Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The Things that Terrorists Do: "Kill(ing) and Maim(ing) Defenseless Men, Women and Children," in this Case, in Aceh

In Indonesia's westernmost province of Aceh, an army helicopter has just gone down, undoubtedly stirring mixed reaction among villagers in the area.

On the one hand, the crash -- reported by Jakarta's Metro TV as a shootdown -- killed officers of the hated Indonesian armed forces, TNI, the force that, in effect, occupies Aceh, a historically distinct region that wants independence. But on the other hand it is sure to bring the most terrible retribution if the TNI decides to say that rebel fire brought down the copter.

Day-to-day the TNI abuses Acehnese for fun (the rapes), for profit (the extortion and theft), and to break them (rape, torture, murder, school burning and reeducation camps), and to provide an excuse for their own existence in an Indonesia with few external enemies. But on those occasions when the outgunned Aceh rebels (GAM, the Aceh Freedom Movement) actually attack the army or police, the security forces strike back disproportionately, sometimes at the spouses and children.

Last week Amnesty International released a report on Aceh noting that "human rights abuses ... are so pervasive that there is virtually no part of life in the province
which remains untouched" ("New Military Operations, Old Patterns of Human Rights Abuses in Aceh," Amnesty International, October 7, 2004). They spoke of recent "extrajudicial executions of civilians by the military" -- local activists say hundreds of them -- including "the unlawful killing of women and children," a fact which is not surprising, given that the Indonesian army commander has said that anyone who criticizes military rule is GAM, and that the national TNI chief has said of GAM: "hunt them down and exterminate them" (Anatara, the government press agency, quoted Gen. Ryamizard Ryacudu as saying, on December 8, 2003: "People who dislike the military emergency in Aceh are GAM members. So if they have the same voice as GAM members, this will mean that they are the younger brothers of the separatist movement." Amnesty quoted Gen. Endriartono Sutarto at a May, 2003 military briefing).

Aceh is actually one of the worst cases of repression of civilians in the world, but, for various reasons the world doesn't see it even though the scale is comparable to that of, say, Palestine. The economy is based on the revenues of a vast Exxon/Mobil-run natural gas field -- or, it would be if those revenues found their way back into the hands of poor Acehnese (2001 central government statistics said 21.6% of Aceh toddlers were malnourished; a later internal World Bank estimate put the percentage twice as high).

Though Aceh is officially part of Indonesia, in May of 2003 the TNI launched a full-scale invasion of the place, explicitly modeled on the then-recent US invasion of Iraq. The invasion featured much talk from Jakarta authorities about "shock therapy," "embedded" journalists, and the political "blessing of September 11" (as the Indonesian president's main political aide, Rizal Mallarangeng, put it [Jane Perlez, "Indonesia Says it Will Press Attacks on Separatists in Sumatra," New York Times, May 23, 2003]), as well as "numerous extra-judicial executions of civilians by the Indonesian military (TNI)" ("Aceh Under Martial Law: Human Rights Under Fire," Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, June 2003). The Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda was quoted by the BBC (May 9, 2003): "Honestly, what we are doing or will do in Aceh is much less than the American power that was deployed in Iraq."

The TNI sealed the point with bombing runs from US supplied F-16s, and low-level strafing from US OV-10s, a plane that also figured prominently in Vietnam and in occupied East Timor.

But TNI has had to be sparing with those Aceh raids because they are hurting for spare parts. US military aid and sales were severely curtailed due to US grassroots activism in the '90s, but now the Bush administration is pushing to restore training and subsidized weapons sales to Indonesia and Attorney General Ashcroft wants to formally classify the Aceh GAM rebels as "terrorist."

President Bush senior once gave a good, objective definition of terrorism. In his Vice Presidential foreword to a Pentagon/State Department report on the subject, Bush the elder wrote: "terrorists deliberately target noncombatants for their own cynical purposes. They kill and main defenseless men, women and children ... Freedom fighters, in contrast, seek to adhere to international law and civilized standards of conduct. They attack military targets, not defenseless civilians."

Unfortunately, though, the Bush definition is not currently in use. If it were, US allies like the TNI would be targeted for US action rather than aid, and the old president's son would be facing trial -- or worse -- for sponsoring terrorism.

