part of Indonesia. The meeting prompted me to declare on returning to Australia that an Indonesian invasion was unlikely. This was no doubt a naïve judgement on my part, but at that time that Suharto had not conclusively decided to invade. Many other factors in the mix were to contribute to the subsequent outcome.
One such factor was the attitude of the Portuguese, whose abrupt withdrawal (to the island of Atauro) was probably a decisive factor in the eventual Indonesian decision to invade. Portugal itself was at the time in a relatively unstable situation. Following the fall of the Caetano fascist administration in April 1974, the country was being governed by a cabal of military officers, strongly influenced by a left-wing group known as the Armed Forces Movement. It even appeared at that time that a communist government could emerge in Portugal. (This would have been an interesting challenge to NATO, since, in that era of Eurocommunism, the Portuguese communist leader, Alvaro Cunhal, remained staunchly pro-Soviet.)
Another factor was that open conflict had broken out between the Fretilin and UDT. This was probably initiated by UDT soon after it had sent a delegation to Indonesia. It was not long before the Fretilin forces emerged victorious and assumed effective control of the territory.
What is sometimes forgotten is that in August 1975 the Portuguese Governor of East Timor appealed for international forces to be sent to control the situation. However Prime Minister Whitlam expressed opposition to any military involvement by Australia, saying that Australia was not a ‘party principal” to the conflict.
On 2 September 1975 a federal Labor caucus meeting took place, which may have had a decisive factor in the disaster that overtook the Timorese the following December. The Caucus convened for the first session of the Federal Parliament after the winter recess. Gough Whitlam spoke to the first caucus meeting on two international matters – the Baltic States, and Portuguese East Timor. During the parliamentary recess the Government had decided to award de jure recognition of the annexation by the Soviet Union that had occurred decades previously of the Baltic States, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. This peremptory decision was as unexpected as it was unpopular. There had been no political pressure in Australia, and as far as I am aware there was no diplomatic pressure from the Soviet government for this to occur; there was no quid pro quo offered to Australia, and the decision was politically damaging, probably welcomed only by the handful of caucus members who slavishly supported the USSR on all matters.
After reporting on this decision to the caucus, Whitlam moved to the East Timor question. He was shortly to have a meeting on the matter in Townsville with President Suharto.
To my dismay Whitlam declared that East Timor was too small to exist as an autonomous economic entity. Unfortunately the official Caucus minutes do not accurately reflect what was said. Reading the minutes (which are held in the National Library) more than thirty years later it is clear that the Caucus Secretary missed this crucial point. The transcript, which was clearly never edited, states:
“G Duthie asked PM what is happening in ET.
PM: basic principle for us is self determination for Timorese people: not easy for a former colony. Process of decolonisation is never easy. Portugal would be happy for Australia to accept her imperial activities – we should not be in it. However we will provide transport and communications to assist Portugal in contacting the people at first hands (sic). They have not taken this up. We have also rejected quadro portete (sic) proposals, whereas we would contribute personnel to any United Nations proposal for peacekeeping – similar to Cyprus.”
Obviously the Caucus secretary had no shorthand experience, the meeting was not recorded on tape, and it seems doubtful that he was aware of the crucial importance of what Whitlam actually said. Thus the minutes do not report verbatim everything that Whitlam said. Memory of course is not a good basis for reconstructing past events, especially events that occurred several decades previously. However I can say that I clearly recall Whitlam saying that East Timor was too small to be economically autonomous (or words to that effect), that in discussion with others that was their impression also, and that it was consistent with his general approach to the East Timor question. Furthermore in writing this memoir I have discussed the matter with John Kerin, who was Secretary of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, and he agrees with that reconstruction of what Whitlam said to the Caucus.
When Whitlam finished his remarks it would have been open to any caucus member at the meeting to ask questions on the matters raised. John Button rose and asked a question querying the decision on the Baltic States but not a single caucus member rose to comment on Whitlam’s statement on the East Timor issue. The failure to even question Whitlam’s views was a disastrous omission. Since Whitlam had openly stated his provocative opinion at the potentially hostile meeting, it is inconceivable that he would have said anything less at his subsequent meeting with Suharto in Townsville. Moreover, as a consequence of the caucus meeting he could have justifiably defended his actions on the grounds that the entire parliamentary Labor Party had been given the opportunity to rebut him but none had done so, so that his policy enjoyed total party support.
I do not excuse myself for being one of the ninety-odd MPs present who all sat on their hands while a critical matter affecting the future of the East Timorese passed without proper consideration.
Why did nobody say anything at the caucus meeting? An important factor was probably the extreme pressure on the Labor Government at the time. Events relating to the actions of various ministers such as the Loans Affair were overtaking the government, leading up to the eventual dismissal of the government a few months later. Although the caucus meetings were closed to the press and the public, all relevant details were always quickly leaked to the media – even details unfavourable to the government. Any criticism of Whitlam’s leadership at the caucus meeting would have been immediately leaked and interpreted as a further sign of government instability. This was my feeling at the time, which is why I hesitated, while the meeting quickly moved on to other matters.
Thus there would have been no doubt in Suharto’s mind after the Townsville meeting that Australia would not seek to influence or interfere with any action Indonesia might take. Thereafter the Government line was that of Whitlam. Although it no doubt represented the prevailing view in the Department of Foreign Affairs, and certainly that of the Ambassador in Jakarta, Richard Woolcott, this view was certainly not shared by the caucus foreign affairs committee. The Foreign Minister, Don Willesee, professed sympathy with the committee view, but this didn’t matter as Whitlam had taken over the running of the policy himself. And given the perilous position of the government, it was impossible for any public displays of disunity. So when Whitlam told the parliament on 26 August 1975 that Australia was not “a party principal” in resolving the East Timor situation while conceding that Indonesia occupied an important place because of its “predominant interest”, the backbenchers who thought otherwise had to bite their tongues.
An important instance of this concerned the Indonesian incursions across the border with West Timor, which preceded the main invasion. The government was of course aware of the incursions, and of the murder of the five Australian journalists who inconveniently placed themselves in Balibo to observe the territorial violation. The Defence Minister, Bill Morrison, told me himself of the Government’s knowledge of the situation gained from its eavesdropping on the Indonesians by the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD). In fact the Australian Government was not solely reliant on DSD intercepts. Previously secret cables from the Australian embassy in Jakarta make it clear that the Indonesians were keeping the government briefed on their plans for incursion across the West Timor border. These cables are set out in the appendix that follows this piece. But officially the government said nothing.
