Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Cataclysm by Money Whim. The Islamist Industry. The World Ends Every Few Seconds.

Three years ago today, the tsunami hit Aceh. It was a cataclysm so vast that Acehnese don't talk about it all that much.

It's easier to deal with human-scale things.

That morning, December 26, 2004, in an inland town far from the impact, the initial rumbling of the earth was so terrifying that people ran into the alley, screaming.

One of them, a woman, did so in a daze, having woken from a deep sleep, and, apprehending what was happening around her seized up and fell down to the dirt path, trembling.

Not long after -- and it is still mysterious why, since phones from the shore, at Banda Aceh, were down -- someone started yelling "tsunami!, tsunami!," as strange trickles of water indeed appeared from nowhere.

Everyone knew that the sea was an hour's journey away, but this was no time for theorizing.

People ran to the mosque, which has a second floor, a kind of cupola below the call-to-prayer niche, and Muslims and Hindus gathered praying, talking, and crying, awaiting Noah's flood.

Not all of them, though. A few stayed with that woman who was stiff and trembling, then fully unconscious.

If they were going to drown, they would drown a few minutes sooner, and in the good company of a beloved one.

As it happened, the tsunami never struck that town. The earthquake had shattered the municipal water pipes.

That accounted for the trickle, which, in a kind of celestial joke, would be the only piped water some ever saw, since in that, as in many poor kampungs piped water -- "PAM" -- was a mere dreamt-of, anti-microbial luxury.

If the tsunami had been high enough to take out that town, which is well inland and elevated, it would indeed -- for the world -- have been the end of the world, but that didn't happen, so we're now talking.

But for much of coastal Aceh, the world did end that day, and in such a way that rich people noticed.

It was a slow news day -- the week after Christmas is, as they say in America, "dead" -- and within days Brian Williams was doing the NBC Nightly News live, by klieg light, from Banda Aceh.

That brief moment in the global manmade electronic sun did not dry out flooded Aceh, but it did bring vast donations since, when people see suffering they can be decent provided that a. they really see it -- and in graphic terms --, and b. they are not told by authority that the dead people deserved it.

Traveling west from Banda in the aftermath was like traveling on an Apollo space mission, since, once the bodies had gassed and popped or been taken away, the scene was less beachfront than lunar.

There were three old men sitting on folding chairs -- actually, probably in their thirties or forties. All of their extended families were dead. They, still stunned, were a new social unit.

Not fifty yards behind them, on a slab that was once a house, there was an obscene graffito.

Like a number of indecent writings in history, it was authored by a religious grouping.

"These are the wages of sin," it said. The signature was "FPI" -- the Islamic Defenders Front, a group of men usually found in Jakarta girlie bars busting up the places when the owners don't pay off or when they are too tightwad in doling out instructional-use bottles of the sinful liquor.

The FPI is one of those useful institutions found in places like Indonesia and Pakistan that are simultaneously the subject and the object of the US Global War on Terror (GWOT, an official Pentagon term), and its symbiotic affiliate, the Islamist Industry.

They are both the problem and the solution since, on the one hand, they are scary Islamists, but on the other, they are backed by the Indonesian security forces, which are backed by the US to fight Islamists.

Creatures of the POLRI -- the Indonesian National Police -- FPI also works with the armed forces (TNI) (Two years ago the FPI actually hung banners in Jakarta generously praising the POLRI, the kind of street recognition -- that if you're a POLRI man -- you know you'll never get without paying well for).

After the tsunami the TNI flew the FPI to Aceh on US C-130s, with the apparent idea that they would intimidate and spread havoc, as Aceh activists reasonably feared.

But in a surprising turn, suggesting that even hypocrites can experience awe, the FPI guys seemed to largely behave themselves, ideologues' graffiti notwithstanding.

According to a doctor who worked alongside them in the gruesome task of lifting bodies, they were quiet, and -- as poleaxed as everyone else -- went about their work with some humbled diligence.

Not so a visiting cleric who I was unfortunate enough to share a van with, who explained benignly that the particular wrecked town that we were viewing was famed for gambling, racing, alcohol, and infidelity.

He was suggesting, in other words -- like, say, an American spokesman in bombed Fallujah -- that all those dead people deserved it.

He didn't even get annoyed when I asked why the divine tsunami had managed to miss Jakarta -- where he's from -- where the venues of sin are famous (and police-protected) and outstrip those of coastal Aceh.

Instead his smile got wider, and still more beneficent. It was like watching American religious -- or some political -- TV. The signal is : 'You pathetic sap. I know the secret. You are going to hell. And get out of my way, I've got a date tonight, in Jakarta (or in Washington).'

The tsunami in Aceh killed perhaps 200,000 people, the same rough number as the toll of children killed worldwide, in some part, by malnutrition roughly every two weeks. (For 16,000 child malnutrition deaths daily, see 2007 World Population Data Sheet, Population Reference Bureau, Washington.)

Politically, we don't define each preventable -- undeserved -- death as being a cataclysm, though for the dier, and for their loved ones, it is, and, unlike a tsunami, stoppable.

This anniversary week, the news reports that Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs got a 67.9 million dollar bonus, enough to put a tsunami's - worth of children in his hands -- to let-die or save, strictly at his own whim. (Alistair Barr, MarketWatch, "Goldman Sachs CEO gets $67.9 million bonus," December 21, 2007).

The little brother of a friend of mine survived the tsunami by climbing up a light pole, and when the flood receded he climbed down and, the story goes, sat upon the ground and thought some.

The 30-foot flood had swept cows, cars, and children on past him.

When he got down he saw corpses and mud. Was he the world's last surviving person?

He considered that possibility.

