'The State It's In' - Squall Editorial
One December day in 1975, US President Gerald Ford and his secretary of state Henry Kissinger flew out of Indonesia just as the latest bloodbath began.
According to Philip Liechty, the CIA's desk officer in Jakarta at the time: "They came and gave Suharto the green light. The invasion was delayed two days so they could get the hell out. We were ordered to give the Indonesian military everything they wanted. I saw all the hard intelligence; the place was a free-fire zone. Women and children were herded into school buildings that were set alight...and all because we didn't want some little country being neutral or leftist at the United Nations."
As a result of America's McCarthyite whims, over 200,000 East Timorese were massacred in the Indonesian government's attempt to subjugate the independent nation-sate. Ever since the CIA helped Suharto assume the presidency of Indonesia in 1967, death, torture and oppression became the norm. Stepping in to facilitate this 'norm' came the United Kingdom - the second largest arms seller in the world - keen to soak up the lucrative arms deals.
David Owen sanctioned the first British Aerospace (BAe) Hawk jet sales to Indonesia back in 1978 in £500 million and so began an era which would see the UK arms companies sell £billions of military equipment to Suharto's regime; the UK government sometimes even loaning the regime money to make the purchases. The rhetoric coming out of the UK government since 1978 was that arms sales to Indonesia were only sanctioned on condition they were not to be used for internal oppression. What farcical obfuscation this now appears given the army backed militia's which have rampaged East Timor in recent months. Indeed, although the national media in the UK would have us believe Indonesia has only recently turned bad, this long running farce has been clumsily stomping the boards of international theatre for decades. In the grossest indication so far that Robin Cook's "human rights at the forefront of foreign policy" line was insidious nonsense the moment it was uttered, the Labour government have continued arms sales to Indonesia right up to the present day. Between May 1997 and May 1998, the UK Labour Government approved 64 export licenses for military equipment to Indonesia. One week before UN forces went into East Timor in September '99, there were still three BAe Hawk jets on their way to Indonesia. Throughout the entire Labour administration, Indonesian military officials have accepted invitations to attend government backed arms fairs on British soil. Indeed they were due to attend the last Defence Systems Equipment International arms fair on MoD land in September; that is before the British government suggested at the 11th hour they shouldn't come for PR reasons.
Can the present government claim they did not know until recently that British military equipment was being used to massacre, torture and oppress? The answer is clearly 'No'. Back in 1994 when Robin Cook was still trying to impress his credentials on the British political scene, he told parliament that BAe Hawk jets had been "observed on bombing runs in East Timor in most years since 1984". These words now come back to haunt the Foreign Secretary. For Cook has excused the Labour government's continued sale of arms to Indonesia on the basis that they were honouring contracts signed by the previous Tory administration. Honour? If Cook's 1994 assertion was true, the terms of the arms contract with Indonesia had already been broken and, if he had any genuine compunction to match reality with ethical rhetoric, he would of prevented further arms deliveries on the basis that Indonesia were breaking the terms of the contract. However, amnesia proved his preferred choice of action.
Earlier this year Foreign Office minister, Derek Fatchett supported his master's voice thus: "Robin Cook launched a constructive partnership on human rights with the Indonesian government in Jakarta in August 1997, including a number of initiatives on police training..."
Embarrassingly for the foreign office, Indonesian police violently quelled a public demonstration in Jakarta at the end of September 1999, when students took to the streets to protest over a new law passed in Indonesia allowing the government to suspend civil liberties if they deemed it necessary. Using riot control vehicles supplied by Alvis UK and water cannon supplied by Tactica UK, Indonesian police shot dead three students and beat thousands of others.
Even the British judicial system has long acknowledged Indonesia's culpability in internal oppression. In 1996, four female activists were acquited in a Liverpool court of causing £1.5 million of damage to a BAe Hawk jet bound for Indonesia, on the basis that smashing up its cockpit with hammers could be considered a small crime necessary to prevent a greater one. It was an extraordinary legal precedent. But still the UK government took no notice. Still, troops belonging to Indonesia's notorious Kopassus special forces were receiving counter-insurgency training from a Surrey based company with the full knowledge of the UK government. It has now been proved beyond all doubt that the Kopassus forces provided direct military support to the right-wing militia which have recently raised East Timor to the ground.
National newspapers are treating the issue as if we have only just acquired the evidence proving the Indonesian government and military to be oppressive and corrupt. Even the scantiest of precis evidence proves that a selective blind eye has been turned to a bloody genocide. The moral authority cited by the UK as its reason for bombing Kossovo lies scattered in tatters........rather like East Timor itself and the bodies of its men, women and children blown asunder with British weapons.
With a characteristically understated tone, Amnesty International's annual audit of British foreign policy, published at the end of September, expressed what has been bloodily apparent for years: "The Department of Trade and Industry in particular is not meeting its responsibility to promote trade in a manner which is not harmful to human rights."