Meanwhile Whitlam was not subjected to any discouragement from the Liberal-National opposition. If anything he was being provoked for not doing more to suppress East Timorese independence. On 28 August 1975 the Nationals’ leader, JD Anthony, demanded to know what the government was doing to stop the installation of a “communist government” in East Timor, and strongly implied that Australia should intervene to forestall installation of a Fretilin government. Although the Liberal spokesman Andrew Peacock had posed as the champion of the East Timorese, he retreated when it became convenient to do so, allowing the hawkish sentiments such as Anthony’s to prevail. Still, in putting an appearance of party unity ahead of principle on this matter he was no more culpable than those of us on the Labor side who gave primacy to the domestic political struggle in Australia over the future of the East Timorese.
The caucus foreign affairs committee tried its best to convince Willesee to say something publicly about what was happening, but he felt powerless to override the coalition of Whitlam and the Department of Foreign Affairs. Finally in November the committee delivered an ultimatum to Willesee – either the government would state publicly that Indonesian troops were entering East Timor, or we would raise the matter in the caucus room, which would be tantamount to going public with a declaration of dissent from government policy. Willesee came back to the committee with a draft speech expressing concern with Indonesian incursions across the West Timor border. However before the speech was delivered the Department engineered an alteration in the speech, so that Willessee denied any knowledge of information which would confirm the presence of Indonesian troops in East Timor. In answer to a question on 6 November, he merely told the Senate that he must approach the reports (of the presence of Indonesian troops in East Timor) with the “utmost scepticism”. In other words he deliberately refrained from confirming what he knew to be true.
Committee members had no opportunity to respond to this, as on 11 November the Whitlam Government was dismissed by the Governor-General and Parliament dissolved. For me personally it had been my last day in parliament. The full-scale invasion occurred the following month, six days before my seat passed to the Liberals in a large swing that ended the Labor tenure.
Of course we don’t know how much, if at all, a different Australian policy could have affected the outcome. However it is conceivable that Australia could have successfully argued for a more moderate policy. After all, a letter from John Howard to Suharto’s successor, President Habibie, 24 years later did lead to the calling of a referendum, even though the resulting outcome was not what neither Howard nor Habibie anticipated.
What could Australia have done? Certainly nothing like a pre-emptive landing by Australian troops or a naval blockade would have been realistic options. But a statement of support for East Timorese independence, similar to Australian recognition of Indonesian independence from Dutch colonial rule in 1948, could hardly have been provocative, especially since there were, even late in 1975, elements in the Indonesian government opposed to an invasion. However nothing could have been more harmful to the East Timorese than what Australia actually did, which was to declare ourselves a disinterested party, and implicitly that Indonesia did have a legitimate interest.
James Dunn clearly thinks Australian opinion did matter to Jakarta. In his book Timor – a People Betrayed he says:
Had the government chosen to put to positive use the information available to it from intelligence and diplomatic sources, a clear consensus would probably have been achieved, making it impossible for the Indonesian generals concerned to deduce that the use of force to achieve integration would readily be accepted by Australian political leaders as a necessary, if not desirable, solution to the Timor problem.
More recently, evidence has emerged that forthright opposition to the Balibo events could possibly have averted the subsequent full-scale invasion that occurred on 7 December 1975. For this information we can thank Professor Clinton Fernandes of the University of NSW, who has compiled a history of the political, military and diplomatic events of the time through relentless pursuit of archived documents though Freedom of Information Legislation (against equally relentless opposition by the government to the release of the documents). Fernandes reveals some information which is critical but previously unknown:
Indonesian special forces captured and killed the journalists on the morning of 16 October. The killing caused alarm in the Indonesian high command. Worried about the international diplomatic consequences, they called a halt to the military operation. Indonesia’s concern about a negative international reaction combined with its own logistical problems and the onset of the wet season led to nearly five weeks of inactivity as it waited to see what the reaction would be. But there was no adverse reaction from Australia, Britain or New Zealand. This was the real ‘green light’; the lack of international condemnation at the killing of five foreign journalists meant that the Indonesian military could treat the East Timorese as they wished.
In summary then, the Australian government had full knowledge that the Indonesian military had murdered the Australian troops yet publicly denied such knowledge. Moreover, the Indonesian governments construed the lack of any protest by Australia or any other nation as a signal that they could proceed with the planned invasion, which took place on 7 December 1975.
Why did Whitlam take such a strong stand against East Timorese independence? It is possible, I suppose, to take him at his word that it was a matter of economic viability; in other words, that East Timor was too small to go it alone. However this is totally at odds with his approach to Papua-New Guinea, which he single-handedly pushed into an independence which in hindsight was premature. Nor as far as I am aware did he ever say that other small nations in the area such as Nauru or the Solomons should be annexed by any other power. Graham Freudenberg, Whitlam’s speechwriter, gives us a partial insight into Whitlam’s thinking in A Certain Grandeur, his book of the Whitlam years, and in his aptly-named autobiographical, Figure of Speech. Before joining Whitlam’s staff, Freudenberg was speechwriter for Whitlam’s predecessor as labor leader, Arthur Calwell. He relates Calwell’s response in 1963 to the proposed Indonesian annexation of West Irian, which was at that time the last territory of the former Dutch East Indies still under Dutch colonial administration. While the Menzies Liberal Government determined to recognise formally the incorporation of what became Irian Jaya into Indonesia, Calwell – without consulting Whitlam, then his deputy – isolated himself politically by stating that such a “potential threat” to Australian security “must be faced”. Menzies chose to interpret this as warlike intent, and Calwell’s policy became untenable. In 1962 under international pressure the Netherlands government relinquished its last colony in Asia. Meanwhile Menzies re-established his political supremacy over Calwell, which had been eroded by the narrow Liberal election victory in 1961. Freudenberg says that Whitlam learned a lesson from this experience:
Thirteen years later, in 1975, there was to be an echo of this strange affair. The Calwell catastrophe would deeply affect the attitude of Whitlam, as Prime Minister, to the problem posed by Indonesia’s desire to incorporate East Timor. Whitlam, as Prime Minister, was determined never again to have a bar of the humbug and humiliation which had occurred over West Irian.
My view is that Whitlam’s attitude was one of realpolitik, that it is unrealistic to oppose the wishes of the powerful. Hence his recognition of China and the severing of diplomatic relations with Taiwan, recognition of the Soviet annexation of the Baltic states, and the Indonesian annexation of East Timor. It had nothing to do with the economic viability of an independent East Timor, nothing to do with the perceived communist influence on Fretilin, and everything to do with the wishes of the Indonesian Government.