Eventually, they say, he regained his wits, started walking, and, with some relief, learned -- as another young man would later say, commenting on life in the wake of one death -- that "this world still exists," which is true. But the converse is also true.

Every time one single person dies, the world they saw from ends.

The world ends, somewhere, every few seconds. It's a cataclysm. We should see it as such, and, when preventable, prevent it, even if that means contravening some whims.

(For "...this world still exists" see posting of November 8, 2007, "Duduk - Duduk, Ngobrol - Ngobrol. Sitting Around Talking, in Indonesia").

NOTE TO READERS: News and Comment is looking for assistance with translating blog postings into other languages, and also with distributing the blog content more widely. Those interested please get in touch via the e-mail link below.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

No More Coddling Big Criminals. Huckabee Fails to Get Tough on Crime.

After Mitt Romney accused Mike Huckabee of being soft on crime, Huckabee -- the nice guy in the US race -- responded by pointing out that as governor of Arkansas he had put 16 people to death.

This stood in presumed embarrassing contrast to Romney's death toll of zero, since Massachusetts didn't have the death penalty while Romney was governor there.

Romney is undoubtedly ready to respond, if asked, that if given the chance to execute, he will.

It's just that, sometimes awkwardly for their US presidential candidacies, US governors don't always get the opportunity to order killings, and thereby prove their mettle, since 13 of the 50 US states prohibit execution.

(Lead New York Times commentator R.W. Apple once wrote, regarding Bush I and his unprovoked invasion of Panama, that each US commander must complete "a presidential initiation rite" by "demonstrating their willingness to shed blood" -- ie., other people's blood; [the Timesman was not suggesting that the President open up a vein]. [R.W. Apple, "Fighting in Panama: The Implications; War: Bush's Presidential Rite of Passage," The New York Times, December 21, 1989.])

Of course, Romney was correct when he slated Huckabee as being soft on crime, a charge that could be made against Romney himself, and most all members of the US establishment.

They're usually plenty tough on petty crime and on things like common murders, and lately, any offense -- including running red lights -- by undocumented foreign workers.

But on big crime they're as soft and squishy as the proverbial Chablis-sipping US liberal.

If they weren't, Huckabee, could have requested his state attorney general to try to extradite Bill Clinton to Arkansas to face international crimes - against -humanity charges for his sanctions against Iraq, sanctions that, according to two of the top UN administrators who dealt with them on the ground (Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck), gratuitously killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqui civilians, mainly children.

Its not as if Huckabee wouldn't have relished a chance to sting his political rival, Clinton (they both even come from the same home town, Hope, Arkansas), its just that doing so in such a way would have been politically unthinkable and taboo in today's pre-civilized United States, even though legally it isn't since international law allows national/state prosecutors and courts to take on such cases.

That's a slogan for a new decency and justice movement: No More Coddling Big Criminals.

What we need here is law and order, starting at the official top.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Terrorism, Counter-Terrorism, Excuses for Murder. Tell it to the Judge.

Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, the Indonesian cleric and political leader, says that the Bali bombers "were not terrorists but counter-terrorists." (Suherdjoko, "Ba'asyir pays homage to Bali bombers in jail," The Jakarta Post, December 16, 2007).

It's a claim that should outrage anyone who realizes that the Bali bombers executed their victims just to use their corpses to send what they saw as a political message. (For discussion of this theme see posting of November 28, 2007, "Thomas L. Friedman and the Bali Bombers. Cold Blooded Celebrity.")

Such outrage could lead to the answer : 'You're wrong, they weren't counter-terrorists,' and it's a powerful answer since you shouldn't claim to be fighting terrorism if what you're doing is committing it.

But as a social and legal matter, that answer -- though important for honesty and for clear thinking -- should be seen to be part of an argument that is somewhat beside the point.

The bigger problem is not how people see their crimes -- in a certain sense, who cares? -- but rather whether those crimes get stopped and deterred, and whether the criminals get caught and punished.

A staple of American legal drama is the scene where the just-arrested accused perp is hauled before the booking judge (who sets the date and conditions for trial), and, sweating, begins to frantically tell his story, before the bored jurist cuts him off.

With a courtroom full of purported lowlifes to process, he/she doesn't have time to hear rationalizations, so out of the corner of their mouth the judge mutters something to the effect of: 'Whatever. Call it whatever you want. But if you murdered those people, buddy, you're going to prison. [Gavel slap]. Next case!'

Americans -- and foreign audiences who watch them in translation -- seem to love these shows, for good reason. Its fulfilling to see, or at least to imagine, justice being done.

If we were civilized we would also be able to imagine -- and create -- similarly crowded, brusque, courtrooms, in which all murderers, high and low, were hauled before similarly no-nonsense jurists:

There's a president. There's a prime minister. There's a dear, beloved leader, waiting.

And maybe even squeezed among the Commanders on the crowded benches of the waiting accused sit some mere power-talkers -- editorialists, broadcasters, ideologues -- who, as has already happened in the Rwanda tribunals, have been arrested and could be -- as also happened re. Rwanda -- convicted and sent to prison for the purported international law crime against humanity of "public incitement to commit genocide" (eg., one of the charges against Augustin Ngirabatware for things said on his radio station, BBC News online, "Rwandan genocide suspect arrested," September 9, 2007).

Each of them has a noble rationalization for their killing -- which is fine, that is their right. But each of them would also have to persuade a jury, or face a long time in ugly lockup.

Just recently they say Donald Rumsfeld fled France to avoid a torture lawsuit, which is amusing. Isn't he a tough guy? He's the one who was so thrilling to the press in his blunt language about bombing Afghans that Jamie McIntyre of CNN, Pentagon, produced a piece themed (in McIntyre's words): "Everybody loves Rumsfeld."

