Under the Influence
21 September 1999
For the few of us who reported East Timor long before it was finally declared news, the "disclosures" last weekend that Washington had trained Indonesia's death squads are bizarre.
That the American, British and Australian governments have underwritten proportionally the greatest savagery since the Holocaust has been a matter of unambiguous record for a quarter of a century. All it needed was reporting.
In December 1975, after US secretary of state Henry Kissinger returned from Jakarta, having given Suharto the green light to invade East Timor, he called his staff together and discussed how a congressional ban on arms to Indonesia could be circumvented. "Can't we construe a communist government [in East Timor] as self-defence?" he asked. Told this would not work, Kissinger gave orders that he wanted arms shipments secretly "started again in January".
A few weeks later, on January 23 1976, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, sent a top-secret cable to Kissinger in which he boasted about the "considerable progress" he had made in blocking UN action on East Timor. Moynihan later wrote: "The department of state desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective [on East Timor]. This task was given to me, and I carried it through with no inconsiderable success."
Since then, there has been overwhelming evidence that the US, Britain and Australia have trained and armed Indonesian special forces known as Kopassus, the equivalent of the Nazi Waffen-SS, who spearheaded the invasion of East Timor and bear much of the responsibility for the death of a third of the population.
In the US, Kopassus officers have been trained in the tactics of the CIA's "phoenix program" in Vietnam, which was the systematic extermination of tens of thousands of peasants. In Britain, senior Kopassus officers given training include the man identified in an Australian inquiry as the officer who ordered the murder of two Australian TV teams in East Timor in 1974. Last year defence secretary George Robertson urged the sale of armoured vehicles to the Kopassus commander, General Prabowo, whom he described as "an enlightened officer, keen [on] human rights".
The Kopassus killers have received perhaps their warmest welcome in nearby Australia, where the Australian SAS have trained them in "hostile interrogation" at their base at Swanborne, near Perth. When my film investigating the west's role in East Timor, Death Of A Nation, opened in Perth in 1994, Australian federal police went to the cinema and demanded to know who had told the manager he could show it "without special permission".
It was therefore not surprising that on his arrival in East Timor on Sunday, Major-General Peter Cosgove, the Australian commander of the UN force, made a point of congratulating the Indonesian military for its "first class" assistance and offered reassurances that his job was not to "disarm the militias". The militias are, of course, the Indonesian military. Promoted to mythical importance by journalists gulled by western government officials and diplomats, many are not East Timorese at all, but Indonesian soldiers in disguise. In secretly briefing its own government, Australian intelligence described the militias as merely the fa?ade of an Indonesian "scorched earth" conspiracy, aimed at de-populating East Timor, and directed by none other than General Wiranto, the defence minister.
Last April, Wiranto was visited by Admiral Dennis Blair, US commander in chief in the Pacific, who assured him of continued US backing. "Wiranto was delighted," reported Alan Nairn in the New York Nation, "[and] took this as a green light to proceed with the militia operation." Two weeks ago, President Clinton declared East Timor "still part of Indonesia" - a little like saying, in 1940, that occupied France was part of Nazi Germany.
The real agenda for the UN "peacekeeping" is to ensure that East Timor, while nominally independent in the future, remains under the sway of Jakarta and western business interests. For the Australian government, the urgent priority is to maintain the piratical Timor Gap treaty with Indonesia, which divides up East Timor's vast oil and gas reserves. For the British, in one sense the empire was reborn in Suharto's Indonesia, where much of British business is in league with the Suharto mafia. In the Observer on Sunday, Robin Cook continued to lay claim to the title of Britain's most discredited politician with his statement that for two years no government "has done more for East Timor" and "arms sales have all but vanished". As he spoke, three Hawk fighters were approved for their onward journey from Bangkok to Jakarta.
What terrifies the western powers is that the Indonesian military will be weakened and unable to control a second uprising by Indonesian students for real democracy. In the meantime, those fearless sleuths in the British media pursuing grey-haired "agents of influence" from the cold war might reflect on the fact that the cold war is still being waged by Washington and Whitehall with the blood of impoverished, brown-skinned people in East Timor. Only true agents of influence dare not say this.