August 18, 2019


Indonesia, the world’s largest Islamic country, is often described as a crucial ally of the United States in the war against terrorism. Then why its sour reaction to the capture of Saddam Hussein? Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda told a Jakarta newspaper: “Indonesia did not share the international joy following the capture.”

In the same telephone interview, to be sure, the foreign minister adopted a more measured tone, saying that the capture opened the way for reconciliation and transition, “which ultimately will result in the restoration and handover of sovereignty to the Iraqis.” But, like many other Indonesian officials, Hassan Wirajuda is a critic of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. In a recent speech attended by the American ambassador, he said the American “arbitrary preemptive war against a sovereign state” had made the world more dangerous. He went on to belittle the value of smart bombs and air attacks: “Terrorists have no fixed addresses that can be obliterated once and for all with surgical strikes.”

The foreign minister’s government colleague, the American-trained head of Indonesia’s intelligence, Gen. A. M. Hendropriyono, has gained Washington’s respect. He warned Indonesian leaders against terrorism long before last year’s bombing attack at a Bali night club, in which more than 200 were killed, and last August’s bombing of the Marriott hotel in Jakarta when 10 people died and scores were injured. He got a warm reception when he met earlier this month with the U.S. central intelligence director, George J. Tenet, and White House officials.

But Indonesia’s abusive human rights record stands in the way of resumption of a U.S. military training program for Indonesian soldiers, suspended in 1991. The Bush administration has been trying to resume the training program, but Congress is outraged over Indonesia’s actions in trying to suppress a separatist movement in the province of Aceh and its continuing interference with East Timor, which gained independence in 1999 after 24 years of illegal occupation. The pending defense appropriation bill would ban any further military training until the alleged abuses are investigated and punished.

In Aceh, on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra, Indonesia is fighting a major undeclared war against civilians, largely concealed from the world. Nearly all media and human rights groups are barred from entering to investigate charges of summary execution, kidnappings, arbitrary detention and torture.

In East Timor, the Indonesian military is blamed for the deaths of 200,000 people, one-third of the population, during its occupation from 1975 to 1999 and for another 1,000 deaths in a bloody aftermath of a 1999 election declaring independence. Two United Nations bodies called for establishment of an independent tribunal to investigate the charges.

Instead, Indonesia established its own Ad Hoc Human Rights Court for East Timor. But investigations were cursory, and Indonesia has refused to extradite to East Timor any of the high-ranking Indonesian officials indicted by a joint U.N.-East Timor Serious Crimes Unit.

With such a record, Indonesia can hardly be considered an effective ally against the radical Islamic terror network until it cleans up its own act.

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