Isn't part of the point of being a tough guy that you confront and stare down your accusers?

People who dabble in the mass maiming of others should be thoroughgoing in their macho. Their attitude toward murder/ torture proceedings against them should be, as Bush once said,: "Bring it on."

NOTE TO READERS: News and Comment is looking for assistance with translating blog postings into other languages, and also with distributing the blog content more widely. Those interested please get in touch via the e-mail link below.

Friday, December 14, 2007

"Shoot them on the spot." The Traditional Dance of Rewarding War Crimes.

Last June, when President/General Susilo of Indonesia visited one of his provinces, in the Moluccas, he was greeted by local residents performing a traditional dance for him, a ritual often repeated around the world when powerful rulers travel, the implicit message being: this is us, but to you, we bow.

This time, however, something went wrong, and to the evident astonishment of the visiting democrat (Gen. Susilo was just awarded a democracy medal by the International Association of Political Consultants. See posting of November 13, 2007, "Vomiting to Death on a Plane. Arsenic Democracy."), the dancers unfurled a freedom flag with an entirely different implicit message: it was the banned four-color banner that symbolizes Moluccan independence from Indonesia.

After the performers were hauled off to jail by Indonesia's POLRI national police ("I want the performers of the dance [to] be investigated," Susilo ordered,"If the dancers have certain purposes, there should be a resolute action against them." "President Yudhoyono orders investigation into 'unscheduled dance'", Antara [official Indonesian government news agency], June 29, 2007), the area police and army commanders were both sacked for inexcusable laxness.

They had apparently let arise an atmosphere so loose that prohibited thought could not only be thought, but could be so bold as to find expression before the very eyes of the visiting sovereign.

Fortunately for national stability, as it is called in Jakarta, Washington, and elsewhere, that problem has now been cured with the appointment of regional army commander Gen. Rasyid Qurnuen Aquary who has informed his TNI (Indonesian national armed forces) troops to "act firmly against anyone engaging in separatist actions, and if need be, shoot them on the spot." (The General's spokesman, Maj. Sukriyanto, quoted in AFP, Jakarta, "Indonesia General Says Separatists Could Be Shot," Dec. 12, 2007, via Joyo Indonesia News Service).

Fortunately for those dissident dancers -- and perhaps also for the President, whose shirt might have gotten spattered red that day -- the order comes too late to have gotten them shot-on-spot (they merely sit, untried, in prison), but not too late for a bold 19 year old Moluccan man just shot by TNI troops on Saturday (he's apparently still alive) for the offense of hanging a similar flag on a tree near which they were working.

In a time and in a place where some authority was bothering to enforce the murder laws, such a public "shoot them on the spot" order against dissidents might be seen to constitute a war crime, or -- since the Moluccas are arguably not in a state of war -- an equally prosecutable, under international law, crime against humanity.

But that's not the case in today's Indonesia, or in most of the world's geography, where official murder -- and even public orders to commit it -- goes unpunished, and is, instead, rewarded. The US Congress is looking to do that this week as they process a Foreign Operations bill that would ship further US taxpayers' millions in lethal assistance to TNI (202-224-3121 is the Congressional switchboard number).

NOTE TO READERS: News and Comment is looking for assistance with translating blog postings into other languages, and also with distributing the blog content more widely. Those interested please get in touch via the e-mail link below.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Breaking News: US Intelligence Personnel Tap Indonesian Phones. British Also Involved. Detachment 88, Kopassus Get Covert US Aid.

News and Comment,
Wednesday, December 12, 2007 9:21 AM US Eastern time)

By Allan Nairn

US intelligence officers in Jakarta are secretly tapping the cell phones and reading the SMS text messages of Indonesian civilians.

Some of the Americans work out of the Jakarta headquarters of Detachment 88, a US-trained and funded para-military unit whose mission is described as antiterrorism, but that was recently involved in the arrest of a West Papuan human rights lawyer.

The Papuan lawyer, Iwangin Sabar Olif, was seized by police and Detachment 88 on the street and later charged with "incitement and insulting the head of state" after he forwarded SMS text messages that criticized the Indonesian armed forces (TNI), as well as the President of Indonesia, Gen. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. (West Papua is a restricted-access region where Indonesian forces have been implicated in rapes, tortures, kidnappings, assassinations, mass surveillance and intimidation.)

The information on the US surveillance program is provided by three sources, including an individual who has worked frequently with the Indonesian security forces and who says he has met and formally discussed their work with some of the American phone tappers, as well as by two Indonesian officials who work inside Detachment 88.

The first source says that the he was told that the Americans are employees of the US CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), but it could not be confirmed whether they work for the CIA or other US agencies. He says that through his work he has observed that these US intelligence specialists help run a sophisticated wiretapping network that uses much new US equipment.

He says the US operation includes the real-time monitoring of text messages, as well as mapping contact "networks," ie. tracing who is calling or texting whom.

This individual deals frequently with Detachment 88, but says that he has not inquired about the seizure of the Papuan human rights lawyer, Iwangin .

He said that Detachment 88 units are also present in other outlying zones including Solo, Ambon, and Poso, the later two of which have been the scene of TNI - POLRI (the Indonesian National Police, who formally oversee Detachment 88) "provokasi" operations that have helped to spur deadly fighting between poor Muslim and Christian villagers.

This source also says that US intelligence is providing covert intelligence aid to Kopassus, the Indonesian army's red beret special forces famed for abduction, torture, and assassination.

Classified Kopassus manuals discuss the "tactic and technique" of "terror" and "kidnapping" (see "Buku Petunjuk tentang Sandi Yudha TNI AD, Nomor: 43-B-01").