We won’t ever know whether the caucus meeting of August 1975 was a critical event in the history of East Timor. What if I or any other caucus member had got to his feet and objected to what Whitlam was telling us? Could it have led to a debate? If so could it have forced Whitlam to present a different view to Suharto in Townsville? If so, could this have led to a rethink in Jakarta?
Transcripts obtained by Clinton Fernandes through Freedom of Information requests.
“We have received today, 13 October, more details of the Indonesian assistance to anti-Fretilin forces… The main thrust of the operation would begin on 15 October. It would be through Balibo and Maliana/Atsabe. The objective is to complete the main operation by the middle of next month (including the occupation of Dili). It is possible, however, that because of the problem of Indonesia’s providing logistical support without being observed and the setting in of the wet season that the task won’t be completed until sometime in December. The President in approving the budget had made it clear that ‘no Indonesian flag’ could ever be used in the operation.”1
“President Suharto has recently authorised a significant increase in Indonesian involvement… The stepped-up operation begins today, as you know. Tjan has now given the following additional details about it. All Indonesian forces operating in Portuguese Timor will be dressed as members of the anti-Fretilin force. They have been assembling in Atapupu. Initially an Indonesian force of 800 will advance Batugade-Balibo-Maliana-Atsabe… It is of course clear that the presence of Indonesian forces of this order will become public. The Indonesians acknowledge this. The President’s policy will be to deny any reports of the presence of Indonesian forces in Portuguese Timor. We are not in a position to assess the likelihood of success of the Indonesian operation. The Indonesians are confident. They estimate the Fretilin armed force at 5,000 including reservists. If difficulties arise Indonesia will, we assess, escalate its involvement to overcome them. Meanwhile Indonesia will continue to portray its policy in as favourable a light as possible on the diplomatic and public presentational level. Foreign Minister Malik’s agreement to talk with his Portuguese counterpart is part of the pattern. As seen from Jakarta, we need to address ourselves to the attitude we should adopt as fighting again increases in Portuguese Timor, which it should do from today. On the basis of the Townsville talks, President Suharto will assume that the Australian Government will make every effort to give Indonesia what support and understanding it can. The Prime Minister’s statement in the House of Representatives on 26 August confirmed this assumption. An example of the Indonesian Government’s confidence … is the extent to which it keeps us informed of its secret plans. There is no doubt in my mind that the Indonesian government’s fundamental assessment is based on the talks between Mr Whitlam and President Suharto in Townsville.”2
“I had a long and very frank discussion with General Benny Murdani last evening, 15 October. General Murdani had returned the previous day from a visit to Timor, including Batugade. On the operations which were launched yesterday, 15 October, General Murdani confirmed what Tjan had already told us and which we reported previously. In these circumstances I can only repeat my earlier comments that, in the next few weeks, we are going to need steady nerves and to keep our assessment of our longer term interests in this region in front of us.”3
1 Secret Australian Eyes Only Priority cable from Australian embassy Jakarta to Canberra dated 13th October 1975.
2 Secret Australian Eyes Only Priority cable from Australian embassy Jakarta to Canberra dated 15th October 1975.
3 Secret Australian Eyes Only Priority cable from Australian embassy Jakarta to Canberra dated 16th October 1975.
Dr Richie Gunn is a medical doctor, who volunteers his services in TL. He remains for over 40 years active as the Chair of the AETFA SA and I am a Patron.
b. The Whitlam government
The Australian Labor Party (ALP) under Prime Minister Gough Whitlam was in power at the time of Portugal’s 1974 Carnation Revolution. Labor had come to power in the 1972 elections, and Australia-Indonesia relations were running smoothly at the official level by this time. Whitlam spoke of the need for Australia to be ‘at home in Asia.’ He also regarded a ‘stable’ Indonesia under the Suharto regime as vital to the Australian national interest. He supported Indonesian claims to sovereignty over East Timor.
The problem was that the Australian public was hostile to Indonesia’s plans to annex East Timor. Since public opinion was at odds with policy, public opinion would have to be neutralised. Accordingly, policymakers issued perfunctory statements supporting the East Timorese right to self-determination. These statements were no more than routine representations to Indonesia, with the understanding by both sides that no meaningful action would be taken to prevent the invasion or support the right of self-determination for East Timor. The government did identify opportunities that would give the East Timorese some diplomatic support – in order to neutralize them. In 1974, for example, then-Foreign Minister Don Willesee wrote to his Prime Minister arguing against the ALP’s own proposal to organise a parliamentary delegation to East Timor. The problem was that any parliamentary delegation that went to East Timor would see immediately that the population supported independence under the leadership of Fretilin:
‘On the return of the delegation to Australia we could expect public statements which could reflect the anti-Indonesian impressions members might have gained in Portuguese Timor. These will make the conduct of our relations with Indonesia more difficult than the problem of Portuguese Timor in itself might otherwise make them. … A visit by a joint Parliamentary delegation would be the most substantial external incursion … in recent years. Would it not encourage others?’
Although they knew that other political parties in East Timor were influenced by Indonesia, Australian diplomats tried to blame Fretilin for the problem, claiming that it had ‘aggravated an already tense situation in Portuguese Timor.’ Fretilin was accused of being unwilling to compromise with the other parties. Its 28 November 1975 declaration of independence was criticized as an act of intransigence. Privately, of course, Australian officials were not misled about the basic issues; they understood the problem very clearly. They acknowledged that ‘Fretilin’s claims have to be taken very seriously. Its credentials as the legitimate representative of the people of Portuguese Timor are potentially strong in an international debate; as indeed they are within Portuguese Timor.’
There were plenty of alternatives available: Australia could have lobbied internationally for a UN-supervised referendum at any time after the 1974 Carnation Revolution in Portugal. It could have called for a decolonisation process under the auspices of the UN, preventing the Indonesian invasion by internationalising the issue. Australia could have recognised Fretilin and UDT, and insisted on their legitimacy as representatives of the East Timorese in any decolonisation process.
Australia could also have informed the US that its preference was for an independent East Timor, even if under heavy Australian influence. None of these steps was taken because they may have led to a viable democratic alternative in the middle of Indonesia, then under the authoritarian rule of President Suharto. And this, ultimately, was the real issue – the Indonesian public must not see, in their geographical midst, a viable alternative to the New Order. In the words of a leading policy maker, Michael Curtin (Head of the Department’s Indonesia Section from 1975-1976), Fretilin was ‘the sort of party we would have welcomed, even encouraged, anywhere else than in Timor’:
‘It may be that Fretilin, if it is given the time required to put its thoughts together … will find some of the ideas advanced by the various schools of communist theory to be very attractive. … Fretilin’s advice is coming mainly from the doctrinaire left. … If an independent and politically radicalised East Timor were to make a go of it, with political and economic help not to Indonesia’s liking, it would certainly become something for discontented Indonesians to look to.’
