According to senior Indonesian officials and police and details
from government files, the US-backed Indonesian armed forces (TNI), now
due for fresh American aid, assassinated a series of civilian activists
The killings were part of a secret government
program, authorized from Jakarta, and were coordinated in part by an
active-duty, US-trained Kopassus special forces General who has just
acknowledged on the record that his TNI men had a role in the killings.
news comes as US President Barack Obama is reportedly due to announce
that he is reversing longstanding US policy - imposed by Congress in
response to grassroots pressure - of restricting categories of US
assistance to TNI, a force which, during its years of US training, has
killed hundreds of thousands of civilians.
revelation could prove problematic for Obama since his rationale for
restoring the aid has been the claim that TNI no longer murders
civilians. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Congress that the
the issue is whether there is a "resumption" of atrocities, but, in
fact, they have not stopped: TNI still practices political murder.
senior Indonesian official who meets frequently with top commanders and
with the President of Indonesia says that the assassinations were
authorized by "higher ups in Jakarta." He provided detailed accounts of
certain aspects of the program, including the names of victims, the
methods, and the names of some perpetrators.
The details cited
in this piece were verified by other officials, including senior
members of POLRI, the Indonesian national police. Some were also
verified by the Kopassus General who helped run the killings.
senior official spoke because he said he disagreed with the
assassinations. He declined to be quoted by name out of fear for his
position and personal safety.
Verified details that
are known so far concern a series of assassinations and bombings in
Aceh -- on Indonesia's western tip -- where local elections were being
contested by the historically pro-independence Partai Aceh (PA), a
descendant of the old pro-independence GAM (Free Aceh) rebel movement.
least eight PA activists were assassinated in the run-up to the April
elections. The killings were, according to the officials with knowledge
of the program an attempt to disorient PA supporters and pressure the
party to not discuss independence -- an act regarded as proscribed
speech, not just in Aceh but across Indonesia under edicts from the
country's president, Gen. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
of the PA activists, Tumijan, age 35, a palm oil worker from Nagan
Raya, was abducted and found two days later in a sewage ditch. His
throat was slit, his body mutilated and bound with electrical wire. His
corpse appeared near an army outpost. Some of his family blamed the
security forces, and, as has happened frequently in such cases, started
receiving anonymous death threats.
Another PA activist, Dedi
Novandi, age 33, known as Abu Karim, was sitting in his car outside his
house with the drivers' side window cracked open when a plainclothes
man strolled up with a pistol and put two bullets in his head. A
POLRI official with detailed knowledge of the crime called it a
professional killing, employing lookouts and advance surveillance of
the movements of Abu Karim.
As it happened, hours earlier, Karim
had sat down with a member of a World Bank - sponsored delegation and
expressed his worry about the pre-election killings of PA people as
well as a skein of arson and grenade attacks on PA offices.
after, the BBC came to the scene of the Abu Karim murder. Their
correspondent, Lucy Williamson quoted one of the neighbors as saying
that she "thinks it strange the police have not found the people who
killed [Abu Karim]. 'Maybe it's because there were no witnesses,' she
said. 'And I think it's weird that there were no witnesses but what can
I say? Everyone said they didn't see anything.' "
house," Williamson continued, "Abu Karim's wife, Cut Dede, watches
nervously over her four-year-old son. Like many people here she is in
no doubt this was a political killing."
In fact, according to
the senior official and the others who confirmed him, the Tumijan and
Abu Karim murders were part of the TNI assassination program
coordinated on the provincial level at that time by General Sunarko,
the PANGDAM Aceh (chief of TNI forces in the region).
had recently been sent to Aceh by the President, Gen. Susilo, after
having been the nationwide commander of Kopassus, the TNI Special
Forces. Prior to that, Gen. Sunarko had been the chief of staff of
Kostrad, the TNI army's huge Strategic Reserve Command that operates
across the archipelago and is headquartered in Jakarta near the
Sunarko had been elevated to these key
posts after overseeing militias in occupied Timor. He was a Kopassus
intelligence chief there during the 1999 TNI terror, an operation that
included mass arson and assassinations and was launched while the East
Timorese were preparing to -- and ultimately did -- vote for
The '09 PA killings occurred across Aceh. The Abu
Karim murder, in Bireuen, was said by the officials to have been
managed for Gen. Sunarko by Lt. Col. R. Suharto, the local TNI army
commander, using troops aided by civilians from the old
military-sponsored FORKAB and PETA militias.
Lt. Col. Suharto
has long worked with the TNI's BAIS intelligence unit, which played an
integral role in these assassinations and others nationwide, and is
famous for its killings and torture in formerly occupied Timor and,
currently, in de facto occupied Papua.