Kopassus has, in the past, been heavily trained by US Green Berets and other forces, in topics that included "Demolitions," "Air Assault," "Close Quarters Combat," "Special Reconnaissance," "PSYOP"(s) and "Advanced Sniper Techniques" (all of these during the Clinton administration, under a program called JCET -- Joint Combined Exchange Training).

But after this training was exposed and after the TNI - POLRI Timor massacres of 1999 (which followed a UN - supervised independence vote, and in which Kopassus was implicated), many in Congress were under the impression that they had succeeded in stopping US aid to Kopassus.

(Congress is due to decide within days on a new lethal aid bill for Indonesia).

The American presence inside Detachment 88 was confirmed by an Indonesian Detachment 88 official who said that a team of Americans did telecommunications work in the "Intel Section," along with an individual whom they believed to be a British national.

A second Detachment 88 official also confirmed the US presence, but said he did not know the name of the American team leader. Like the first Detachment 88 official, he gave the name of the operative whom he said was British, but that named individual could not be reached for comment.

Asked for comment on December 12, during the late afternoon, local time, Stafford A. Ward, a spokesman for the US Embassy in Jakarta at first said he was not familiar with such a US program and did not know what Kopassus was.

An hour later Ward read out a statement that said that "there are no Americans in either Detachment 88 or Kopassus." When asked if there was any kind of US assistance to those units he said: "The US is not involved with either of those organizations. I can confirm to you that the US has no involvement with either Detachment 88 or Kopassus."

In fact, though, that US Embassy statement appeared to contradict the public record. US officials have frequently spoken on the record about their involvement with Detachment 88, including to the press and in meetings with and testimony to the US Congress.

Twenty minutes after issuing that denial, Embassy spokesman Ward sent the following email: "I misspoke earlier when you called me a second time today. The U.S. government works with Indonesia to bolster its counterterrorism capabilities. For example, the Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Office of Antiterrorism Assistance has trained Indonesian Antiterrorist Units."

This revised Embassy statement did not repeat the denials of the earlier statement, nor did it deny the presence of US personnel inside Detachment 88, nor did it deny the existence of covert US intelligence aid to Kopassus.

US officials have never acknowledged on the record the presence of US intelligence wiretappers inside Jakarta's security forces, nor have they acknowledged on the record the provision of intelligence assistance to Kopassus.

The initial Embassy denial, phrased in the present tense, came less than 24 hours after the US Congress, in Washington, made private inquiries to the US Executive Branch about whether the US was aiding or planning to aid Kopassus.

These Congressional inquiries came after this blog reported on December 7 that "the State Department this week was putting out urgent queries around Washington that make it sound as if they are planning to openly aid Kopassus," and after people in a position to know privately declined to deny that report.

It is not known whether the Congressional inquiries included the question of Detachment 88.

But in a call to the Detachment 88 office hours before today's initial carefully-phrased Embassy denial, the Indonesian officer who answered the phone said that the Americans had not come in to work today and that, as far as he knew, the British staffer there was on vacation.

Detachment 88 has been mentored by veteran CIA and State Department official Cofer Black, who was one of the architects of the US invasion of Afghanistan.

Detachment 88 is publicized as being aimed at violent jihadists, like the groups implicated in the bombings in Bali and Jakarta that killed more than 200 civilians.

But the US wiretapping program provides a capacity to target any kind of phone user in Indonesia, an issue of concern in a country where the security forces -- often US-assisted -- have killed many hundreds of thousands of civilian dissidents.

@2007 by Allan Nairn, News and Comment,

Friday, December 7, 2007

Imposed Hunger in Gaza, The Army in Indonesia. Questions of Logic and Activism.

The UN World Food Program estimates that, in the wake of Israel's cutoffs,"Food imports into the Gaza Strip are only enough to meet 41 percent of demand," (paraphrase by the UN-sponsored news agency, IRIN. IRIN, Jerusalem, "Only 41 percent of Gaza's food import needs being met," 6 December 2007), ie. Gazan food intake has been cut by a shock 59 percent.

Even a small cut in food consumption can stunt or kill already hungry people, particularly infants in the brain-development stage.

The UN sponsored IRIN news service reports that "Israeli travel and trade restrictions have led to a decline in purchasing power in Gaza. A recent WFP survey found that of the 62 percent of people who said they had reduced their expenditure in recent months, 97 percent reported a decrease in spending on clothing and 93 percent on food."

IRIN cites the case of Naheda Ghabaien, "a mother of five in the Beach refugee camp in central Gaza" whose husband "used to work three or four days a week bringing home about US$10 a day" but now, post sanctions, "only works a few days a month."

At least the Ghabaien family is getting some aid, unlike so many other nutritionally threatened people around the world. Every twelve weeks, another UN agency (UNRWA) gives them "amounts of rice, flour, oil and sugar that can last for four to six weeks. The family rarely eats meat anymore, relying mostly on vegetables."

"'When the agency food runs out,'" IRIN quotes Naheda Ghabaien as saying, "we buy the food we need on credit from the grocer. When my husband works, most of his daily earnings go to settling the debt."

The news agency notes that "(a)id workers say these sorts of coping mechanisms are reaching their limits" and cannot keep yielding food for Gaza's straitened people much longer.

Israel's government says that its sanctions are legal -- ie. are not a disproportionate reprisal, which is a war crime -- so it is logically saying that these food and other cutoffs are not worse than the Gazan rocketing of Israel .

So, if that is the case, Israel should be willing to agree to a simple switch: Gaza gets the power and right to effectively cut off 59% of Israel's food (as well as being able to shut its electricity, fuel, communications, medical supplies, travel rights, airspace etc.), and Israel gets the right to rocket Gaza as Gaza has rocketed Israel, ie. in a manner that has killed Israeli civilians at the rate of roughly one every four months.

