Monday, January 31, 2005


The arrogant tactics of the private military company that escorted top US officials around Iraq are partly to blame for the rebellion against the US occupation that has taken scores of American and thousands of Iraqi lives, according to a Marine colonel who helped train Iraqi troops in the initial stage of the war.

"They made enemies everywhere," Colonel Thomas X. Hammes, an expert on guerrilla warfare and a senior fellow at the National Defense University told a conference on military contracting last week. He was referring to the tactics used by Blackwater USA, the North Carolina company that was hired by the Coalition Provisional Authority to provide security for L. Paul Bremer, the US administrator who was dispatched by the Bush administration to run Iraq in 2003.

A few minutes earlier, Chris Taylor, Blackwater's vice president for strategic initiatives, had boasted about the protective cordon his company provided to Bremer. Under a "turnkey security package" with the CPA, Bremer was accompanied by 36 "personnel protection specialists," two K-9 dog teams and three MD-530 helicopters built by Boeing Corporation.

"The fact that he (Bremer) is home with his family is the only measure of success," said Taylor. "He survived and that's good." Blackwater provides the same kind of protection today to US ambassador John Negroponte, who succeeded Bremer when the formal occupation (theoretically) ended on June 30, 2004.

But Hammes, who was in charge of training and equipping the fledgling Iraqi army that Bremer hastily recruited after his disastrous decision to disband the army once loyal to Saddam Hussein, said the Blackwater team acted more like storm troopers.

"The problem is, his guys are trying to protect the ambassador. But I would ride around with Iraqis in an Iraqi truck, and they were running me off the road. We were threatened and intimidated. But they (Blackwater's security) were doing their job, doing what they were paid to do in the way they were paid to do it. And they were making enemies on every single pass out of of town." The "first rule" of an insurgency, said Hammes, is "you don't make any more enemies."And Blackwater clearly failed in that mission.

Hammes told his story to make a point: that there is an an inherent conflict of interest between contractors, who are in Iraq to make money, and the military itself, which is there to attempt to win a war. And because that war has now become a classic guerrilla war, with both sides competing for the "hearts and minds" of the Iraqi people, anything that the United States does to anger and alienate the population becomes a weapon - one that the fighters have managed to exploit (this may explain, in part, the apparent decision by many of the Iraqi fighters not to disrupt the voting yesterday).

In his response to Hammes, Taylor dug himself into a deeper hole. He agreed that "there's an aggressive nature" to Blackwater's tactics in moving US officials from point A to point B. But "you're paying us for our judgement," he said. If someone suggests that these tactics are having "an adverse affect in our operations in Baghdad," Blackwater will take that into consideration. "We'll try to work something out while still being able to provide the service under the contract we've provided." Exactly.

Hammes pushed on. It all "depends on the integrity of the company," he replied. He then offered up a scenario of a situation where a contractor might be called into, say Liberia. "If my job as a contractor is to keep the peace, suppose I'm really successful and there is peace. My contract ends, right? So suppose I stir up a little on the side?"

That was too much for Taylor. "Oh, come on," he responded. But his only assurance that something like that couldn't happen was his company's patriotism. "All of us are absolutely in support of security and peace and freedom and democracy all over the world," he said. "Its from that part of the heart that our people come to work." That's why he "hates the M word." The term mercenary is a "misnomer, inappropriate and certainly inaccurate," he insisted.

Right. What other word could be used to explain Blackwater's latest mission, in oil-rich Azerbaijan, which Taylor also discussed. Azerbaijan is a former Soviet republic led by an autocratic government that routinely jails journalists and dissidents and "torture, police abuse, and excessive use of force by security forces are widespread," according to Human Rights Watch.

Like Iraq, Azerbaijan has lots of oil, and has attracted significant investment from Exxon-Mobil, Conoco, BP, Unocal, Halliburton and other multinational oil and oil-services companies. According to Taylor, Blackwater has contracted with Azerbaijan's government to support its "Maritime Commando Enhancement Program." Under this contract, Blackwater - which was founded by former Navy SEALs - "is creating a SEAL team for Azerbaijan to help with its oil interests and monitor what's happening in the Caspian Sea in the wee hours of the night."

Taylor admitted this is "politically sensitive," but argued that if a company like his "wants respect as a business and a solid reputation as actually affecting the strategic balance in any area of the world, then it must be part of the give and take. We like to think we do that on a daily basis."

But "give and take" with whom? Well, go to the website of the United-States Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce and click on "officers" and you'll quickly see who Blackwater serves. James Baker III. Henry Kissinger. Brent Scowcroft. Etc. And down there at the bottom of the page are two of the chamber's former members - Dick Cheney and Richard Armitage. These men are the power behind the throne in Azerbaijan; it's impossible to imagine that government hiring Blackwater without a nod from one if these principals.

So what are the lessons in all of this? One, Blackwater's project in Azerbaijan is clear evidence that contractors have crossed the line from pure mercenaries to strategic partners with the military-industrial complex. Two, Colonel Hammes' warning about Blackwater's impact on the war in Iraq has implications far beyond the Middle East. And three, the antiwar movement needs to focus as much on privatization as it does on the imperial policies of President Bush and his neo-con supporters.

Note: Last Friday's conference was organized by the George Washington University Law School with support from the International Peace Operations Association, which represents, Blackwater, MPRI and other major contractors.

Thursday, January 27, 2005


The news out of Indonesia and Washington continues to be grim. On a day that the Washington Post ran an insightful piece on the climate of fear in Aceh province engendered by Indonesia's corrupt and brutal army, our newly installed Secretary of State was preparing to ask Congress to grant to Indonesia's rulers the full normalization of military ties they have sought for the last 10 years.

