Obama in the Company of Killers

If a volcano kills civilians in Indonesia,
it's news. When the government does the killing, sadly, it's just
business as usual, especially if an American president tacitly endorses
the killing, as President Barack Obama just did with his visit to

As the people around Mount Merapi dig out
of the ash following a series of eruptions that have left more than 150
dead, a darker cloud now hangs over Indonesia in the form of renewed
U.S. support for the country's notorious Kopassus, the military's
special forces commando group. Journalist Allan Nairn
released several secret Kopassus documents as the Obamas landed in
Jakarta, showing the level of violent political repression administered
by the Kopassus-now, for the first time in more than a decade, with
United States support.

Last March, Nairn revealed details of a
Kopassus assassination program in the Indonesian province of Aceh. These
new Kopassus documents shed remarkable detail on the province of West
Papua. As Nairn wrote in his piece accompanying the documents, West
Papua is "where tens of thousands of civilians have been murdered and
where Kopassus is most active. ... When the U.S. restored Kopassus aid
last July the rationale was fighting terrorism, but the documents show
that Kopassus in fact systematically targets civilians." In the
Kopassus' own words, the civilians are "much more dangerous than any
armed opposition."

One document names 15 leaders of the Papuan
civil society, all "civilians, starting with the head of the Baptist
Synod of Papua. The others include evangelical ministers, activists,
traditional leaders, legislators, students and intellectuals as well as
local establishment figures and the head of the Papua Muslim Youth

President Obama lived in Indonesia from the
ages of 6 through 10, after his mother married an Indonesian man. Obama
said in Jakarta this week: "[M]uch has been made of the fact that this
marks my return to where I lived as a young boy. ... But today, as
president, I'm here to focus not on the past, but on the future-the
Comprehensive Partnership that we're building between the United States
and Indonesia." Part of that relationship involves the renewed support
of Kopassus, which has been denied since the armed forces burned
then-Indonesian-occupied East Timor to the ground in 1999, killing more
than 1,400 Timorese.

A series of cell-phone videos have come out of Papua showing torture
being inflicted on men there at the hands of what appear to be members
of the military. In one video that surfaced just two weeks ago, soldiers
burn a man's genitals with a burning stick, cover his head with a
plastic bag to suffocate him, and threaten him with a rifle. Another
video shows a Papuan man slowly dying from a gunshot wound as the
soldier with the cell-phone camera taunts him, calling him a savage.

I spoke with Suciwati Munir, the widow of
the renowned Indonesian human-rights activist Munir Said Thalib, at the
Bonn, Germany, reunion of Right Livelihood Award laureates. Her husband,
an unflinching critic of the Indonesian military, received the award
shortly before his death. In 2004, as he traveled to the Netherlands for
a law fellowship, on board the Indonesian national airline Garuda, he
was given an upgrade to business class. There, he was served tea laced
with arsenic. He was dead before the plane landed. Suciwati has a
message for Obama:

"If Obama has a commitment to human rights
in the world ... he has to pay attention to the human-rights situation
in Indonesia. And the first thing that he should ask to President Susilo
Bambang Yudhoyono is to resolve the Munir case." I asked her if she
wanted to meet President Obama when he came to Indonesia. She replied:
"Maybe yes, because I want to remind him about the human-rights
situation in Indonesia. Maybe not, because of his wrong decision, he has
perpetuated the impunity in Indonesia."

This was the third attempt by President
Obama to visit Indonesia. His first delay was to allow him to push
through health-care reform. The second was canceled in the wake of the
BP oil disaster. This time he made it, although the Mount Merapi
eruption forced him to leave a few hours early. Speaking from Jakarta,
journalist Nairn reflected: "It's nice to be able to go back to where
you grew up, but you shouldn't bring weapons as a gift. You shouldn't
bring training for the people who are torturing your old neighbors."

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

© 2023 TruthDig