Would the Israeli government agree to this bargain that is strictly based on its own legal logic?

Of course not. They'd be foolish if they did. They already bomb and shell Gaza, and other places, at will, killing Palestinan and Arab civilians at roughly the rate of ten for each Israeli civilian (for statistics within the Occupied Territories, see the Israeli human rights group, B'Tselem,, and if anyone were to cut more than half of Israel's food, as Israel is now doing to Gaza, that place would immediately be leveled by Israel, and/or the United States.

As in so many other cases, power, not a power-wielder's own legal logic, prevails.

In Indonesia, a Muslim-majority country ostensibly critical of Israel -- but whose killer armed forces have discreetly taken Israeli aid -- the President, Gen. Susilo, is in the process of appointing his country's army commander as the overall armed forces chief, even though it is not the army's turn in the supposed rotation.

Reuters, Jakarta (November 28, 2007) calls it "a move some observers say will ensure [Susilo] the support of the powerful military in the run-up to 2009 elections" (also see AFP, Jakarta, December 6, 2007, which draws the same conclusion) which is required since, as political Jakarta knows, no one wins and governs without the army.

The twist is that, a few years ago, when Indonesia started putting in non-army men (ie. air force and navy men) as armed forces commanders, this was hailed as progress and reform by the regime's academic and political apologists.

Their somewhat self-incriminating argument was that since most civilian killings were done by the army (which is true), things would be better with the navy (that helped abduct many tens of thousands in post-'99-vote Timor, and this year did a massacre in Java [see posting of November 13, 2007, "Vomiting to Death on a Plane. Arsenic Democracy."]) or the air force (that bombed Timor and Aceh) in charge.

If they believed their own logic they should now say that this appointment of an army man is a regression, a conclusion unlikely to be drawn, since the US Congress is just now deciding just how many millions they are going to give these very armed forces.

In fact, the State Department this week was putting out urgent queries around Washington that make it sound as if they are planning to openly aid Kopassus, the most notoriously sadistic army unit, and, historically, the most heavily US-trained one.

(Gen. Prabowo, the most notorious of all Kopassus commanders -- and that is saying a lot -- did his training at Fort Benning and Fort Bragg, among other places, and, his murderous record notwithstanding, was once cited in a US Embassy memo as an example of the success of US training, specifically the IMET [International Military Education and Training] program. Prabowo once complained to an American that all this had been a mixed blessing for him since, he said, some other Indonesian generals made fun of him because he spoke English so well; he said they called him "The American").

The phone number of the US Congress is 202-224-3121, the members of the deciding Conference Committee are listed below, and the East Timor & Indonesia Action Network, ETAN ( has documented background information and action suggestions, as a starting point.

Activism actually beat the US Executive (under presidents Bush I and Clinton) and, through military aid cutoffs forced via Congress, helped to bring down Suharto and free occupied Timor.

(Suharto's old security chief, Adm. Sudomo once told me that Suharto fell because they failed to open fire early and thoroughly on the Jakarta student demonstrators, because they feared further US aid cutoffs, as were imposed after the '91 Dili, Timor massacre. As I left his vast cement-bunker house, adorned with pictures of him and the US golfer, Arnold Palmer, I realized that he probably hadn't paid attention to who he was telling this story to, since on the way out he gave me a book that condemned me for my actions at Dili, and after.)

Those activist victories were possible in part because Indonesia was not a Washington priority. It was handled mainly by middle-level bureaucrats. The big boys were busy with other killer forces. Likewise, our entire fierce nine-year Congressional aid-cut struggle was ignored by the US corporate media, which was in a way frustrating, but in another way perhaps good, since that may have delayed the counter-mobilization by Jakarta, US corporations, and the US diplomatic/ military/ intelligence establishment that didn't get serious until 1994 with the launching of the US-Indonesia Society lobby group (in which Gen. Prabowo had a hand), and other initiatives.

Israel/ Palestine is an entirely different matter, top of the government, media, and counter-mobilization lists. Efforts to change that policy cannot hope to steal a march under the political radar. But the distinguished -- and therefore, often vilified -- scholar of the matter, Norman G. Finkelstein (highly praised by the most serious figures, eg. Raul Hilberg, Avi Shlaim, while, at the same time, lied about by others) believes that a slow shift in US opinion is underway, starting, interestingly, among younger US Jews.

Power is one thing. Fact and logic are another. They should not be confused.

The sooner people at our end, the trigger-end, honestly open their eyes and simply see, the sooner people at the exit-end -- where the bullets and food-cuts come out -- will stop having their own eyes forcibly and permanently closed by death.

Link to view this posting in German translation.

Members of the US House - Senate Foreign Operations Appropriations Conference Committee currently deciding on major parts of US military aid to Indonesia:

House Democrats:

Nita M. Lowey (NY), Foreign Operations Subcommittee Chair [a critic of the Indonesian military, but has been under strong pressure from the Executive Branch and from her subcommittee's ranking Republican, Frank Wolf (VA); as with Sen. Leahy (VT), how strong a stand she takes will be crucial]
Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. (IL)
Adam Schiff (CA)
Steve Israel (NY)
Ben Chandler (KY)
Steven R. Rothman (NJ)
Barbara Lee (CA)
Betty McCollum (MN)
Dave Obey (WI), Ex Officio, Appropriations Committee Chair [former strong critic of the Indonesian military, less involved in recent years]

House Republicans:

Frank R. Wolf (VA), Ranking Member [generally interested in human rights, but formerly a critic of the Indonesian military, and now a key supporter of them]
Joe Knollenberg (MI)
Mark Steven Kirk (IL) [former State Department official who professes interest in human rights]
Ander Crenshaw (FL)
Dave Weldon (FL)
Jerry Lewis (CA), Ex Officio, Appropriations Committee Ranking Member