The State Department is telling human rights groups that it will recommend the release of $600,000 in International Military Education and Training Funds (IMET) that Congress blocked last year, pending a ruling that the Indonesian government and its armed forces are cooperating with the FBI's investigation into the killing of two Americans in Timika, West Papua, on August 31, 2002. One source told me that the "formal certification for IMET" was actually placed on Condoleezza Rice's desk today. Her ruling is expected anytime.

The Post's reporting underscores why normalization is such a bad idea. The article, by the excellent Alan Sipress, reports that the dazed victims of the tsunami in Aceh are literally begging for foreign military forces to stay because they fear that, left alone, the Indonesian military (known as the TNI) will revert back to their scorched-earth campaign to eradicate the independence movement and terrorize the local population.
In more than two dozen interviews in Aceh, Indonesia's westernmost province, residents unanimously said that foreign forces should remain for at least several years. Acehnese, from homeless rice farmers to professors and local officials, said the troops should help with reconstruction and serve as a check on Indonesian security forces, widely feared in the province because of their heavy-handed campaign against separatist rebels, known as the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). The rebels have been fighting for autonomy for decades....The government's battle with (GAM) has left the local population cowed, fearing interrogation, detention or even summary execution by one side or the other for voicing offending views.
Sipress interviewed Ali, "a scruffy Acehnese truck driver turned tsunami refugee."
As Ali and his wife shared their impatience over Indonesian relief efforts, they kept watch through the opening of the tent, lowering their voices whenever Indonesian army trucks, crowded with soldiers in green camouflage uniforms cradling automatic rifles, rumbled past. U.S. Navy Sea Hawk helicopters roared overhead every few minutes, heading down the west coast to deliver aid. "If it's possible, the foreign troops should stay here 50 years," Ali continued, almost pleading. He and other refugees said they feared being identified by the army and requested that they not be photographed or further identified. "If the international troops don't stay here for a long time, there will be corruption, and none of the assistance will get into our hands."
Unfortunately, reporting of this kind may be about to end. According to a report distributed today by Reporters Without Borders, there are "signs of growing Indonesian army intolerance towards the foreign news media, in which at least five journalists have been briefly detained or asked to leave Aceh and new rules have restricted press work."

The organization is also asking Indonesian authorities to "explain why they expelled US freelance journalist William Nessen from Jakarta on 24 January, a day after arresting him as he left Aceh province. The authorities have so far just said he violated a territorial ban imposed on him in August 2003 after his first arrest in Aceh. At that time, he was sentenced to 40 days in prison for violating the immigration laws and was banned from Indonesia for a year. But that ban expired in August 2004." The report also stated:

A photojournalist and regular contributor to The San Francisco Chronicle and The Sydney Morning Herald, Nessen is the only foreign reporter to have covered the Indonesian army’s May 2003 offensive against the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan
Aceh Merdeka or GAM) from the rebel side. Nessen told Reporters Without Borders he entered Indonesia and Aceh legally on 2 January, and was arrested by immigration officials as he left Aceh on 23 January, apparently at the request of military intelligence. He was interrogated about his activities in Aceh and, before he was expelled, the order banning him from Indonesian territory was extended to August 2005.

Previously, on 7 January, Martin Chulov and Renee Nowytager of The Australian were threatened and asked to leave the area by Indonesian soldiers who had just come under fire from GAM rebels. "Your duty is to observe the disaster and not the war between the army and the GAM," an officer told them.

Michael Lev, a reporter with the Chicago Tribune, and his Indonesian fixer, Handewi Pramesti, were arrested on 29 December by soldiers in Meulaboh (Aceh) and held for 28 hours.

(The information from Reporters Without Borders was kindly forwarded to me by fellow blogger Doug Ireland, who you can find at

And now, back to Condi, that IMET money and the Timika murders.

Privately, Rice has already told Congress she wants the IMET money to flow again. Earlier this week, she responded in writing to several questions on Indonesia posed by Senator Joe Biden, the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (too bad these questions weren't asked in the public session last week). Biden made clear that he was skeptical about John Ashcroft's announcement last year that a Papuan suspect has been indicted in the Timika case. "In the meantime," he wrote, "the suspect remains at large, well documented ties between him and the army (TNI) remain unexplored in official accounts of the case, and there appears to be no effort under way to advance the investigation." He asked Rice if she believed that the FBI had exonerated the TNI and how she planned to persuade Indonesia to cooperate more in the case.

Here's what Rice said: "The arrest and prosecution of Anthonius Wamang, who was indicted by the FBI (sic: it was a grand jury) for the murder of two American citizens, is one of our top priorities.Although the investigation is not complete, the FBI has uncovered no evidence indicating TNI involvement in the Timika murders. We know President Yudhoyono understands the importance of this matter to the United States and trust that the Government of Indonesia will take the appropriate actions to achieve justice in this case."

Biden then asked her if she would still support IMET "if If the case remains stalled-with no suspect in jail, no investigation actively probing alleged ties to TNI, no plans for any movement in the future."

Rice's response was predictable: "IMET for Indonesia is in the US interest," she said. By training Indonesian officers, the United States will "strengthen the professionalism of military officers, especially with respect to the norms of democratic civil-military relations such as transparency, civilian supremacy, public accountability, and respect for human rights."

Patsy Spier, who lost her husband in the Timika attack and was herself seriously wounded, sent out an e-mail today stating her disagreement with Rice's assessment of Indonesia's desire to "achieve justice" in the case. Six and a half months after Ashcroft identified Wamang as the chief suspect, said Spier, Wamang "has not been apprehended, and the Indonesian authorities have not issued an indictment from Indonesia for his arrest."

Spier said she was personally informed by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage last February that, for the United States, cooperation meant seeing the case through to "its exhaustion." In other words, said Spier, "This is an ongoing case, which means that this case is not exhausted."