When I asked
knowledgeable POLRI officials about Lt. Col. Suharto and the killing of
Abu Karim, they became as nervous as the neighbors cited in the BBC
They reluctantly discussed his role, but privately. We
then went on the record and I asked whether Lt. Col. Suharto had in
fact run the Abu Karim and other assassinations, and further asked
whether he was among those still running "black operations." The key
POLRI official did not deny anything but instead said "I cannot comment
on that," and then insisted that his name not be attached to even that
On Friday, around 10:30 pm Western Indonesia Time, I called Lt. Col. Suharto's cell phone.
was no answer so I sent a text message and he replied by text asking
who it was. I told him and we began a text message exchange that lasted
until after midnight. In the midst of the texts I tried to call him
five times, but each time he merely let the phone ring.
Lt. Col Suharto asked me where I was, and then, how I'd gotten his
number. He asked me why I wanted to speak to him. I replied, to discuss
the PA assassinations, including that of Abu Karim. Suharto wrote back
that that was a police matter. I asked him if TNI did the killings. Lt.
Col. Suharto replied no, so then I asked by text "So, does that mean
you know who the killers are?" He said no to that too, so then I asked
him "So how can you know TNI wasn't involved?"
At that point,
Lt. Col. Suharto disconnected his cell phone. I tried to call but got a
phone company recording. I then sent a text message asking whether he,
Lt. Col. Suharto, was "involved in the murder of Abu Karim, or the
murders of other PA activists." Phone company signaling indicates that
that message was delivered, but as of now, more than 51 hours later,
Lt. Col. Suharto has not replied.
Militia members have said that Lt. Col Suharto's men also burnt and threw grenades at the PA offices.
But all this was apparently only one small part of the operation.
Nagan Raya, in another part of Aceh, the snatching and assassination of
Tumijan was carried out by another TNI team, also working under Gen.
Sunarko. This is according to numerous officials, including some from
POLRI, and, in part, according to Gen. Sunarko himself.
Tumijan murder the evidence includes not just statements by inside
officials, but also a complex series of actions including the
unpublicized detention of some of the low-level hit men who were
subordinates of Gen.Sunarko.
The senior Indonesian official who
first spoke of the assassination program said that Tumijan had been
taken and finished by a group of young Kopassus and other soldiers who,
as in the Abu Karim case, also used civilians from TNI's old militias.
gave the names of some of them, the soldiers Capt. Wahyu and
Oktavianus, and the civilian TNI-run militia followers Muhyari,
Supardi, Kadir, Herwan, M. Yasin, Suprayogi, Tahmid, and Suparno. He
then made the remarkable claim that though no outsider yet knew it,
these lower-ranking killers of Tumijan had been secretly detained and
held for many months as part of a sensitive political deal involving
POLRI, TNI, and officials who had unexpectedly gotten wind of certain
aspects of the still-secret TNI assassination program.
he, said, agreed to take the militiamen, the military police handled
two of the soldiers, and the officials who had stumbled upon the
operation agreed to not discuss it publicly, as did the POLRI which
never announced the detentions or attempted to charge the men.
importantly, the detentions were confined to street operatives in just
one of the murders. The more senior officers were left untouched to
continue the operation.
POLRI officials I spoke to confirmed the
senior official's account. But they did so with evident reluctance,
even fear. They made it clear that they had no intention of going after
the "higher ups in Jakarta," or Gen. Sunarko, -- or even Lt. Col.
Suharto, who is a mere local commander.
POLRI also kills and
tortures civilians, and mounts joint task forces with TNI, but they are
fierce institutional rivals, wrestling for money, power, and extortion
turf, and though POLRI has recently ascended somewhat, TNI still has
more guns and cash, and they lack POLRI's political burden of having to
claim that they're enforcing the murder laws.
Thursday, I reached the Aceh POLRI commander, Police Gen. Aditya, on
his cell phone, and though he first said he would only speak privately,
face to face, and then tried to end the conversation, he did confirm --
for the first time publicly -- that the lower level hit men in the
Tumijan assassination had indeed been detained.
I asked him if it was true that TNI Gen. Sunarko had in fact supervised
assassinations of activists, Police Gen. Aditya replied "It is not in
my capacity to disclose that information," and abruptly hung up the
On Friday, I reached Gen. Sunarko on his cell phone and
asked him about the assassinations, and Sunarko acknowledged that his
TNI men had a role in the killings.
But he said that
assassinations by TNI officers and men should not necessarily be
classified as being official acts of TNI "as an institution." Gen.
Sunarko was remarkably calm.
Though it was not yet public, he
knew about the detention of his subordinates for the Tumijan murder
(Gen. Sunarko raised the matter before I mentioned it), but the General
indicated that he was not worried about any follow-up action by POLRI
or other authorities.