Senate Democrats:

Robert Byrd (WVA), Appropriations Committee Chair
Patrick Leahy (VT), Foreign Operations Subcommittee Chair [most important critic of the Indonesian military, but much depends on how strong a stand he takes]
Daniel Inouye (HI) [single most important backer of the Indonesian military]
Tom Harkin (IA)
Barbara Mikulski (MD)
Richard Durbin (IL)
Tim Johnson (SD)
Mary Landrieu (LA)
Jack Reed (RI)

Senate Republicans:

Thad Cochran (MS), Appropriations Committee Ranking Member
Judd Gregg (NH), Foreign Operations Subcommittee Ranking Member
Mitch McConnell (KY), [longtime supporter of the Indonesian military]
Arlen Specter (PA)
Robert Bennett (UT)
Christopher Bond (MO),[current lead Republican backer of the Indonesian military, and the Indonesian presidential intelligence agency, BIN]
Sam Brownback (KS), [a Republican often receptive on human rights issues]
Lamar Alexander (TN)

All can be reached through the US Congressional Switchboard: 202-224-3121

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

It Takes (Out) a Village: Illegitimate American Power.

Hillary Clinton just pointed out that whoever holds the US presidency can, on both national and foreign matters, engage in "split-second decision-making that can affect the lives of millions of people" (AFP, New Straits Times [Malaysia], December 5, 2007).

Clinton made her remark as a criticism, but of her campaign opponent, not the system.

She was saying that her competitor, Barack Obama, was unqualified to have that power, not that there was any problem with the fact that such Zeus-like power exists in the first place.

One American deciding. Millions of lives. Fates determined almost in passing.

If you pull back and think about it -- slowly -- doesn't it all seem a bit improper?

For most political Americans the answer would probably be that they haven't yet thought about it, because in US politics, the existence of such power is taken as a no-need-to-think-of given.

But at the other end of the stick -- or the other end of the rifle, where the bullets come out -- there is a bit more consciousness of this remarkable fact about today's wildly unbalanced world.

Its why the US presidential campaign gets heavily covered in the popular press of, say, Malaysia, while on the other, US, end -- the trigger end -- editors are only dimly aware that that country exists.

It is also why, say, junior US Congressional or Executive Branch aides -- or, for that matter, US journalists -- can get treated like pashas when they visit weaker countries overseas.

If people figure out that you or your perceived (or real) team have the power to kill them or feed them, they tend to -- as one would rationally expect -- act toward you accordingly.

For years, those actions have tended toward deference -- though lately there's sometimes been more anger -- but both the deference and the anger flow from the same realization: that when you talk to extremely powerful people, you are talking to he (or she) who can shape your fate.

Of course, concentrated power is not a modern or a US invention, and it will always exist to some degree. But, as with many things, it is a question of, first,: to exactly what degree? And second, power to do what? To take my life, if you feel like it?

In today's world, power is so skewed -- in its distribution, its nature, and in its very scale -- that people like, say, American presidents can take out villages and barely know or remember it.

I once interviewed former President Ford on the phone and asked him if it was true that in a meeting with the dictator Suharto he had authorized the East Timor invasion.

Although I had told Ford's staff in advance that I was going to ask him about that meeting, he replied -- I think, honestly -- that he just could not remember.

He said the meeting had had a long agenda -- a fact confirmed by the later-declassified transcript -- and Timor was somewhere down the list, so he apologetically said that he couldn't be sure.

In fact, Ford did give the thumbs-up and, thereby, launched -- within a day -- what would become the greatest proportional slaughter since the Nazis.

If you're the ruler of any other country (including China, Russia, England, or France, the arguable candidates for distant -- very distant -- #2 world killing power), you don't have to stick Post-It notes on your computer to remember what countries you've caused to be invaded, or have provided with "lethal aid" (the actual Washington term for US assistance to the killing capacities of friendly forces).

How could such power possibly be legitimate? It can't be, by definition.

Even though you may have won a vote, and the voters are sovereign, the voters do not have the right to authorize you to facilitate murder.

People should not be running for president, they should be running to abolish the American presidency -- and state -- as they are now constituted, that is, as institutions that assume killing rights that no one has the right to give them.

Back in the summer of 2000, before he flew off to his death in Indonesia, I had several conversations with Jafar Siddiq Hamzah about his survival chances.

He was an Acehnese human rights lawyer, the emerging international voice of his people. He was waging a political struggle against the terror of the US-sponsored Indonesian army and police (a Clinton official had told the New York Times that Suharto was "our kind of guy"), and he had left the country after interrogation, surveillance, repeated threats, the torching of his office, and the disappearance or assassination of many of his friends.

But now he had a plan to go back -- for just a couple of months, he said -- and it turned in part on the fact that he had become, arguably, a kind of quasi-American. He had driven a New York City cab, was working on a Masters (The New School, political science), had achieved US permanent residency, and had even met with State Department officials and testified in the US Congress.

That had to count for something, he thought. But it didn't quite suffice.

When they found his body, it was unrecognizable . His jaw was gaping, as in a death scream, and the doctor said that they had apparently sliced off his face, perhaps with razor blades, or knives.

Maybe Jafar's mistake was that he did not become American enough.

Maybe he should have gotten citizenship, moved to Iowa, participated in the caucuses, and then cast that mystically-imbued American vote that grants life-and-death decision over millions, but have figured out how to cast it in such a way that it would have allowed him to return home without ending up outside Naga Lingga, North Sumatra, at the bottom of the village ravine.

I don't know how he could have actually cast such a vote. There was no serious anti-murder candidate.

