Timing is everything and the Attorney General's timing was perfect. John Ashcroft's testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee came on the eve of the 60th anniversary of the last occasion before Sept. 11 on which Americans were the targets of a "sneak attack." Patriotic commemoration of Pearl Harbor literally edged out analysis of Ashcroft's testimony on many of today's front pages.
But the Attorney General's public appearance is also timely in a different way. December 7 is also the anniversary of the Indonesian invasion of East Timor. And Ashcroft testified to Congress on the anniversary of one of the mostly deadly lies American politicians ever told.
War talk, familiar to those who were around 60 years ago, peppered the attorney general's speech. Critics of a Justice Department crackdown on immigrants "aid terrorists" and undermine national unity, he said. And while no Senator mentioned the post-Pearl Harbor round-up of innocent Japanese Americans and their internment in camps without charge, questions about the contemporary version of the same tactic were slapped back to the senators by a defiant Ashcroft:
''To those who pit Americans against immigrants and citizens against noncitizens, to those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve,'' he said. ''They give ammunition to America's enemies, and pause to America's friends.''
Ashcroft flatly said that he would not tell the senators everything they want to know about the detainees or about his policy recommendations to President Bush.
Newly declassified documents from another December 6 remind one that there's a precedent for that kind of defiance, too. According to official documents posted Thursday to the National Security
Archive website, on December 6, 1975, the United States offered full and direct approval to Indonesia's invasion of East Timor.
As reported by the Agence France Presse today: "The documents prove conclusively for the first time that the United States gave a 'green light' to the invasion, the opening salvo in an occupation that cost the lives of up to 200,000 East Timorese."
Then Indonesian President Gen. Suharto briefed President Gerald Ford and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on his plans for the former
Portuguese colony when they were in Jakarta, just hours before the invasion began.
"We want your understanding if we deem it necessary to take rapid or drastic action," Suharto told his visitors, according to a long-classified State Department cable.
Ford replied: "We will understand and will not press you on the issue. We understand the problem you have and the intentions you have."
Kissinger appeared to be concerned about the possible political fallout back home.
"It is important that whatever you do succeeds quickly, we would be able to influence the reaction in America if whatever happens, happens after we return," he said. "The president will be back on Monday at 2:00 p.m. Jakarta time. We understand your problem and the need to move quickly but I am only saying that it would be better, if it were done after we returned."
The invasion took place on December 7, the day after Ford and Suharto
"Timor was never discussed with us when we were in Indonesia," Kissinger has said since. "At the airport as we were leaving, the Indonesians told us that they were going to occupy the Portuguese colony of Timor. To us that did not seem like a very significant event." The transcript of his denial is available from the East Timor Action network, which advocated independence for East Timor.
It took the East Timorese 25 years to win independence from Indonesia and 27 years for the truth to come out in the Washington Post (12/6/01). White House efforts to "influence" the public have a long and successful history, and clearly we the people are not immune to the practice yet.
Journalist Laura Flanders is the host of Working Assets Radio and author of "Real Majority, Media Minority: The Cost of Sidelining Women in Reporting." Her Spin Doctor Laura columns appear daily on WorkingForChange. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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