Gen. Sunarko seemed familiar with the
Tumijan killing, and said that Capt. Wahyu and Oktavianus, two of those
detained, had worked for his, Sunarko's, then-headquarters in Aceh, the
Iskandar Muda regional KODAM (the command covering all of Aceh).
I asked specifically if he, Gen. Sunarko, was involved in the
assassinations, he responded lightheartedly: "That would be the work of
a crazy person," he said, "and I am not yet crazy."
When I asked
Gen. Sunarko about his subordinate, Lt. Col. Suharto, he said that he
knew him well, but when I asked him if Lt. Col. Suharto had run the
killing of Abu Karim, Gen. Sunarko replied "I don't know," but then
added: "If that had happened, I'd know."
General Sunarko also
said, before I broached the matter of the assassinations, that he was
an enthusiastic supporter of President Obama's plan to boost aid to
Kopassus and to TNI generally.
Sunarko said that the US and
TNI had had a long, close partnership that had "raised the capacity of
TNI," and that Obama's restoration of aid would make for "a still more
intimate ("akrab") collaboration."
The general said that he was
himself was a longtime colleague and admirer of US forces, having
received US training at various sites in Indonesia "many times" since
Using the English-language names of some of the
courses and of the US units that gave them, he said that US Army
instructors in Mobile Training Teams (MTTs) from the Pentagon's Pacific
Command (PACOM, in Hawaii) had trained him in "Jungle Warfare" and
"Logistics" as well as in other subjects that he did not name. He said
that his US training included special exercises in 1994 and 1998, and
that his fellow TNI trainees included other Kopassus and Kostrad men.
Gen. Sunarko said his most recent US training was in 2006, when he was
the chief of staff of Kostrad, soon to become the Kopassus commander.
general also suggested that the training was good for the Americans
too, since it enabled TNI and the US military to "learn lessons from
each other," and best situated the US to "get what it needs" from TNI.
President Obama had been due to leave for Indonesia today, but the visit has been postponed.
on the table is a big aid package for TNI, negotiated over recent
months, the political centerpiece of which is an apparent renewal of
open aid for Kopassus.
Though most every unit of TNI (and POLRI)
has been implicated in mass atrocities, those of Kopassus are the most
celebrated, and, as their former commander, the US-trained Gen.
Prabowo, once told me, they have historically been the unit most
closely identified with Washington. It was thus especially galling to
TNI when US activists -- myself included -- were able to successfully
press Congress to interrupt US aid to Kopassus in the 1990s .
planned give-back of aid to Kopassus is now awaited by TNI as sweet
vindication, and by many of the survivors of TNI terror as America's
green light for more.
But, as with most of the other atrocities
by TNI, the assassination program reported in this piece involves
multiple TNI components beyond Kopassus: Kopassus, but also BAIS
intelligence and the mainline regional and local commands, KODAM,
KOREM, and KODIM, all of them, most importantly, reporting ultimately
to the national TNI commanders and other "higher ups in Jakarta."
And regardless of whether the US restores the aid for Kopassus, TNI as a whole already has the green light.
TNI men are now reportedly being trained in the US (this according to
Indonesia's Defense Minister; see Olivia Rondonuwu and Ed Davies,
"Interview -- Indonesia Sees U.S.Lifting Military Training Ban ",
Reuters, March 4, 2010) and Obama's Pentagon is pushing weapons and
equipment sales and US loans that would further empower TNI overall.
That being said, Kopassus does indeed have a special swagger and symbolic potency.
the recent Obama - TNI aid negotiations in anticipation of his trip,
the Kopassus commanding general came to Washington and was welcomed by
the Obama team. Back in Indonesia, also during the talks, a Kopassus
man felt confident enough to attempt to board a commercial flight out
of Aceh while carrying a pistol fitted with a silencer -- a classic
assassination weapon. This was of interest to the Indonesian official
who described the incident, because one victim in Aceh had apparently
been executed with a silenced pistol, at night (The victim's roommate
An airport security man affiliated with the air force took the Kopassus man's pistol away.
But later, a Kopassus delegation arrived and made him give it back.
Allan Nairn (
investigative journalist who became
well-known when he was imprisoned by the Indonesian
military while reporting in East
Timor. His writings have focused on U.S. foreign policy in such
countries as Haiti,
Indonesia, and East Timor. In 1993, Nairn and Amy Goodman received the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial First Prize for International Radio award for their reporting on East Timor. In 1994, Nairn won the George Polk Award for Journalism for Magazine Reporting. Also in 1994, Nairn received the The James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism for his writing on Haiti for The Nation magazine.