Such a scenario was unwelcome – to policy makers in Australia as well as in Indonesia. Even before the Carnation Revolution, official Australian thinking was clear about the ‘stability’ provided by the Suharto regime. The summary of a dispatch from Australian ambassador Robert Furlonger in January 1973 notes his ‘observation that the New Order in Indonesia is vastly better than the other likely alternatives with which we were faced in 1965 (or, if development fails, could be faced with in the future) … However, Australia’s main interest is an Indonesia experiencing reasonable economic growth and a benign and stable government and pursuing policies of good relations with its neighbours. The Suharto government fulfils these criteria.’
c. Whitlam and the Timor Tragedy by James Dunn
Gough Whitlam’s achievements and his legacy will be long debated in this country. As one of those around him at the time I, too, greatly admired his vision. His coming to power was like a fresh breeze entering a stagnant room. He certainly raised Australia’s international status, and to those near him it was an exciting time, although Gorton, with his ‘Fortress Australia’, deserves credit for shifting our vision away from our subservience to London, and’All the way with LBJ’. With Whitlam’s energetic leadership, however, at last we seemed to be addressing the changed world in South east and East Asia in detachment from the Cold War fears that had prevailed in the previous two decades or so.
However his handling of the issue of East Timor was not one of his admirable achievements. The Portuguese colony was a relic of a colonial world for which he had only contempt, but he never really understood the true nature of the unfolding Timor tragedy. This I was to discover when, mid-1974, I returned from a fact-finding mission to East Timor and reported on the changed situation there, following the coup in Lisbon that had overthrown the Salazarist dictatorship of Marcelo Caetano. The new regime offered its territories the right to self-determination. However Whitlam saw Portuguese Timor as a colonial anomaly and he felt his people would be better off as part of Indonesia. What Whitlam would not accept was that the East Timorese simply did not want to join with Indonesia, although the Portuguese offered them that option. Some of his advisers also believed that an independent East Timor could complicate our sometimes testy relations with Jakarta. No one seemed to give attention to the problem of persuading a predominantly Christian nation to join with its Islamic state.
In his meeting with Suharto at Wonosobo in 1974 Whitlam let the Indonesian president know that integration with Indonesia was the best outcome, a stand that encouraged powerful generals in Jakarta to begin moves to seize the territory by military means, which Australian observers soon became well aware of . That plan (Operation Komodo) unfolded in 1975, to the Prime Minister’s knowledge. Although he was warned that Indonesian military action was likely to be a bloody affair, evidently Whitlam ignored these warnings, at a time when it would have been possible to intervene with Suharto, who was uneasy about his generals’ plans. Even the killing of the newsmen at Balibo by Indonesian troops, of which his government was informed shortly after it took place (including by this writer who was in Timor at the time), did not budge him. but then it was too late, and there was no significant shift in the policy of the Fraser government….
The sad part is that the Australian government’s failure to respond to the killing of the journalists in effect encouraged the generals to proceed with a brutal military operation that was to cost hundreds of Timorese lives before the end of the year, and as many as 200,000 in the 24 years of Indonesian occupation. The disturbing reality is that this remarkable, enlightened Australian statesman, failed to respond to the appeals of the beleaguered Timorese, who had in World War II gallantly supported our commando operation at huge humanitarian cost to their community. The best that can be said for Whitlam in this tragic affair is that he had much on his mind when the tragedy was unfolding in 1974-75, but in humanitarian terms it was a dismal failure, involving a sacrifice of those principles of international law and social justice he held so dear. It also set the pattern of our policy on the integration of East Timor in the decades to come, to the discredit of his successors, all of whom would have be aware from authoritative reports coming out of the territory that gross human rights violations of shameful proportions had taken place.
d. Whitlam’s Indonesia leadership was far from ‘visionary’ by Anthony Burke 29 October 2014
It is certainly fitting to examine Gough Whitlam’s foreign policy record and considerable achievements. However, in seeking to whitewash the controversy over Whitlam’s role leading up to Indonesia’s brutal invasion of East Timor in December 1975, Gary Hogan’s piece does us all a great disservice.
I concede that it would have been a difficult task to dissuade Indonesia from this course by mid-1975, and that a more principled policy may have led to some cooling in bilateral relations. But what Hogan offers us is bad history and an even worse ethics.
In my most recent book, Ethics and Global Security, I and my co-authors argue that ethics is not an optional add-on to questions of international security. Rather, bad ethical choices will cause more insecurity, for more people, and create lasting damage that future generations are forced to repair. This is surely true of East Timor.
In my ANU doctoral research, published as In Fear of Security: Australia’s Invasion Anxiety, I wondered what might have been different had key policymakers, including Whitlam, worried more about this. To their lasting credit, some, like former Foreign Affairs head Alan Renouf and former Secretary of the Department of Defence Bill Pritchett, did so.
Here I will simply address two of Hogan’s most misleading claims, then consider using the historical record what might have been done to avert the tragedy. How it reflects on Whitlam, readers can decide for themselves.
First, Hogan’s claim that: ‘Armchair strategists have accused Whitlam of giving Suharto a sly wink during their meetings, virtually assuring him of Australia’s acquiescence in the event of East Timor’s annexation by force. The written record does not support this.’
I assure readers that the record does in fact confirm this. There is an official record of the meeting published by DFAT in its collection of documents about the Indonesian incorporation of East Timor, along with statements Whitlam made to parliament after the civil war and a private message he sent to Soeharto saying that ‘nothing he had said earlier should be interpreted as a veto on Indonesian action in the changed circumstances’.
Hogan continues: ‘But if it did, there were understandable contemporary factors at play…Early indications were that Fretilin would kill more East Timorese than Indonesia ever might.’
This is the first time in almost 30 years of study that I have heard such a claim, which is grossly misleading. What we have is the evidence of the fighting during the August civil war and Fretilin’s conduct after they won, which showed no evidence of widespread repression or reprisals. The brief war was brutal and some crimes were certainly committed, leaving a bitter legacy with the Timorese Democratic Union (UDT).
Yet apparently, Indonesia would not kill large numbers, says Hogan: ‘Neither Whitlam nor Ford, perhaps not even Suharto, had any way of predicting how stubborn Falantil’s resistance would be, or how brutally oppressive Indonesia would become as a colonising power.’
