Noam Chomsky on East Timor & APEC


Jan Slakov

Date:      Sun, 12 Sep 1999 09:58:34 -0400
From: Eric Fawcett <•••@••.•••>
Subject: sfp-52: Noam Chomsky on East Timor and APEC

For information on  the web, please do come to the ZNet site -- 

or directly to the continually updated Timor pages -- -- 

to get not only news of occurrences in East Timor, but even more
important, clear accounts of the context, the prospects, and what normal
folk are doing and can do to stop the horror.

Recent link additions to the Timor Page include, among others --

Chomsky's major new statement, as of September 10th -- literally minutes
before this was mailed -- included below.

Chomsky: East Timor on the Brink /
Chomsky interviewed by Barsamian Sept 9 transcript from KGNU Boulder

Direct from Dili / Sept 8
full audio link) Allan Nairn Democracy Now report

U.S Complicity in East Timor (text variant)
Allan Nairn in The Nation

Genocide !! ?
David Peterson for ZNet Sept 9

Will the U.S. Commit to Timor?
Scott Burchill for ZNet Sept 8

Major statement from Noam Chomsky, Sept 10, on East Timor:
Comments On the Occasion of the Forthcoming APEC Summit

There are many topics of major long-term significance that should be
addressed at the APEC conference, but one is of consuming importance and
overwhelming urgency. We all know exactly what it is, and why it must be
placed at the forefront of concern -- and more important, instant action.
This conference provides an opportunity -- there may not be many more --
to terminate the tragedy that is once again reaching shocking proportions
in East Timor. The Indonesian military forces who invaded East Timor 24
years ago, and have been slaughtering and terrorizing its inhabitants ever
since, are right now, as I write, in the process of sadistically
destroying what remains: the population, the cities and villages. What
they are planning, we cannot be sure: a Carthaginian solution is not out
of the question.

The tragedy of East Timor has been one of the most awesome of this
terrible century. It is also of particular moral significance for us, for
the simplest and most obvious of reasons. Western complicity has been
direct and decisive. The expected corollary also holds: unlike the crimes
of official enemies, these can be ended by means that have always been
readily available, and still are.

The current wave of terror and destruction began early this year, under
the pretense that the atrocities were the work of "uncontrolled militias."
It was quickly revealed that these were paramilitary forces armed,
organized, and directed by the Indonesian army, who also participated
directly in their "criminal activities," as these have just been described
by Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas, still maintaining the shameful
pretense that the "military institution" that is directing the crimes is
seeking to stop them.

The Indonesian military forces are commonly described as "rogue elements."
That is hardly accurate. Most prominent among them are Kopassus units sent
to East Timor to carry out the actions for which they are famed, and
dreaded. They have "the job of managing the militias, many observers
believe," veteran Asia correspondent David Jenkins reported as the terror
was mounting. Kopassus is the "crack special forces unit" modeled on the
U.S. Green Berets that had "been training regularly with US and Australian
forces until their behaviour became too much of an embarrassment for their
foreign friends." These forces are "legendary for their cruelty," observes
Benedict Anderson, one of the leading Indonesia scholars. In East Timor,
Anderson continues, "Kopassus became the pioneer and exemplar for every
kind of atrocity," including systematic rapes, tortures and executions,
and organization of hooded gangsters.

Jenkins wrote that Kopassus officers, trained in the United States,
adopted the tactics of the US Phoenix program in South Vietnam, which
killed tens of thousands of peasants and much of the indigenous South
Vietnamese leadership, as well as "the tactics employed by the Contras" in
Nicaragua, following lessons taught by their CIA mentors that it should be
unnecessary to review. The state terrorists were "not simply going after
the most radical pro-independence people but going after the moderates,
the people who have influence in their community." "It's Phoenix," a
well-placed source in Jakarta reported: the aim is "to terrorise everyone"
-- the NGOs, the Red Cross, the UN, the journalists.

All of this was well before the referendum and the atrocities conducted in
its immediate aftermath. As to these, there is good reason to heed the
judgment of a high-ranking Western official in Dili. "Make no mistake," he
reported: "this is being directed from Jakarta. This is not a situation
where a few gangs of rag-tag militia are out of control. As everybody here
knows, it has been a military operation from start to finish."