In another development in the case, Spier said that the Indonesian police - who first made the charge that the army may have been involved in the attack - has responded to repeated invitations by the FBI to come to Washington to study the FBI's evidence in the case. This is the first communication between US and Indonesian authorities on the case in six months. Spier concluded:

What message will the USG be sending to this new Indonesian government if we certify those symbolic funds when the man who is indicted by a US grand jury has not been apprehended, the INP have not issued an Indonesian indictment for his arrest, the other participants of the ambush have not been indicted in this ongoing case, and the INP are just now communicating with our FBI after seven month?

Sadly, the message will be that Bush's ideology of freedom and democracy only applies to our enemies, not our friends. Indonesia has been very very good for American corporations and arms merchants over the years, and Bush and Condi are not about to ruin a good thing.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005


These are strange, cold days. For the last 36 hours I've watched Johnny Carson throw an axe at a woodsman's crotch, play joyously with funny animals, and wonder wistfully about sneaking a peek behind Dolly Parton's dress - over and over and over. But the mix of sad news and comedic memories from the 1960s is a welcome change from the Bush and Cheney follies of January 20th, and its aftermath: a Washington Post story by Bradley Graham that Donald Rumsfeld has formed a secret intelligence war squad inside the Pentagon that is circumventing the CIA and skirting the spirit of the intelligence "reform" bill that passed Congress in December. Meanwhile, from DC to Boston it's all snow and ice and freezing bones, for me two flat tires in three days. My true welcome to 2005, I guess. But as a result, blog-posting has become secondary to keeping warm and out of trouble. So, to make up, here's an update on last Thursday's protests:

There was a good turnout for the main demonstration in DC, from Malcolm X Park down to Pennsylvania Avenue, where it ended amidst chaos and lots of Republicans. Later I watched Fox News' Brit Hume say there were "only 500 or 1,000" protesters, an absurd figure for a march that spanned eight to 10 blocks and then merged with the remnants of ANSWER's rally just south of the Treasury Building. On the way down, the crowd carried some 50 flag-draped "caskets" - it was an effective statement and looked dramatic from any angle.

After running up against the metal fence that cops had erected around the "special zone" north and south of the White House (the first time I have ever seen such a tactic in 23 years here), I walked over to Lafayette Park, where Christian peace groups were chanting and singing around a die-in of about 10 protesters, laying splayed about like they'd all been shot or hit by shrapnel. This was about two blocks down from the AFL-CIO, at 16th & H. Right there, less than 10 feet from the antiwar circle, was one of the entrances to the Bush mall, and suddenly the area was awash with dapper men in long coats and women in furs and boots: rich, happy Republicans, just back from the swearing-in. "Guess its nap time for liberals," one of the Republians chuckled as he and his family happily gave up their constitutional rights to be frisked and searched before they could pay homage to the war president. Others walked deliberately by, slowing shaking their heads in mock disbelief. At one point, I saw Jerry Falwell walk by, big fat strides, cheeks blowing in the wind. Jesus, how much longer do we have to put up with him?

Next, I headed down to my old haunts near the National Press Club building at 14th & F, where I worked for most of the 1990s and still held a club membership. Inside, about 25 Democrats sat uneasily around televisions celebrating the "alternative inauguaration." That looked boring, so I ducked back into the street. By this time, a heavy contingent of anarchists had arrived, dressed in black from head to toe. Four of them stood on a barricade with a huge sign reading BUSH KILLS. Down by the street there was another group holding a huge sign that couldn't be missed by the parade. BUSH IS A MOTHER-FUCKER. As the block filled with more protesters (mixing still with Republicans streaming into the checkpoints from nearby hotels) a large squad of riot police, heavily armed and suited up, suddenly appeared. They staged a few maneuvers, staring fiercely ahead, and then jogged down to Ground Zero, where the prez was about to go by. The heckling of Republicans suddenly got more fierce. Calls of animal killer, how many did it take? etc. got answered by retorts of fuck you and get a job.

I met up with a friend and we walked down to get as close to the parade as possible. It was rowdy down there. Three units of the tactical squad were out on the street. Suddenly, parts of the fence started going down - anarchists had loosened their bolts and pushed them down. The crowd surged forward, resulting in a long, swirling stream of pepper fog sprayed by the cops, drenching the people right by the fence. I was way back and missed the gas, but all around me kids were crying out, ripping off their jackets to get the sting off. My water bottle came in handy at that point. One kid next to me was writhing in pain for a few minutes, but soon he was talking excitedly on his cell phone. "Its a police state, man, I got hit. Fascists. Fascists." But he's grinning, loving it. One of his friends ran up and took his picture. It reminded me of that scene from the Elliot Gould movie about the '60s, when he tells his girlfriend how sexy she is after the cops break up a demonstration at Berkeley.

Over the next 20 minutes, the clashes continued, and more gas was released. But it was easily controlled and eventually turned into a big snowball fight, with protesters trying to hit the cops and the Republican spectators, and the spectators taking aim from behind the cops and coming right back. After dodging a couple of incomings I slipped out for home, thinking that this is the most security I've ever seen for a presidential event - yet also pondering that these young anarchists really need to see real fascism at work before using the word for the USA. We're under very tight control, no doubt, yet we're a long way from the 1980s death squads of El Salvador or the prison hell that was once South Korea.

So it was with some gratitude that I received that night the latest edition of William Blum's Anti-Empire Report, with these thoughts about our present condition. It made me rethink my skepticism, but I still come out with this thought: we're a police state, yes; but fascism? No.