What everyone knew is that Indonesia’s military and Suharto initiated the massacres of Indonesian communists and leftists in 1965 (I have read Keith Shann’s cables sent from our Jakarta embassy in October-November of that year), and drove and directed the violence. It was widely predicted during 1975 that similar violence would be visited on the Timorese if Indonesia invaded, as the war crime at Balibo and the massacres in Dili during the invasion would attest.
Prior to the invasion, The Age even published a cartoon by Bruce Petty: a line of Indonesian tanks labelled ‘1966 massacre of PKI’ headed in the direction of a sign saying ‘East Timor’. Earlier that year our Lisbon ambassador, Frank Cooper, cabled Canberra about Portugal’s concerns about Indonesian intervention because ‘they foresee a bloodbath in Timor unless there can be some supervision of Indonesian actions on the ground’. And Bill Pritchett’s briefs for the Defence Minister certainly warned of a long guerrilla war.
Hogan’s other misleading claim is this: ‘In addition to the threat of chaos under Fretilin, the active support of communist regimes around Asia was an article of Chinese Communist Party policy in 1975. At the height of the Cold War, communist rule in Dili was as inimical to Australia’s interests as it was intolerable to Jakarta.’
It was well known that Fretilin was split between social democrats and a small group of Marxists, and that the moderates were far more dominant, charismatic and effective. The historical record shows that Fretilin’s leadership made many efforts to reach out to the Australians and the Indonesians (as did the UDT, something its leader Joao Carrascalao confirmed to me personally many years later, when I asked him about his meetings with Indonesia’s intelligence chief Ali Moertopo).
Could things have been different? What we know is that Alan Renouf first drafted a policy for Whitlam prior to the Prime Minister’s 1974 visit to Indonesia that supported East Timor’s self-determination, yet promised we would work with Indonesia to prevent the new state from threatening its stability. Whitlam changed the policy on the run. The next year, Renouf tried to raise the same points privately with Indonesia, but Whitlam had already cut the ground from under him. How much bloodshed and horror, and how much damage to Indonesia’s international reputation, may have been averted had Renouf’s policy worked?
Let the words of Nobel Prize winner Jose Ramos Horta highlight the tragedy here. In February 1975, UDT and Fretilin had jointly cabled Canberra begging for Australia to support talks between themselves, Australia and Indonesia ‘for cooperation towards peace stability SEA (Southeast Asia)’. This request was ignored by Whitlam. Years later , in his book Funu, Horta despaired at how ‘all our assurances of friendship, co-operation, membership of ASEAN, a foreign policy that was tantamount to Finlandisation of East Timorall fell on deaf ears. In retrospect, I cannot see what assurances and concessions we could have offered to buy our own survival.’
Anthony Burke was appointed to UNSW Canberra in February 2008, after three years in the School of Social Sciences and International Studies at UNSW in Sydney. He has taught previously at the Universities of Adelaide (2001-4) and Queensland (2001), and worked for two years as a research officer in the Senate’s environment, arts and communications committee (1999-2000), where he co-authored reports on the ABC, the Jabiluka uranium mine and Australia’s response to climate change. Anthony has published in the areas of security studies, international ethics, war and peace, Australian culture and foreign policy, East Asian security, Middle-East conflict, refugees, terrorism, and political and international relations theory. He is the author of Beyond Security, Ethics and Violence: War Against The Other (Routledge, 2007), Fear of Security: Australia’s Invasion Anxiety (2nd ed. Cambridge, 2008).
Comment by James Dunn:
I was well aware of Bill Pritchett’s concerns from personal meetings, but I wonder about Alan Renouf, with whom I had some contact. For one thing he was critical of my stand, in particular, the recommendation that we should support the Timorese request for a free act of self-determination.
As for “the sly wink”, as you put it. My understanding from those present at the leaders’ meetings at Wonosobo and Townsville, the Indonesians were surprised and pleased with Whitlam’s position. However, the later record of conversation of the Townsville meetings was later questioned by Indonesians, because, they claim, it was not a true record of the encounter.
Whitlam later made public my report on the question of possible Timorese intentions more than a decade earlier (the early sixties, when I was Consul in Dili). I had reported on the undeveloped nature of the colony and suggested that in time the Timorese might take to the idea of integration with Indonesia. However, the accelerated development in the following decade made such an outcome unlikely. In any case, at the time, I did not for a minute have in mind that this outcome would be forced on the Timorese by military invasion.
Could Suharto have stopped the generals, I have a different view. The Timor invasion was in fact planned by his most trusted generals, in particular, Benny Murdani who had accompanied the Suharto-led ill-fated assault on Dutch controlled West New Guinea in the early sixties, so to suggest that Murdani would have gone against his wishes is, I believe, fanciful.
d. James Dunn is correct to note that former Australian PM Gough Whitlam’s handling of the Portuguese Timor issue was not one of his admirable achievements. It has, however, become convention to blame Whitlam for Indonesia’s invasion of Portuguese Timor/RDTL, which overstates the point.
Whitlam was first and foremost an anti-colonialist, and his views on Portuguese colonialism in Timor fell directly into this overall assessment. Whitlam clearly had in mind India’s ‘invasion’ of the Portuguese relic of Goa in 1961 as a model, Australia’s ultimately botched support for West Papuan independence which was overturned by the US in 1961 – and which Whitlam vowed never to repeat, his working towards PNG’s independence (achieved in September 1975) and his wider and then still somewhat revolutionary vision of Australia’s closer integration into Asia. Indonesia was, and remains, central to that.
Whitlam may have understood that the people of Portuguese Timor did not want to join with Indonesia, in the same way that many Goans were reluctant to join with India. So too many Bougainvillians were reluctant to join with PNG, which led to a separatist war there. But, in keeping with his view about the unviability of small states, he saw such incorporation as a practical post-colonial necessity.
The trap that Whitlam, and Suharto, were caught in, was made by Generals Muradni and Murtopo, who fomented discord in Portuguese Timor and planned the invasion, opposed by Suharto until it was too late to stop. Jim suggests that Whitlam could have pressured Suharto to stop Murdani and Murtopo, but there is strong evidence to suggest that, at that stage of Indonesia’s political development, Suharto did not yet have the ‘sultanistic’ power that he acquired after finally managing to sideline and then dump Murdani more than 10 years later. By the time events started to unfold in Portuguese Timor in ways that indicated their likely outcome, it was much too late for Whitlam to have done anything about it, not least because he was in his own political death throes.