The official was speaking from the UN compound in which the UN observers,
the last few reporters, and thousands of terrified Timorese finally took
refuge, besieged by Indonesia's paramilitary agents. At that time, a few
days ago, the UN estimated that violent expulsions had perhaps reached
200,000 people, about a quarter of the population, with unknown numbers
killed and physical destruction running to billions of dollars. At best,
it would take decades to rebuild the territory's basic infrastructure,
they concluded. And the army may well have still more far-reaching goals.

In the months before the August 30 referendum, the horror story continued.
Citing diplomatic, church, and militia sources, Australian journalists
reported in July "that hundreds of modern assault rifles, grenades and
mortars are being stockpiled, ready for use if the autonomy [within
Indonesia] option is rejected at the ballot box." They warned that the
army-run militias might be planning a violent takeover of much of the
territory if, despite the terror, the popular will would be expressed. All
of this was well understood by the "foreign friends," who also knew how to
bring the terror to an end, but preferred to delay, hesitate, and keep to
evasive and ambiguous reactions that the Indonesian Generals could easily
interpret as a "green light" to carry out their grim work.

In a display of extraordinary courage and heroism, virtually the entire
population made their way to the ballot-boxes, many emerging from hiding
to do so. Braving brutal intimidation and terror, they voted overwhelming
in favor of the right of self-determination that had long ago been
endorsed by the United Nations Security Council and the World Court.

Immediately, the Indonesian occupying forces reacted as had been predicted
by observers on the scene. The weapons that had been stockpiled, and the
forces that had been mobilized, conducted a well-planned operation. They
proceeded to drive out anyone who might bring the terrible story to the
outside world and cut off communications, while massacring, expelling tens
of thousands of people to an unknown fate, burning and destroying,
murdering priests and nuns, and no one knows how many other hapless
victims. The capital city of Dili has been virtually destroyed. In the
countryside, where the army can rampage undetected, one can only guess
what has taken place.

Even before the latest outrages, highly credible Church sources had
reported 3-5000 killed in 1999, well beyond the scale of atrocities in
Kosovo prior to the NATO bombings. The scale might even reach the level of
Rwanda if the "foreign friends" keep to timid expressions of disapproval
while insisting that internal security in East Timor "is the
responsibility of the Government of Indonesia, and we don't want to take
that responsibility away from them" -- the official position of the State
Department a few days before the August 30 referendum.

It would have been far less hypocritical to have said, early this year,
that internal security in Kosovo "is the responsibility of the Government
of Yugoslavia, and we don't want to take that responsibility away from
them." Indonesia's crimes in East Timor have been vastly greater, even
just this year, not to speak of their actions during the years of
aggression and terror; Western-backed, we should never allow ourselves to
forget. That aside, Indonesia has no claim whatsoever to the territory it
invaded and occupied, apart from the claim based on support by the Great

The "foreign friends" also understand that direct intervention in the
occupied territory, however justified, might not even be necessary. If the
United States were to take a clear, unambiguous, and public stand,
informing the Indonesian Generals that this game is over, that might very
well suffice. The same has been true for the past quarter-century, as the
US provided critical military and diplomatic support for the invasion and
atrocities. These were directed by General Suharto, compiling yet another
chapter in his gruesome record, always with Western support, and often
acclaim. He was once again praised by the Clinton Administration. He is
"our kind of guy," the Administration declared as he visited Washington
shortly before he fell from grace by losing control and dragging his feet
on IMF orders.

If changing the former green light to a new red light does not suffice,
Washington and its allies have ample means at their disposal: termination
of arms sales to the killers; initiation of war crimes trials against the
army leadership -- not an insignificant threat; cutting the economic
support funds that are, incidentally, not without their ambiguities;
putting a hold on Western energy corporations and multinationals, along
with other investment and commercial activities. There is also no reason
to shy away from peacekeeping forces to replace the occupying terrorist
army, if that proves necessary. Indonesia has no authority to "invite"
foreign intervention, as President Clinton urged, any more than Saddam
Hussein had authority to invite foreign intervention in Kuwait, or Nazi
Germany in France in 1944 for that matter. If dispatch of peacekeeping
forces is disguised by such prettified terminology, it is of no great
importance, as long as we do not succumb to illusions that prevent us from
understanding what has happened, and what it portends.

