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.