From Damian Kinsbury
‘The suggestion that Whitlam could have pressured Suharto into pressuring Murdani and Murtopo into changing their policy on Portuguese Timor is, at best, conjecture. It is nice to think this could have been the case, but the evidence from the time suggests otherwise.
Whitlam was thereafter largely silent on the subsequent unfolding of events, no doubt embarrassed by the disaster that the invasion had turned into. His thinking on this, too, showed him to be on the wrong side of history. Having said that, if Timor-Leste did not have oil and gas – a lucky happenstance – his views on the viability of small states might have been close to the mark.
But, as they say, that is all now history. The only thing left for us is to sift through the ‘dust heap’ for clues as to what happened in somewhat more nuanced detail than has commonly been accepted, and why. In doing so, Whitlam does not come up smelling of roses on this issue, nor on that of Bougaineville. But, within context, while the opposite of a champion of Timor-Leste’s independence (consistent with all Australian prime ministers up to and including Howard), he cannot be held directly responsible for a bloody outcome that at no stage he ever actually endorsed.
Professor Damien Kingsbury, Director, Centre for Citizenship, Development and Human Rights Faculty of Arts and Education
Deakin University, Melbourne
e. From Rob Wesley-Smith
Whitlam was a hero on just about everything except the issue of independence of East Timor. On that I believe he had 2 main influences:
1. His belief in a grand world/SE Asia without lots of small, maybe unstable, countries.
2. He followed the advice direct to him by senior Portuguese leaders of the time that the best course was for East Timor to become part of Indonesia.
He didn’t stand up for the 5 Aussie journos murdered at Balibo 16th October 1975. But then he lost office, the only Australian PM to be sacked, by vile action of the opposition and a Governor General with intel links. So it was the new Liberal Govt of Malcolm Fraser who actually presided over the full scale military invasion and occupation of East Timor.
Whitlam disgraced himself by calling the apostolic delegate to East Timor a liar regarding mass starvation in East Timor, when 100,000 had died from it. He went to the UN to argue for the matter to be taken off the UN agenda – he didn’t succeed.
This issue is not being mentioned in Australia today, on the day of his death there are lots of positive remembrances to articulate – perhaps it will later on.
I had personal interactions with Gough over the Gurindji aboriginal land title handover, (I helped the Gurindji articulate their demands in writing), and was there when the land was handed over, and took the only bottle of champagne to celebrate. I handed it to Gough, but he handed it to Vincent Lingiari first for a swig, then held it high to drink. The media came running to take photos, ‘hold it there Mr Prime Minister’, as the liquid ran down his copious throat I said: ‘fair go Gough, you’ll drink the bluddy lot!’ He said without looking: ‘keep your hair on Wesley!’
After his betrayal of Timor, I refused his request to send him photos of this event, though I wanted to later in his life.
Today, Vale Gough Whitlam, for all the good things you did.
Rob Wesley-Smith – he was recently, with others, awarded the Solidarity Medal from the Timor Leste government.
2. a. Chega Welcome to the Chega+10 website!
From Pat Walsh: Today, 31 October, is the 9th anniversary of the handover to the Timorese state of the CAVR report, Chega!, 31 October 2005 at Palacio Lahane. What better day then than to announce a new website
Pat Walsh, OTL, AM, Hon D.Litt (USQ)
The site is presented by AJAR, a regional NGO, as a one-stop shop for key reports from commissions of inquiry into human rights in the Asia-Pacific region.
It offers the Timor-Leste Chega! report plus others – from Australia across to Sri Lanka and up to North Korea – stark reminders that the so-called Asian Century is not so flash when it comes to human rights.
The Timor-Leste Chega! report is prioritised because it will mark its 10th anniversary in October 2015 and, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said, ‘it deserves to be more widely known’. This report is also newly published in Indonesian and English and now available in hard and electronic versions.
Researchers looking for more CAVR-related material should consult
In the Jakarta Post
Pat Walsh, adviser to the Asia Justice and Rights (AJAR) on ‘Timor Leste atrocities not forgotten’
b. On the question whether new President Jokowi will address war crimes in TL. From: ETAN John M. Miller email@example.com
ETAN Opposes Appointment of Retired General Ryamizard Ryacudu as Defense Minister
October 26, 2014 – The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) today condemned Indonesia President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s appointment of retired General Ryamizard Ryacudu as Minister Defense.
“The appointment of a hardliner like Ryamizard Ryacudu tells us that President Widodo is not serious about promoting human rights or reaching out to West Papua,” said John M. Miller, Coordinator of ETAN.
“He is a relic of the past with a history of excusing rights violations by soldiers, threatening human rights critics, and asserting the military’s right to meddle in civilian affairs.”
Miller added, “While fighting corruption may be a priority for his administration. He certainly didn’t take into account Ryamizard’s well-reported statements on human rights. This speaks volumes about the importance of human rights to Jokowi.”
Indonesia’s anti-corruption agencies vetted cabinet nominees at President Widodo request. He rejected several based on their recommendations.
While campaigning President Widodo responded positively to some calls for justice for past human rights violations, including those from 1998. He has also said he would open a new dialogue with West Papua.
In a statement released in late June human rights groups urged the next government of Indonesia “to break with the past [and] fully and meaningfully address the legacy of impunity for past human rights violations,” adding that “the continued lack of accountability for past and ongoing violations of human rights threatens lasting progress.”
Background on Ryamizard Ryacudu
Retired General Ryamizard Ryacudu is a hardliner known for his xenophobic remarks and criticisms of rights activists. He has expressed doubts about civilian supremacy over the military. Indonesian human rights activist Usman Hamid wrote that Ryamizard is “widely known for his hard-line stance on human rights and separatism without considering government policy.”
He oversaw the implementation of martial law in Aceh, which began in May 2003 and took hundreds of lives. At that time he opposed negotiations, telling Time magazine: “Our job is to destroy GAM’s military capability. Issues of justice, religion, autonomy, social welfare, education? Those are not the Indonesian military’s problems,” In the same interview, he responded to reports of his soldiers executing unarmed children, saying: “If they are armed and fire, they will be shot, because children – and women – can kill, too.”
Later that year, Ryamizard said that anyone who opposes army policy should be considered an anti-government rebel and therefore a legitimate target. Allan Nairn writes:
“Ryamizard clarified the army’s definition of what makes a person an enemy when speaking of civilians who were unhappy with the state of siege. He indicated that anyone who had such feelings would be defined by the army as ‘GAM,’ i.e. a member of the Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, the Aceh Freedom Movement.