Freedom means knowing how big your cage is

On January 20, 1969, during the inaugural parade for Richard Nixon, I stood in a crowd of onlookers on Pennsylvania Avenue and when Nixon's limousine passed by I threw an apple at the car. It bounced off the car behind the one carrying Tricky Dick (who now seems like a liberal compared to the likes of George W., Bill Clinton and John Kerry; seriously). No law enforcement authority rushed into the crowd looking for the perpetrator. Imagine if I had repeated my act at today's inauguration. Everyone within a ten-foot radius of me would be thrown to the ground, handcuffed, if not hogtied, and hauled away to some local version of Guantanamo as a helicopter hovered just above.

I trust that the Statute of Limitations applies to such confessions. I trust also that the Justice Department accords more respect to the Statute of Limitations than it does to the Geneva Conventions.

I tell this story not to defend my action -– which was not exactly
politically sophisticated -– but to try to illustrate how times have changed, and why I believe that the United States has now become a police state. Not the worst police state in history to be sure; not even the worst police state in the world today; but a police state nonetheless.

The War on Drugs made America a virtual police state; the War on Terror has removed the virtual. From expelling a 10-year-old girl for bringing a pair of scissors to school to the death of habeas corpus as a cherished, inviolable principle, with a thousand false and fateful steps in between, American society is fast becoming a giant airport. We live surrounded by a hundred levels of authority -- military and civilian, federal, state, city, and corporate, uniformed and plainclothesed.

Men don't become enforcers of authority because they have a burning passion to advance the cause of justice. And what the enforcers desire in the areas of "security" or "crime", they get: PATRIOT Acts, Homeland Security, preemptive mass arrests, who they want to arrest, how they want to arrest them, where they want to take them, how long they want to keep them, their phone conversations, their computer, their tax return, their census information, their body cavities ... the enforcers get what they want, just like in a police state. Is there anything the Bush administration or its ideological comrades at lower levels might do to infringe upon human rights or civil liberties which would truly surprise and shock those of you who follow the news carefully? What's that? They might appoint the legal architect of torture policy as Attorney General?

"War on drugs" ... "war on terror"-- such terms tell the enforcers that they're warriors fighting a war, and in a war, you use the tactics of war, anything goes. "This, of course, is not really a war at all," says Washington journalist Sam Smith, "but a new status quo that has been declared, one in which violence and paranoia and strip searches are not just part of a sacrifice one must make for a better future. They ARE the future."

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Monday, January 17, 2005


A story of murder, media manipulation and cover-up

WASHINGTON - Patsy Spier, one of the survivors of a 2002 military-style ambush on a group of contract teachers in the Indonesian province of Papua, spoke out today about the attempts by the Bush administration to resume full military ties with Indonesia before the government in Jakarta accounts for military crimes in East Timor and fully cooperates with a US investigation into the Papua killings.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon and its allies in the Bush administration may try to circumvent US restrictions on Indonesian military aid by starting their own “parallel” training and arms supply operations using funds that would be outside of congressional control. That’s what the administration has been telling House and Senate members concerned about the situation in Indonesia, according to human rights groups who stay in close touch with Congress about Indonesia.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pentagon does a parallel program,” Spier told me in an exclusive interview. “But we can’t allow the tsunami to cause us to forget what happened in Indonesia in the past.”

Spier has been visiting Washington to speak with members of Congress and the Bush administration about Indonesia’s handling of the Papua ambush, in which her husband Rick Spier was shot to death by assailants widely believed to be linked to the Indonesian military, better known as TNI.

Spier’s one-woman campaign to bring justice to the Papua victims has made her a legendary figure on Capitol Hill, where she has convinced several leading Republicans to buck the administration on its Indonesia policy. I reported about Spier’s campaign in an article in Mother Jones last year.


Spier was responding to reports in the New York Times and Washington Post concerning the visit to Indonesia last weekend by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. In a full-court press in the US and Indonesian media, Wolfowitz and senior US and Indonesian officials sought to use their recent cooperation in tsunami-devastated Aceh to press for a full resumption of bilateral military ties. Wolfowitz, reported the Times, argued during his visit that “congressional restrictions on American training and arms sales should be re-evaluated in light of what the Indonesian military is doing to refashion itself into a more professional an accountable force.”

As he has many times before, Wolfowitz also offered up the shibbeloth that “cutting off contact with Indonesian officers only makes the problem” – presumably he was talking about human rights violations – “worse.” That’s an argument the Bush administration has been making since coming into office, and has been repeated by the Pentagon ad nauseum since 1991, when Indonesian troops opened fire on peaceful demonstrations in East Timor, killing scores of people and almost killing two of our best journalists, Amy Goodman and Allen Nairn.

“We had military-to-military relations up to the Santa Cruz massacre,” said Spier. “It didn’t change anything.”

The massacre at the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili was the impetus behind a congressional ban on US training of Indonesian officers under the State Department’s International Military Education and Training (IMET) program. The ban, which also includes restrictions on US arms sales to Jakarta, was extended in 2000 after militias trained by the TNI rampaged through East Timor on the eve of its historic independence vote, killing hundreds of people and wrecking the city. The Bush administration tried to lift the ban after the 9/11 attacks, citing Indonesia’s cooperation in the war on terror, but Congress refused to go along. The ban is now contingent on full Indonesian cooperation in the FBI investigation into the Papua incident.

So far, that cooperation has been a joke. The shootings took place on a private road deep in the mountains of West Papua, where Freeport McMoran, the New Orleans mining giant, operates the world’s largest copper and gold mine. The road and the surrounding property is guarded by the TNI and local police, who are paid some $10 million a year by Freeport, which has had a long and extremely close relationship with the Indonesian military since the late 1960s. Immediately after the incident, the Indonesian military blamed the attack on the separatist Free Papua Organization (OPM), which has been fighting for independence for decades. But the local police dismissed that claim, and pointed the finger at the army.