Friday, October 8, 2004

Peaceniks in the Pentagon: Paying a Price for Killing People

The current thrust of US Democratic criticism on Iraq is that Bush has been too soft: he didn't send enough troops in the beginning and now he's too timid with insurgent strongholds. Thomas L. Friedman says there is a Rumsfeld Doctrine: "just enough troops to lose."

This characterization of the Bush team as peaceniks is partially true in a tactical sense. Though their goal is to provoke and use violence in a spectacular way to enhance their power, they are smart enough to know that they have to take some precautions in how they do it.

There are at this point in history only loose, minimal political constraints on the number of foreigners they can kill -- when asked after the 1991 Gulf War how many Iraquis the US had killed, then - Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell replied "It's really not a number I'm terribly interested in." (Patrick W. Tyler,"Powell Says US Will Stay in Iraq 'For Some Months'," New York Times, March 23, 1991) -- but they do have to avoid sacrificing too many US troops.

Vietnam was a fiasco for the US establishment not just because they lost the war, but also because a substantial portion of the US public rose against it. Its rightly assumed that two major reasons for that rising were the fact that the draft was still in place and the fact that roughly 58,000 US troops were killed (the more than two million Vietnamese dead were a contributing, but less politically important factor). The solution to these problems was to abolish the draft and then to alter tactics, using foreign surrogates and long-range bombing and shelling as substitutes for US ground troops, and trying to henceforth only attack countries and armies that couldn't defend themselves. If US ground troops had to be used, the rule was to get it over with quickly, before activists and those close to the victims had a chance to mobilize.

Now Democrats criticize the Republicans' tactics because the Democrats are out of office, but they will face the same problem if they win: how do you go around staging wars in a political environment where the public has inconveniently decided that they will place a high value on at least one kind of human life -- in this case the lives of US soldiers? It is a fundamental constraint -- and also a fundamental accomplishment of the anti-war movements that began in the '60s.

But imagine if the progress toward civilization continued and the fair-thinking people of today were able to engender an environment in which all human life was valued? That wouldn't and shouldn't abolish war -- sometimes, unfortunately, violence is necessary for self-defense or justice -- but it would make it vastly more difficult for rulers to stage war for insufficient reasons. Imagine if Colin Powell didn't have the luxury of saying he doesn't care, and the political price paid for, say, killing an Iraqui civilian equaled that for losing an American soldier.

Though Bush is vilified by Democrats he has actually killed fewer Iraquis than did Bill Clinton (the Clinton era sanctions killed well in excess of 400,000), but he has dramatized a fact that has prevailed in big powers throughout history: wars and mass killings can be staged for marginal reasons, almost for the hell of it. But that won't work if enough people mobilize and start counting every soul.

Thursday, October 7, 2004

The Specter of Shared Complicity and Risk: America's War Makers Fear the Draft

When Charles Rangel, the anti-Iraq-war Democratic congressman from Harlem, first proposed reinstating the draft he was widely ignored, but this week the pro-war US House leadership made a point of bringing his bill up for a vote for the explicit purpose of defeating it (The vote was 402-2) ("House Overwhelmingly Stomps Out Bill that Would've Reinstated Draft," USA Today, October 5, 2004).

They wanted to scotch concerns that the draft might be revived because, as they aptly feared, such public belief could hurt the reelection and war plans of President Bush.

It was the influential Republican economist Milton Friedman -- a man with a deep grasp of the theory of self-interest and incentive -- who was among the first to propose undermining the anti-Vietnam-war movement by abolishing the draft. A summary of William F. Buckley's 1969 write-up of Friedman's plan was read with enthusiasm by President Nixon, who ordered his staff to follow up on "this intriguing idea." (Richard Reeves, President Nixon, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2001, p. 51).

The draft is a tough issue. On the one hand, it forces people to be ready to kill and die for a state whose leaders are not bound by the murder laws, but on the other hand it makes it politically less likely that the killing will happen in the first place.

What do you think the US campuses would look like today if we had a real, random draft, one in which even the young George W. Bushes of the country could be sent to Fallujah if they got unlucky? Its undoubtedly true that such a draft would be realistically impossible -- the rich would still manage to buy their way out, but much of the middle class wouldn't and that would still be sufficient to put enough campuses into an uproar that Washington would be less able to wage its wars of choice and whim.