But, who knows, perhaps he could have figured something out. Jafar was a creative fellow.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Knowing Where the Bodies Are Buried. The Indonesian Generals -- and Putin -- Laugh.

The phrase "knowing where the bodies are buried" has different meanings in Timor and Washington.

In Washington, it means knowing some incriminating gossip about somebody, whereas in Timor-Leste the meaning of that phrase is unfortunately literal.

The November 12, 1991 Santa Cruz, Dili massacre was a turning point in Timorese history. The fact that it got outside attention opened the door for an independence that has been rough for Timor (due to ridiculous squabbling among its' politicians), but that has ended the daily terror and massacre that was the Indonesian occupation.

But one thing that Timor independence didn't do was produce a regime confident or responsive enough to stand for justice and insist that Indonesian officers be put on trial for their crimes.

(Of course, a Timorese insistence would not suffice, since the Indonesian generals are still in power and the last thing Washington wants is a Nuremberg for its' trainees [or, for that matter, itself], but it makes some political -- and moral/ morale -- difference when the new Timorese rulers say 'Don't bother.').

Instead of testifying and watching the perpetrators of this Nazi-like slaughter hauled off to lock-up (both the Nazis and the Jakarta generals killed a third of their target populations; in Timor's case, it was 200,000, starting after the 1975 US-backed invasion), the Timorese people have been reduced to politely begging their old murderers to tell them where they dumped the bodies.

This past November 12, some Timorese survivors requested precisely that in a petition submitted via the Indonesian Embassy in Dili to President/ General Susilo of Indonesia.

The press quoted the group's spokesman as suggesting that "every human being must have a grave," but reported that the petitioners made clear that they weren't seeking to offend Indonesia's government. (see Jose Sarito Amaral, "East Timor marks anniversary of 1991 cemetery killings," Tempo [Jakarta] website, 13 November, 2007, [in English], via BBC Monitoring, Asia Pacific, via Joyo Indonesian News Service).

Its easy to imagine the response to this petition by whatever uniformed man may have perused it: soft laughter and a search for the trash can. 'Will those Timorese never learn?'

The elected leaders of independent Timor have been hugging the Indonesian generals for years (this is not a figure of speech), and instead of being jailed, the perpetrator officers have been promoted, gotten richer, gotten their US aid restored, and make regular appearances as respected figures, including ones on Indonesian TV during which, rather than being exposed, shunned, and humiliated for their unwashable blood-sticky hands, they dance and laugh and josh around with sexy female celebrity singers.

As Vladimir Putin's triumph in Russia says to the ghosts of Anna Politkovskaya and of the Chechens she wrote about, if justice ever gets here, it often doesn't happen in this lifetime.

Maybe that's one reason people turn to God. For they often cannot turn to politics for even such a simple, earthly thing as justice for their family's slaughter.

Bereft, they feel no choice but to pray. Either that, or change the system.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

'Go ahead, kill them. Just be sure to fill out your expense account.' Law and Order in Bangkok, Washington, and other Pre-Civilized Capitals.

A headline in the Bangkok Post (November 27, 2007) says that ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra "faces up to 26 years in jail" for corruption, while elsewhere in the paper it is reported that his party might well win the coming Thai elections.

If that happens and Thaksin's people win big, there is no way that he will be jailed. Indeed, it is far more likely that he will return from exile a hero.

It just goes to show that law, even criminal law, is ultimately political, and one test of a society's progress is how impartial it lets law be.

Rich, powerful countries like to claim they have achieved great impartiality, but that is true only to a certain extent, and, more importantly, only on certain matters.

As President Nixon, for example, learned, the US has many rules on cheating, and if he is caught breaking them even a powerful president can be brought down.

Just last week, the Texas oil man, Oscar Wyatt -- a donor and friend to many presidents -- was sentenced to prison because he made some illegal deals with Saddam Hussein. Kenneth Lay of Enron, once Bush's #1 donor, was convicted of corruption and died in disgrace. Another of America's biggest businessmen, Bernie Ebbers, is now doing a long corruption term, and Conrad Black, a buddy of Kissinger, Richard Perle, and other Washington powers, is facing a similar fate because he was convicted of stealing from his company's shareholders.

Rudolph Giuliani, one of the frontrunners for the US Republican nomination for president, is now getting flak because he reportedly used public money to visit his mistress.

The point is that in places like the United States rich and powerful people can face real constraints, but only on secondary matters like cheating and corruption, not on the biggest one: official murder.

US business people fall left and right if they're, say, caught backdating stock options, but have never yet faced prosecution for the murders of labor leaders at their foreign factories.

Fred Sherwood, then a leader of AMCHAM, the American Chamber of Commerce in Guatemala, told me in 1980 how he would call in the legendary killer, torturer, and rapist Col. German Chupina (then the national police chief of Guatemala) if any of the workers at his factory, Productos de Kenaf, got too aggressive in their unionism. Half a dozen such workers were assassinated. Sherwood said he had given Chupina their names. He then capped the story with a joke about archaeologists who were baffled by a mummy they'd found, but then they called in Col. Chupina, and "within an hour, the mummy talked!"

The transaction is usually more subtle than that, but MNCs routinely cut deals to do business in places where the security forces routinely murder dissidents, and -- lo and behold -- discover that a. they can attract good workers for very low wages, and b. occasionally some of their own workers get shot if they persistently ask for higher ones.

The fact that such killings happened in recent years at Coca-Cola in Colombia, for example, did nothing to damage the stellar reputation of major stockholder Warren Buffett, and its a safe bet that no one in Washington's Justice Department even thought of opening a case file, or asking their prosecutorial colleagues in Colombia to have a look at the matter themselves.