US intelligence officials were also skeptical of the TNI’s story. A few weeks after the shooting, the Washington Post and the Sydney Morning Herald both filed extraordinary reports based on intelligence intercepts obtained by sources “close to the US Embassy in Jakarta.” On these intercepts, the papers reported, General Endriantono Sutarto, the commander-in-chief of the TNI, was heard discussing with other generals a military operation against Freeport shortly before the ambush.


The generals’ conversations, the Post reported, made it clear that the attack was “aimed at discrediting” the OPM as a terrorist group. One American source even told the Morning Herald that the attack was the work of Kopassus, the Indonesian special forces well-known for their brutality. (In a bizarre coda to this story, Sutarto threatened to sue the Post for printing the allegations, but withdrew after the Post placed an ad in a Jakarta paper apologizing for the story. According to sources I’ve spoken to, the Post couldn’t corroborate the story about the intercepts because it didn’t have a paper trail; all the paper had was a verbal report from its source. Still, by never printing a word in its own editions about Sutarto’s actions and its apology, the Post participated in a cover-up of sorts).

After all of this, Attorney General John Ashcroft went before reporters last July to announce that, lo and behold, a “Papuan seperatist” (sic – it was misspelled in the press release) had been indicted by a US grand jury in connection with the deadly attack in Papua province in August 2002. “The US government is committed to tracking down and prosecuting terrorists who prey on innocent Americans in Indonesia and around the world,” said Ashcroft. The suspect, Anthonious Wamang, was an “operational commander” of the military wing of the OPM, Ashcroft said.

According to three prominent Papuan human rights groups, Wamang was a well-known sandlewood vendor with close ties with the Kopassus, which runs much of the timber industry in Papua. Ashcroft’s statement, the groups said, “gives a green light to the (TNI) to go after Papuan dissidents (since the TNI classifies all opponents of their presence in Papua as "separatists"), in spite of the fact that suppressed evidence suggests that the military was behind the ambush. And indeed since the Ashcroft statement our three organizations in Papua have been subjected to a new round of threats and intimidation by the military.”

(See “US Accused of Covering Up Freeport Killings,”


Spier, who has been briefed on the case by FBI Director Robert Mueller, said she has “no doubt” that the FBI – which collected its own forensic evidence in Indonesia – had enough evidence on its own to bring the case to a US grand jury. Wamang might very well be one of the shooters. “But who ordered it, and who supplied the guns and the ammunition?” She noted that the Justice Department’s press release on the indictment claims that US and Indonesian authorities “are attempting to identify additional participants in the murders.” This is an ongoing investigation, she stressed.

Spier said she has been told the FBI has offered to return to Indonesia to help apprehend these “additional participants” and assist in issuing indictments. But “Indonesia hasn’t responded.” This case “should remind us why the training funds were held up in the first place,” she added. “They’ve got to be willing to bring to justice those people who committed crimes and are still in service,” for crimes committed in Aceh, Papua and East Timor. “They must acknowledge what they did was wrong.”

Spier is right. Even though Indonesian military officers no longer hold automatic seats in Parliament – a fact that Adm. Fargo pointed out to the Times – there has been no justice in Indonesia. In contrast to Serbia, where numerous war criminals have been brought before an international court, Indonesia has made a mockery of the concept of global justice. As Human Right Watch pointed out in a recent letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell:

Indonesian military and police officers implicated in human rights violations have frequently been promoted rather than prosecuted. We urge you to review these promotions and to initiate transparent and credible prosecutions of officers with histories of human rights abuses. Cases meriting priority attention include: Retired General Hendropriyono, named National Intelligence Chief under President Megawati despite serious allegations that he was responsible for atrocities in Lampung in 1989 and played a role in funding militias responsible for killings of civilians in East Timor; Major-General Sjafrie Syamsoeddin, named to the key post of military spokesman in 2002 despite evidence that while serving as Jakarta military commander in May 1998, troops under his command committed serious abuses when up to a thousand people were killed in days of demonstrations and rioting; and Major-General Mahidin Simbolon, promoted in 2001 to Regional Commander for Papua despite a notorious record in East Timor of helping create and directing militias responsible for multiple attacks on civilians.

The East Timor Action Network lobbies on, and keeps close tabs on US-Indonesian military ties ( It recently posted a letter to Powell from Senator Russell Feingold, who pointed out that, in August 2004:

An Indonesian appeals court overturned the convictions of four officers charged with crimes against humanity in East Timor by the Ad Hoc Human Rights Court in Indonesia. This latest decision means that all 15 defendants from the Indonesian military and police forces have been cleared of responsibility in the violence surrounding East Timor's referendum in 1999. Only the convictions of two East Timorese have been upheld.

Furthermore, in May 2004, the Security Council adopted resolution 1543, which stated that the UN-established Serious Crimes Unit and the Special Panels courts in East Timor "should complete all investigations by November 2004 and should conclude all trials and other activities as soon as possible and no later than 20 May 2005." With the winding down of the Serious Crimes Unit and the Special Panels courts and the failure of the Ad Hoc Human Rights Court in Indonesia to hold the perpetrators of violence accountable, I am concerned about the prospects for justice for the East Timorese.

It's up to the Secretary of State to determine if the Indonesian government has “cooperated” in the Papua case and is thus eligible for full military ties. With Condoleezza Rice about to take the helm, it’s not hard to see where this is going. If she certifies Indonesia for IMET training, however, many skeptics in Congress are almost certain to call hearings. To avoid that spectacle, the administration may try the “parallel program” plan that ETAN and other groups are warning about. Watch this space.