“‘People who dislike the military emergency in Aceh are GAM members,'” Gen. Ryamizard said, ‘So if they have the same voice as GAM members, this will mean that they are the younger brothers of the separatist movement.’
This categorization was hugely significant since the official approach to GAM was: “hunt them down and exterminate them,” in the words of the armed forces commander (Gen. Endriartono, May, 2003, quoted by Amnesty.”
After the conviction of several Kopassus special forces members for the murder of West Papuan leader Theys Eluay, Ryamizard said that “I don’t know, people say they did wrong, they broke the law. What law? Okay, we are a state based on the rule of law, so they have been punished. But for me, they are heroes because the person they killed was a rebel leader.”
Ryamizard is close to former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, who heads Widodo’s political party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P). Ryamizard as Kostrad commander mobilized troops in central Jakarta on July 22, 2001 as parliament was preparing to impeach President Wahid on what many believe were trumped up charges, inspired by Wahid’s reforms and his apologies for human rights violations committed by the military in Aceh, West Papua and Timor-Leste.
In Power Politics and the Indonesian Military (pp. 184-5), Damien Kingsbury writes:
“By morning, a series of tanks, armoured cars and armed soldiers encircled the base of the National Monument in the centre of the square; further tanks, armoured cars and soldiers guarded the main entrances to the area, with police in front of the MPR building and more soldiers and armoured vehicles in front of the presidential palace. In all, there were some 2,000 soldiers, 35 tanks and 25 armoured cars, and many of the tanks had their guns pointing at the relatively few supporters of the beleaguered president and at the presidential palace itself. It was not a coup, but equally it was perfectly clear that the army would not allow the removal of the president from office to be marred by any unforseen difficulties. It was not, and Megawati became president on 23 July 2001.”
In 2004, during the last days of her administration, Megawati nominated Ryamizard as chief of the armed forces. Her successor, President Yudhoyono, denied him the promotion.
c. Gen. Hendropriyono Admits “Command Responsibility” in Munir Assassination. Says Talangsari Victims “Committed Suicide.” Agrees to Stand Trial for Atrocities; Legal Implications for As’ad, Wiranto, CIA. Hendropriyono: Part 1.
By Allan Nairn Jakarta
General A.M. Hendropriyono, one of Indonesia’s most powerful figures, has admitted “command responsibility” in the assassination of the country’s leading rights activist.
In two nighttime interviews at his Jakarta mansion on October 16 Hendropriyono made statements that appear to open him to prosecution and may create problems for the CIA, the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI), and for Joko Widodo — Jokowi — Indonesia’s new president.
Hendropriyono is a key Jokowi adviser, is a core leader of the TNI, and was working with the CIA when his intelligence unit, BIN, killed the activist Munir.
In detailed, on-the-record discussions with me Hendropriyono, perhaps inadvertently, ended up submitting himself to close questioning.
By the time it was over he had abandoned some of his and TNI’s longest standing defenses, and had agreed to stand trial for three major atrocities: the Munir murder, the 1999 terror campaign that devastated occupied East Timor, and the 1989 Talangsari massacre that earned him the nickname “the Butcher of Lampung.”
Hendropriyono also ended up agreeing that he was calling for the release of all internal documents held by the Indonesian and US governments relating to these cases.
By admitting “command responsibility” and opening to the door to certain facts, Hendropriyono places legal pressure on two men — the general, Wiranto and the intelligenge man, As’ad — who have moved to the center stage of Indonesian politics after being touted for the Jokowi cabinet.
The encounter with Hendropriyono was unexpected and at times bizarre. The first session started with him trying to flatter me, and ended with me telling him that I hoped Munir’s killers would be jailed for life.
In between, the discussion was, at times, complex. It will be described in several installments.
I had called Hendropriyono’s cell phone, from New York, on October 14 hoping that I could get a comment from him on his role in killing civilians.
During last summer’s Indonesian presidential campaign that resulted in Jokowi’s election, I had repeatedly called for Hendro to be tried for crimes against humanity.
But what got far more attention, indeed, at times saturation coverage, was my running confrontation with Jokowi’s opponent, General Prabowo. I had published an off-the record interview with Prabowo in which Prabowo ruminated on fascist dictatorship, talked about how to do massacres, discussed his extensive work with the Pentagon/ US Intelligence, and insulted the highly regarded cleric and late President, Gus Dur.
Prabowo demanded that the army capture me, called me a liar, an American imperialist, an “enemy of the state,” and pointed out — correctly — that the TNI had previously captured me seven times and that Suharto had banned me from the country as “a threat to national security.” Responding to Prabowo, TNI declared that I had become an “Operational Target” (TO).
I challenged the army to grab me, challenged Prabowo to bring me to court, and — on the matter of American Imperialism — challenged Prabowo to join me in calling for the living US presidents to be put on trial for atrocities, and for the US mining giant, Freeport McMoRan, to be expelled from Indonesia. Prabowo backed down on all fronts and received ridicule, so finally, on the campaign’s last day, he filed criminal charges against me. His aides later explained that among other things the charges related to “inciting hatred of the army,” and, after the election results were in, “causing Prabowo to lose.”
It was against this background that Hendropriyono, one of the pillars of the Jokowi campaign, indicated that rather than talking on the phone he wanted to talk in person, in Jakarta. I was heading to Jakarta anyway, and within hours of entering the country, went to Hendro’s corner estate in Senayan, Jakarta.
As he entertained a delegation from Malaysian intelligence, and I waited in a sitting room, a member of Hendro’s family told me that Jokowi had already offered him three ministries, including MENKOPOLKAM, the top military/ intelligence post. Relatedly, just that day, Hendro’s son-in-law, General Andika, had been announced as the new head of PASAMPRES, Jokowi’s personal security detail. In a cabinet in front of me was a photo of Hendro with Generals Wiranto and Sutiyoso, and to the right a photo of Hendro with his old aide, General Susilo, who later became President. In between was a bust of Napoleon — a Hendro favorite, a family member explained.
After he ushered me in, Hendro started by saying that he was “honored” to meet and receive me because I had hurt Prabowo in the campaign. He suggested that Prabowo was “totalitarian.”
I replied that I attacked all the generals, including him. Hendropriyono said he knew that, and said that if he was not mistaken I had attacked him particularly for Talangsari.
I said that was true, but I had attacked him for many things, also including Munir and 1999 Timor.
Hendro wanted to talk about Talangsari first.
By all accounts — including Hendro’s to me, what had happened there had been a bloodbath, but he started by saying: “There was no other way to do it, Allan Nairn.”