US overseas big business is seen as a quasi-extension of the US state, and when playing on foreign turf they essentially get an only somewhat weaker version of the same exemption US state officials get: a license to cause the death of foreign civilians in the course of official business without fearing that a police officer will come knocking on their own door.

If Giuliani becomes President, and, say, decides to bomb Mecca as a symbolic gesture (a move that one Republican candidate, Rep. Tom Tancredo, has actually suggested, if there's another terrorist attack on the US), he won't have to answer to a US judge for the civilian lives he'll take.

But if, Allah help him, Giuliani is ever caught, say, cheating on his taxes, he could find that US justice can be impartial, swift, and fair.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Power Can Buy You People. Can It Buy You Happiness? The Regime Still Stands in Burma, Where "The People Just Want Food."

Crossing the Moei river from Thailand into Burma you see many river bathers. But if you look again more closely you notice they are all on the Burma side.

More Thais enjoy a degree of wealth conducive to piped-in water, which means fewer bad microbes, and therefore a chance at longer, more active lives.

If you happen to enter Burma via a legal route, through a regime checkpoint reputed as "rustic," you notice that it actually has an IBM clone running Windows and a camera-capture program that impressively prints out in seconds two cards containing one's personal data, and, in the upper right-hand corner of each, a little color photo of your face, from below.

The army Intel man in the booth has a nice silver watch and Che Guevara t-shirt, but he is not visibly packing a pistol. Few arms are visible in this Intel town.

A middle-aged Burmese woman, a highly-trained professional who fled Rangoon post-September, said that she was surprised when the army fired on them since, this time, they followed the monks' lead, and rather than demonstrating "angrily" with fists raised, they mainly proceeded quietly.

But the soldiers opened-up anyway, so now she's sheltering near the mountains.

"The people cannot understand why they are in poverty," she argued, a state which degrades them "physically, educationally, even morally," thus making it easier for the military to recruit thugs from regular people, basically doubling their virtually non-existent normal wage to get them to beat up dissenting neighbors.

Walking through town, one sees the usual Buddhist temples and, for this region, Christian churches, but also many pool halls and karaokes, lots of Johnny Walker Red and Black, and smart-ass young men lounging back on low teak chairs playing X-Box video.

They are smaller and thinner than their Thai contemporaries across the river, but still -- given what they have -- muscular. They give off what an Indonesian would call a distinctly "preman" vibe (preman being the Indonesian street thugs sponsored by army police, or local big men, or, freelancing if they're small-time enough).

One, using the universal semaphore of jerked back thumb and extended pinkie invites me to drink with him and his laughing boys. Another, inside a temple compound, before a golden shrine to the Buddha, ascertains that I'm from America, laughs when I point to his "US Army" jacket, and, without further preliminaries, offers to procure me a Burmese "lady."

A block off the main street, the houses' walls are paper thin, as with the very poor in Indonesia, but this in a region where it is cool -- even by US northern standards --, and where many wear long sleeves and jackets.

Outside Basic Education High School there is an anti-drug sign, in English ("The Fight Against Drug Menace is a National Cause"), this from a regime that helped lead the world in heroin (the phrase was "Golden Triangle," and the CIA's facilitating role was documented in Alfred W. McCoy's classic scholarly study "The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia" [1972]) until it was recently outstripped by US/NATO occupied Afghanistan.

Outside the police base there is another English sign, this one announcing a "crime free week" this past March, presumably a week in which the junta sold no drugs and freed its political prisoners.

The military base is tucked a ways off the main road, beside some just-turned-over black earth and is so not-under-siege in feeling that its gate was sitting open and I didn't even notice the one very young guard until I shifted position to look for buffalos in the farmland and spotted him behind a pillar.

Its an anticlimactic contrast to the September footage from bloodsmeared downtown Rangoon, or, for that matter to the scene in today's Muslim southern Thailand where a vicious insurgency has the Thai army and police (who were vicious first, and still are) locked-in and very frightened.

When I asked that professional woman whether she thought the Burmese junta was frightened, she said: "Yes, I think they are afraid. They cannot sleep at night. And if they sleep, they have nightmares; they cannot be happy. They have power but they cannot have happiness."

That may (hopefully) be the case, but given a chance to reverse that polarity, I doubt that many repressive Generals would take it, inside Burma or elsewhere.

Indeed, there is a rumor going around the world that power brings -- or is a form of -- happiness, and many act is if they believe that to be so, hiring and shooting their way toward fulfillment.

On the way out of town I was accosted by a plump, spectacled man in safron monk's garb, who, sweating and speaking good English, explained rapid-fire -- with my barely asking a question -- that he had studied engineering in Singapore, was still meditating to control his body, and that the demonstrations had been staged by a team of "false monks" controlled by "an underground communist unit" (as were, he said, all the other various rebel/ dissident groups in Burma), that Aung San Suu Kyi was British, not Burmese, that her father had been a communist (which happened to be true, though his main politics were nationalist), and that -- getting interesting -- his own
(the monk's) sister is on the board of a shipping firm in Singpore that is controlled by Gen. Maung Aye, the junta's current number two (an Intel specialist), and that he, the monk, is related to various other generals, including the former Intel chief and Prime Minister, Gen. Khin Nyunt (who not long ago lost an internal power struggle, and is now, as this monk put it, "behind the partition," ie. interned inside the Insein political prison).

The monk gave me his G-mail and Hotmail addresses, said the Burmese don't know what democracy is (though -- he said -- he and I do), and in the most interesting moment, answered the question: "Do the people like the government?"

"I and people like me do," he said, "but the people just want food. All they want is food and peace." I said I had to go.

He said if I wanted "the truth about Burma," he would send it to me through G-mail.