What the U.S. and its allies are doing, we scarcely know. The New York
Times reports that the Defense Department is "taking the lead in dealing
with the crisis,...hoping to make use of longstanding ties between the
Pentagon and the Indonesian military." The nature of these ties over many
decades is no secret. Important light on the current stage is provided by
Alan Nairn, who survived the Dili massacre in 1991 and barely escaped with
his life in Dili again a few days ago. In another stunning investigative
achievement, Nairn has just revealed that immediately after the vicious
massacre of dozens of refugees seeking shelter in a church in Liquica,
U.S. Pacific Commander Admiral Dennis Blair assured Indonesian Army chief
General Wiranto of US support and assistance, proposing a new U.S.
training mission.

On September 8, the Pacific Command announced that Admiral Blair is once
again being sent to Indonesia to convey U.S. concerns. On the same day,
Secretary of Defense William Cohen reported that a week before the
referendum in August, the US was carrying out joint operations with the
Indonesian army -- "a U.S.-Indonesian training exercise focused on
humanitarian and disaster relief activities," the wire services reported.
The fact that Cohen could say this without shame leaves one numb with
amazement. The training exercise was put to use within days -- in the
standard way, as all but the voluntarily blind must surely understand
after many years of the same tales, the same outcomes.

Every slight move comes with an implicit retraction. On the eve of the
APEC meeting, on September 9, Clinton announced the termination of
military ties; but without cutting off arms sales, and while declaring
East Timor to be "still a part of Indonesia," which it is not and has
never been. The decision was delivered to General Wiranto by Admiral
Blair. It takes no unusual cynicism to watch the current secret
interactions with a skeptical eye.

Skepticism is only heightened by the historical record: to mention one
recent case, Clinton's evasion of congressional restrictions barring U.S.
training of Indonesian military officers after the Dili massacre. The
earlier record is far worse from the first days of the U.S.-authorized
invasion. While the U.S. publicly condemned the aggression, Washington
secretly supported it with a new flow of arms, which was increased by the
Carter Administration as the slaughter reached near-genocidal levels in
1978. It was then that highly credible Church and other sources in East
Timor attempted to make public the estimates of 200,000 deaths that came
to be accepted years later, after constantly denial.

Every student in the West, every citizen with even a minimal concern for
international affairs, should know by heart the frank and honest
description of the opening days of the invasion by Senator Daniel Patrick
Moynihan, then America's U.N. Ambassador. The Security Council ordered the
invaders to withdraw at once, but without effect. In his memoirs,
published as the terror peaked 20 years ago, Moynihan explained the
reasons: "The United States wished things to turn out as they did," and he
dutifully "worked to bring this about," rendering the UN "utterly
ineffective in whatever measures it undertook." As for how "things turned
out," Moynihan comments that within a few months 60,000 Timorese had been
killed, "almost the proportion of casualties experienced by the Soviet
Union during the Second World War." End of story, though not in the real

So matters have continued since, not just in the United States. England
has a particularly ugly record, as do Australia, France, and all too many
others. That fact alone confers on them enormous responsibility to act,
not only to end the atrocities, but to provide reparations as at least
some miserable gesture of compensation for their crimes.

The reasons for the Western stance are very clear. They are currently
stated with brutal frankness. "The dilemma is that Indonesia matters and
East Timor doesn't," a Western diplomat in Jakarta bluntly observed a few
days ago. It is no "dilemma," he might have added, but rather standard
operating procedure. Explaining why the U.S. refuses to take a stand, New
York Times Asia specialists Elizabeth Becker and Philip Shenon report that
the Clinton Administration "has made the calculation that the United
States must put its relationship with Indonesia, a mineral-rich nation of
more than 200 million people, ahead of its concern over the political fate
of East Timor, a tiny impoverished territory of 800,000 people that is
seeking independence." Their fate as human beings apparently does not even
reach the radar screen, for these calculations. The Washington Post quotes
Douglas Paal, president of the Asia Pacific Policy Center, reporting the
facts of life: "Timor is a speed bump on the road to dealing with Jakarta,
and we've got to get over it safely. Indonesia is such a big place and so
central to the stability of the region."

Even without secret Pentagon assurances, Indonesian Generals can surely
read these statements and draw the conclusion that they will be granted
leeway to work their will.

The analogy to Kosovo has repeatedly been drawn in the past days. It is
singularly inappropriate, in many crucial respects. A closer analogy would
be to Iraq-Kuwait, though this radically understates the scale of the
atrocities and the culpability of the United States and its allies. There
is still time, though very little time, to prevent a hideous consummation
of one of the most appalling tragedies of the terrible century that is
winding to a horrifying, wrenching close.