Thursday, January 13, 2005


US corporations that have funded and lobbied for strong US ties to the Indonesian military (TNI) since the days of Suharto are now making plans to play a major role in Aceh’s reconstruction. The man leading the corporate relief effort, in Indonesia and more widely in Asia, will be Richard Holbrooke, who left behind a sordid record in the region when he served during the Carter administration as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific.

Holbrooke, now a top executive with Perseus LLC, a private equity fund, is chairman of the Asia Society, a New York-based club funded by Asian-based corporations and former high-ranking diplomats. Last Friday, January 7, Holbrooke presided over a teleconference call with members of the Asia Society and the United States Indonesia Society (USINDO), a Washington group funded by the largest US investors in Indonesia. According to USINDO, which is sending out daily e-mails to its corporate members about the situation, the primary focus of the meeting was to prepare for the “phase II recovery” that will follow the immediate post-tsunami relief efforts. In addition, the Asia Society “is endeavoring to serve as a clearing-house for private sector and NGO initiatives aimed at the reconstruction effort, reconstitution of infrastructure in the disaster areas, and keeping awareness of the longer term challenges before the public.” One of those initiatives is likely to be a “private sector summit” in Washington this April to “generate long-term assistance” to Aceh. USINDO said it will play a leading role in these efforts.

Holbrooke will speak about tsunami aid today in Washington with Jan Egeland, the UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordination.

To be sure, Aceh needs all the assistance it can get right now, and quibbling about its source may sound unseemly when the need is so great. But with the corporate-friendly TNI reasserting its control over Aceh, as reported yesterday, long-term development is likely to become a cover for even deeper corporate penetration into Aceh. Moreover, with Bush’s “rebuilding Iraq” project collapsing in the face of the massive insurgency, many of the same companies that made big bucks off the war in Iraq – the Halliburtons and Bechtels of the world – could see in Aceh another opportunity to contract their way to even greater wealth. Why worry about human rights when there’s so much to rebuild?

Let me answer that question by taking a closer look at Richard Holbrooke and the US Indonesia Society (I’ll leave the Asia Society alone for now).

Holbrooke was the country’s top diplomat in Asia in the late 1970s, just after President Suharto launched his vicious invasion of East Timor and during a time of considerable tumult in the Philippines and South Korea. During his term, the United States became the primary supplier of military hardware to Suharto as he suppressed the Timorese resistance and then starved the people into submission. Holbrooke’s role in Indonesia was summarized in a 1999 article in Z Magazine by Sunil Sharma.

In that article (, Sharma notes that, after Indonesia’s invasion, the United States imposed an arms ban on Indonesia, from December 1975 to June 1976 (Carter was elected that November). But the ban was a secret – “so secret that the Indonesians were unaware of it. The fraud was later exposed by Cornell University professor Benedict Anderson in his testimony before Congress in February 1978. Anderson cited a report, "confirmed from the Department of Defense printout", showing that there never was an arms ban, and that during the period of the alleged ban the US initiated new offers of military weaponry to the Indonesian.” Here’s what Anderson said:

If we are curious as to why the Indonesians never felt the force of the U.S. government’s "anguish," the answer is quite simple. In flat contradiction to express statements by (US officials) and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Richard Holbrooke, at least four separate offers of military equipment were made to the Indonesian government during the January-June 1976 "administrative suspension." This equipment consisted mainly of supplies and parts for OV-10 Broncos, Vietnam War era planes designed for counterinsurgency operations against adversaries without effective anti-aircraft weapons, and wholly useless for defending Indonesia from a foreign enemy. The policy of supplying the Indonesian regime with Broncos, as well as other counterinsurgency-related equipment has continued without substantial change from the Ford through the present Carter administrations.

Sharma reported that by late 1977, well into Holbrooke’s term, “the Indonesians literally began to run out of weapons in its campaign to destroy the Timorese.” The Carter Administration even “stepped in and increased military aid and weapons sales to the Indonesians, which resulted in Indonesia’s stepped up campaigns of 1978 to 1980 when the level of killing reached genocidal levels.” Holbrooke was later asked by Australian reporters about those atrocities. He responded icily:

I want to stress I am not remotely interested in getting involved in an argument over the actual number of people killed. People were killed and that always is a tragedy but what is at issue is the actual situation in Timor today . . . [Asked about how many Timorese were killed in the past] . . . we are never going to know anyway.

So much for respect for human rights.

And what about USINDO? Behind a thin veneer of cultural exchange, it has been a cover for private, informal lobbying by US companies eager to keep US aid flowing to the Indonesian military despite its long history of repressing its own people. It was chaired during the 1990s by Paul Wolfowitz, who was US ambassador to Indonesia during the 1980s after taking Holbrooke’s job at State following the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. At the time Wolfowitz was affiliated with USINDO, several representatives of Indonesia’s intelligence and military forces also sat on USINDO’s board (if you’re still with me, you might want to read a piece I wrote just before Wolfowitz came to office that described the similarities between “Wolfowitz of Arabia” and Holbrooke -

Here is how I described USINDO in a front-page article in the Journal of Commerce in 1996:

The society does no lobbying. But it is funded by major U.S. oil, mining, financial services and pharmaceutical companies with strong economic and political connections to Indonesia. "Our long-range goal is a better understanding of the U.S.-Indonesian relationship," said Edward Masters, the society's president and U.S. ambassador to Jakarta during the Carter administration. It was founded in 1994, when "all you heard about was problems over East Timor and labor rights," he said.

The companies represented by the society share a deep interest in maintaining smooth ties with the (then) Suharto government in Jakarta. They include Mobil (now Exxon-Mobil), the lead contractor in a $40 billion natural gas project in Sumatra; Freeport-McMoRan Inc., which owns the world’s largest gold mine on the island of Irian Jaya; and General Electric Co., which heads a $2.2 billion consortium building a huge coal-fired power plant in East Java. (I’ll post the entire article here tomorrow).

