Author Topic: Indonesia's US-trained special security forces  (Read 2197 times)

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Offline taro

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Indonesia's US-trained special security forces
« on: November 17, 2011, 05:31:14 AM »
I realize this isn't *exactly* recent news, but cables mentioning Kopassus have been popping up in the news lately, so it is worth taking a look at some of the relevant history.

US aid to Indonesia's special security forces, Kopassus, was cut off in May 1998. According to the Leahy Law, the US cannot provide training to military units which violate human rights. Kopassus has a long record of human rights violations, and in 2009 Human Rights Watch issued a 16-page report documenting Kopassus human rights violations on the island of Papua. Nonetheless, in July 2010, the US restored its relationship with Kopassus to resume training. The US reasoned that Kopassus had adequately cleaned up its act through some convictions and removals within the unit. On November 9, 2010, Allan Nairn released several leaked documents from within Kopassus showing how the special forces had targeted and killed civilians in West Papua who oppose the Indonesian army's occupation of the island.

In an interview with Democracy Now!, Nairn said that the documents he obtained re
fute the Obama administration's claim that Kopassus is reformed.
Obama’s claim was that Kopassus is reforming, cleaning up its act, just as the Indonesian military, the TNI, is also supposedly reforming. But that’s just factually inaccurate. The same people who committed the well-publicized atrocities in East Timor and Aceh are still there. They’ve been promoted. For example, the person who now runs the Indonesian Defense Ministry — the number two, but he really runs it — is an old Kopassus general, Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin, who was indicted for war crimes in East Timor — according to witnesses, was personally involved in executions.

So what do the cables say about Kopassus and the resumption of its relations with the US? The cables offer quite a different viewpoint, for sure. The documents Nairn published were from within Kopassus itself, from 2007. The cables, on the other hand, focus on US interests alone, and justify the resumption of training for Kopassus with concerns of terrorism.

A cable from October 2007 says, "The time is right to resume gradual engagement with KOPASSUS, the Indonesian Army's elite Special Forces unit" because of a waiver of "legislative restrictions on military cooperation" (I assume the restrictions refer to the Leahy Law). The cable continues, "The special military forces play an essential role in Indonesia's ability to protect U.S. official, civilian and commercial interests here."

Another very interesting cable from January 21, 2010 states that, "Post has not formally vetted KOPASSUS Unit 81, but is not aware of any allegations of gross human rights violations by the unit." The cable cites an ambassador as claiming that Kopassus members had already been convicted for past human rights violations, and the government of Indonesia was committed to sharing information openly and transparently.

Some open questions:
  • Is there any current movement to uphold the Leahy Law and reinstate the restrictions on training security forces which violate human rights?
  • What do other cables reveal about US attempts to side-step the Leahy Law and overlook the killings in West Papua which were not investigated?
  • How does information in the cables match up to Nairn's documents from 2007? (What evidence do we have that the US was aware of the human rights violations Nairn exposed?)