He said that as regional commander he controlled both the army and the National Police BRIMOB, and moved in to confront religious militants who were armed with “bows and arrows.”
He said “They said I was togut. Togut means extremist who will always finish the Muslims…”
He said of the rifles vs. arrows showdown, “Of course … we won because we were stronger.”
Hendro said: “We encircled the huts that they built in the village together with the villagers. Nobody was out (of the huts) because of forbidden by their chiefs, by their leaders… I said that ‘we will attack you and I ask you to go out from the house and surrender.'”
Then at some point, by Hendro’s account — and that of everyone else — the encircled huts went up in flames.
Survivors and witnesses say Hendro’s men lit the fires, and shot and tortured unarmed villagers.
Their testimony to the government human rights commission (KOMNASHAM) and to human rights groups like Munir’s Kontras is detailed.
But, to my astonishment, as we sat there in his Jakarta mansion, Hendropriyono said that the dead at Talangsari had actually killed themselves.
“Suddenly they burned their own huts. That made so many people die,” he said.
(He estimated the death toll at 100, maybe 200, overwhelmingly unarmed, with many women and children)
I asked incredulously, “So you’re claiming they killed themselves?”…
“Yes, they burned, they burned their huts.”
“In effect you’re saying they committed suicide.”
“Bunuh diri?” (‘Committed suicide?’), I asked in Indonesian.
“Bunuh diri” (‘Committed suicide’), General Hendropriyono replied.
He suggested they might have done this out of fanaticism.
I returned to the point, seeking clarity:
“Jadi, bapak kata bahwa orang itu bunuh diri?” (‘So you’re saying that those people committed suicide?’)
“Bunuh diri,” — suicide, Hendro replied with finality.
So I said:
“As I’m sure you know, there are many witness testimonies from survivors of Talangsari given to KOMNASHAM and others that say that those hundred or 200 were killed by your troops, were killed by you in a massacre. So why not face this in a trial? Would you agree to be put on trial and make the argument in a court like you’ve just made to me?”
“Yeah, of course it was not true,” Hendro replied, skirting the question.
I said: “You could say that in court. You could tell it to the judge.”
But again, Hendro did not want to answer.
Instead, he digressed. He started with an attack on “the Indonesian human rights organizations,” i.e. Munir’s Kontras, and similar groups.
Hendro said that the human rights groups had paid off witnesses to implicate him, a charge that was ironic since it had been extensively reported that Hendro himself had made payments to witnesses, for, he said at the time, religious purposes.
(When I later mentioned Hendro’s payoff charge to a table full of Kontras people, they were shocked — and couldn’t stop laughing; “As if we had the cash!,” one exclaimed.)
But the thing that most bothered Hendro was the fact that the rights groups, including KOMNASHAM, had agreed to hear testimony from child survivors of Talangsari, ie. from people who were still minors at the time of the inferno.
He was evidently upset that these surviving children had been taken seriously.
They “were still kids,” he said. They “didn’t know what was going on.”
It was, of course, the case that Talangsari child witnesses were resorted to.
But this was because Hendro and his men had killed their parents, according to the rights groups.
And in fact there was testimony from adult survivors as well, and in any event child testimony was often used in such cases.
In 2013 I was called to testify in a genocide trial in Guatemala. In the dock was the US-backed ex dictator, General Efrain Rios Montt.
In that case, then-child testimony was used extensively. Rios Montt was convicted of planned massacres and sentenced to 80 years (the oligarchy later froze the case; the General remains under house arrest.)
General Hendropriyono didn’t want such testimony here.
But while complaining about the children, General Hendro appeared to slip up.
He himself reopened the issue of possibly being compelled to stand trial.
“I’m quite sure that if we go to court, (the) court will go and look at the witness(es),” he remarked, his point being that the court would disregard the children and false, paid-off witnesses.
So I jumped in: “So then what you’re saying is that it should go to court, and you should be put on trial for Talangsari, and you do not fear that, you would accept that? You would accept being put on trial for Talangsari?
Hendro, paused, recoiled and mumbled: “I cannot, mmm, I think I have…”
And then he said, incredibly: ” If anybody instead of me — say like yourself — if you were me at that time I’m quite sure that you would do the same thing.”
“No, I would not do the same thing,” I replied. “I would not do the same thing.”
“What would you do? Tell me, what you would do if you were me,” the General insisted.
“I would not kill people,” I said, but I wanted to get back to the point:
“But I want to make sure I understand what you’re saying. I just want to get a clear understanding of it. Are you saying that you would accept being put on trial for Talangsari? And then in the court you would make your arguments and you would bring forth your evidence?”
“Oh yes of course!,” Hendropriyono replied.
This appeared to be the breakthrough.
But I wanted to nail it down, and he hedged.
“So you would accept being put on trial for Talangsari?”
“At that time,” he replied.
He was referring to 1989, the time of the massacre.
“I’m talking about now,” I said. “Because that time has passed. I’m talking about now.”
At this point, Hendropriyono’s emotional — and legal — defenses appeared to break.
“Everything that I did,” he said, “everything that they accused me (of), there is nothing for me to prefer not to accept. I will face.”
The breakthrough had indeed happened. General Hendropriyono had agreed to face trial.
After decades of the TNI — and himself — erecting defenses, excuses, for not facing justice, this commanding general — and CIA partner — had set a precedent.
“Because everything that I did, I’m not animal, I’m human,” he said.
“And you know, I feel, I have children, I have family, and I can feel how they feel. So to me, I’m responsible for everything that I did and there is nothing that I will refuse. I understand what you mean. If there is a court for me for human rights violations, I will accept.”
This Talangsari back-and-forth set the pattern for our discussion of other atrocities: Hendropriyono reaching — sometimes deeply implausibly — to assert that the corpses in question weren’t exactly, really, his fault, but at the same time owning up to the fact that, in the end, he had been in charge, and that it was appropriate for he, the senior General, to be placed on trial for murder.
This concession was fundamental, and it opened doors.
It had particularly significant repercussions for our later discussion regarding Munir.
Repercussions not just for Hendro, but for BIN, As’ad, and the CIA.’
4. Timor Sea Justice Committee on new talks TL and Australia stealing oil/gas.
5. For the latest news and information on East Timor, Indonesia and West Papua visit Asia Pacific Solidarity Net
6. Timor Leste Films
Starring: Jose A Belo, Rosa Garcia, East Timorese and foreign journalists
Directed By: Nicholas Hansen
6. Please sign petition
U.S. Release the Records, Acknowledge U.S. Role in the Crimes of 1965/66 Mass Violence in Indonesia