Masters is now the co-chairman of USINDO. Sharma’s article in Z-Net contains a masterful description of how Masters responded to the horrors that occurred in East Timor during Indonesia’s reign of terror:

In September 1978, US Ambassador to Indonesia Edward Masters went to East Timor accompanied by an entourage of Indonesian diplomats. While there, Masters visited refugee camps -- really concentration camps -- that the Timorese had been herded into by the Indonesians and then subjected to a forced starvation policy. According to one US reporter who was there, Masters "came away so shocked by the conditions of the refugees that they immediately contacted the governor of East Timor . . . to explore the possibilities for providing foreign humanitarian assistance." However, it would not be until a full nine months had passed that Masters (in June 1979) would urge the US to provide humanitarian assistance. The timing of Masters’ silence coincided with Indonesia being bolstered by a huge shipment of US military aid and weapons described above.

Sharma quotes again from Ben Anderson’s testimony before Congress in 1980:

In other words, for nine long months, from September 1978 to June 1979, while "in ever increasing numbers the starving and the ailing, wearing rags at best, drifted onto the coastal plain" (according to the New York Times) Ambassador Masters deliberately refrained, even within the walls of the State Department, from proposing humanitarian aid to East Timor. Until the generals in Jakarta gave him the green light, Mr. Masters did nothing to help the East Timorese, although Mr. Holbrooke insists that "the welfare of the Timorese people is the major objective of our policy towards East Timor.”

A recent issue of USINDO’s newsletter lists several new members, including Newmont Mining, which recently admitted to releasing mercury into the environment at one of its Indonesian gold mines but denied any health impact – see One of its most influential members is Freeport McMoran, which operates the world’s largest copper mine in Papua, Indonesia, and has paid the TNI millions of dollars to guard its property. As I reported last year in Mother Jones, even the murder of two Freeport employees, allegedly at the hands of the military, hasn’t kept Freeport from deepening its ties with the TNI.

Companies like Freeport have two purposes in Indonesia: exploiting Indonesian resources and labor, and maintaining smooth relations with the TNI and the government so they can continue that exploitation. Their sudden concern for the welfare of the people of Aceh has money written all over it.


All of this comes on the heels of announcements from two major corporations of their donations to tsunami relief. USINDO member Exxon Mobil, which operates a huge oil and gas facility on Aceh that is guarded by the TNI, said last week it will donate $5 million. And on January 11, the California oil giant Unocal said it will provide an additional $3 million. Unocal, readers will remember, agreed last month to settle a lawsuit brought by the International Labor Rights Fund on behalf of 15 Burmese villagers who claim Unocal was responsible for forced labor, rapes and a murder committed by soldiers along the route of a natural gas pipeline built by Unocal with assistance from Halliburton.

The Fund is now involved in a similar suit against Exxon Mobil concerning its Aceh operations (see news of the lawsuits at In a remarkable study published in 1999 by the Inventory of Conflict and Environment Group at American University, researcher Jeremy Schanck explained how the oil giant, despite its “good deeds,” is so disliked by the people of Aceh:

Exxon Mobil has built mosques, schools, hospitals in Aceh,
and has also contributed to several local charities. However, these good deeds
were significantly undermined in November 1998 when a mass grave containing
Acehnese rebels was discovered within the grounds of the PT Arun liquefied
natural gas (LNG) refinery site. Exxon Mobil, Pertamina (The Indonesian national
oil company), and a Japanese firm jointly own PT Arun. The discovery of the
grave not only incensed the Acehnese, but also focused intense scrutiny on the
Exxon Mobil's operations by international human rights watchdogs. (Read the
study here:

As the real Mother Jones told us: “Let’s pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”

Friday, January 07, 2005


Today we learned that justice may finally be reached in a case dating back to 1964 – the death squad killing in Mississippi of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan. Much credit goes to the State of Mississippi for finally making an arrest in one of the worst crimes of the civil rights era. But let us also pay tribute to a great local newspaper, the Clarion-Ledger, that broke the story that led to the indictment of the leader of the death squad, Edgar Ray Killen. As the paper reported today,

In 1999, the attorney general's office reopened the case after The
Clarion-Ledger published excerpts from a secret interview given by Sam Bowers, a
one-time Imperial Wizard who headed the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the
nation's most violent white supremacist organization in the 1960s. The paper
obtained a copy of the interview, which was for an oral history that was not to
be published before Bowers' death.
Read the Clarion-Ledger’s coverage and its special report, “44 days that changed Mississippi,” here:

And lest we forget, there’s been some great songs about those terrible days in the South, and one of the best is J.B. Lenoir’s "Down in Mississippi." J.B. Lenoir was a gifted southern bluesman who made his career in Chicago and died tragically after a car wreck in 1967. You can’t help but be moved by these words:

They have a hunting season on the rabbit

If you shoot him, boy, you go to jail

But the season is always open on men

Don't nobody need no bail

Down in Mississippi

Down in Mississippi where I come from

Down in Mississippi where I belong...

Listen to a few bars of the song by clicking the link on the title, above (when you get there, click the Real Player link on Cut #2).

You can buy one of his J.B. Lenoir's finest recordings (which contains the amazing “Vietnam Blues,” “Korea Blues,” and “Eisenhower Blues”) at this link:

And you can read some of his lyrics here:

Jim Dickinson, the great Memphis producer, piano and guitar player and blues artist, has also cut some amazing versions of J.B. Lenoir’s song, and the best one is available on this live recording:,,271077,00.html

Dickinson’s sons, who make up half of the North Mississippi All Stars, recently released their own live version of the song, with their father singing, on their live album “Hill Country Revue,” available here:

Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman, presente!


Why, it was John Cornyn, the newest senator from Texas, who was attorney general of Texas when Bush was governor. He not only got to introduce the next AG, he threw out all kinds of softball questions and then tried his damndest to sidestep the issue of torture. That was a little too much, even for the Houston Chronicle, which editorialized today:

Cornyn was wrong to argue that Gonzales should not be asked any questions about his views on torture and prisoners' rights. Cornyn was also mistaken to assume in advance that any senator's question that would put Gonzales on the spot would be wrongly put and unjustly rake him over the coals.
Since his election in 2002, Cornyn has done little else but defend his former boss and rail about the war on terror. The Gonzalez hearings are a warm-up for what's to come in 2005: Cornyn is likely to be the staunchest defender of any of Bush's future judicial nominees. That should yield broader press coverage. When it comes, some enterprising reporter is likely to find the article (click the link in the title) I wrote about Cornyn for the Texas Observer a few years ago, based on my experience with the Texas AG when we went to high school together in Tokyo, Japan. Back then, Cornyn was a die-hard supporter of George Wallace. Here's my lede:
I read a couple of weeks ago that John Cornyn had pledged to keep the issue of race out of his upcoming U.S. Senate campaign against African-American Democratic nominee Ron Kirk. That was a relief, because the John Cornyn I knew in high school was a big supporter of George Wallace and seemed oblivious to the dangers of Wallace’s racial demagoguery.
When I wrote that, Cornyn was in a very tight race. So when the Texas Observer ran the piece, a few newspapers began investigating. They talked to all kinds of people - my old headmaster, former school mates, etc. Cornyn's press people (led by Dan Quayle's former press secretary) managed to convince the media that his dalliance with Wallace was a "school project" and didn't reflect his real views. But that wasn't the way I remembered it. I was for McCarthy (Eugene, that is), and my feelings were for real. I don't think either of us changed very much in the 35+ years since.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005


My latest article, in Mother Jones. Lots of money being made in the spy business these days.

ACEH, INDONESIA - The horror began long before the tsunami

In the Washington Post today, Ellen Nakashima reports that "Indonesian separatist rebels" charge that the Indonesian military “launched at least three attacks on them since the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami, and that at least two rebels had been killed as they attempted to assist people affected by the calamity.” It’s about time for the mainstream press to pick up this story, first reported by Amy Goodman and Allen Nairn on Democracy Now! on Monday

For the past 18 months, Aceh has been under martial law, and all media have been banned. People who have been there, like Nairn, report a situation much like El Salvador in the 1980s – death squads, torture, fear and terror. The record of the Indonesian military, known as the TNI, is abysmal – remember East Timor? And the millions of communists and leftists murdered after the 1965 military coup, which was supported by the CIA?

Despite these horrors, the Bush administration has been trying (unsuccessfully) to lift congressional bans on US-Indonesian military cooperation. Now, military hardliners are trying to use the tsunami disaster as an excuse to do away with this ban once again. On Monday, Dana Dillon, a fellow with the Heritage Foundation, wrote in the Wall Street Journal that the disaster “affords the opportunity for the TNI to demonstrate that democratic reform has transformed it from a state-sponsored mafia into a professional military dedicated to the security of Indonesia.” Fat chance. But be on the lookout for a major change in policy, all under the guise of humanitarianism.

For more information, check these links:

Tapol, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign

East Timor Action Network


This is an important development. Rep. Curt Weldon, although a Republican and a hawk, has been trying for years to convince the Bush administration to speak directly to North Korea and negotiate an end to the nuclear "crisis" on the Korean peninsula. As part of a deal, Weldon has proposed the construction of an oil pipeline from the Pacific region of Russia through North and South Korea. This would allow the DPRK to earn cash and incorporate parts of its economy into the regional economy of wider East Asia. We'll see if these hawkish Republicans have any influence on Bush, who apparently wants North Korea to just go away.

Press Release: U.S. Groups Urge Indonesian Government to Put People over Politics


2005 will mark the 25th anniversary of the Kwanjgu Uprising in South Korea in 1980. The uprising, triggered by the proclamation of martial law and the massacre of several hundred pro-democracy demonstrators in the streets of Kwangju, marked a turning point in Korean history and in the relations between the United States and South Korea. To many Koreans, the US response to the uprising - silence and then the embrace of the dictators responsible - showed the true face of American policy towards their country. That was shocking in part because the American leaders at that time, including President Jimmy Carter and his Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, Richard Holbrooke, were publicly committed to the support of democracy. When it came to choosing between democracy and US security interests, however, the choice was easy.

To understand the current circumstances on the Korean peninsula, its important to remember what happened 25 years ago. In 1996 I obtained more than 3,000 pages of declassified documents on US policy in Korea at that time under the Freedom of Information Act. To read about the true story of what happened in Kwangju and afterwards, please go to this website,, where my original articles (which appeared in Korea's Sisa Journal and the US Journal of Commerce) are stored, along with long excerpts from the documents themselves. In Korea, justice was finally served: the military strongmen responsible for the Kwangju massacre - Chun Doo Hwan and Noh Tae Woo - were tried and convicted for murder and treason. With the exception of former US ambassador Donald Gregg, no American official has accepted responsibility for the long US support to military dictators in South Korea.

For further reading, check out Lee Jay Lee's diary of the events in Kwangju. Its an amazing tale, told by someone who played a direct role in the uprising and was imprisoned for several years afterwards - and then, after democratization, became an economic official first for the provincial government in South Cholla and later for the national government of Kim Dae Jung. Kwangju Diary: Beyond Death, Beyond the Darkness of the Age, is available from