State terrorism and the Bali bombings
Green Left Weekly
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passing bells for these who die as cattle?", asked the great WWI poet
Wilfred Owen. His famous line might have been written for those who perish in
today's secret wars and terrorist outrages.
generation never used the word "terrorism", but the slaughter they
suffered was terrorism on a breathtaking scale, whose perpetrators were not
shadowy zealots but governments: men who spoke up for king and country while
blowing millions of human beings to bits.
October 12 atrocity in Bali, like the September 11, 2001, attacks on America,
did not happen in isolation. They were products, like everything, of the past.
According to US President George Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and now
Australia's prime minister, John Howard, we have no right to understand them. We
must simply get the criminals, dead or alive.
fact that the Bush posse has caught no terrorist of proven importance since 9/11
makes a grim parody of Bush's semi-literate threats and Blair's missionary
deceptions as they prepare a terrorist attack on Iraq that will be the horror of
Bali many times over. "Terrorist attack" is not rhetorical; the
British attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, has told the UK government that it
could find itself before the International Criminal Court if it goes ahead.
terrorism is a taboo term. Politicians never utter it. Newspapers rarely
describe it. Academic "experts" suppress it. Yet, in many cases, it
helps us understand the root causes of non-state atrocities like Bali and9/11.
It is by far the most menacing form of terrorism, for it has the capacity to
kill not 200, but hundreds of thousands. In each shower of cluster bombs that
will fall on Iraq there will be countless Sari Clubs. The dropping of the atomic
bomb on the city of Hiroshima was the equivalent of the horror of the Twin
Towers 100 times over.
terrorism, backed by the US, Britain and Australia, has scarred Indonesia for
the past 40 years. For example, the source of the worst violence is the
Indonesian army (TNI), which the West has supported and armed.
TNI troops continue to terrorise the provinces of Aceh and West Papua, where
they are "protecting" the US Exxon-Mobil oil company's holdings and
the Freeport mine. In West Papua, the TNI openly supports a terrorist group,
TNI is the same army which the Australian government trained for decades and
publicly defended when its terrorism became too blatant.
1999, when the people of Australia's closest northern neighbour, East Timor,
which had been invaded and annexed by the Indonesia dictatorship of General
Suharto, finally had an opportunity to vote for independence and freedom, it was
the Howard government that betrayed them. Although warned by Australia's
intelligence agencies that the Indonesian army was setting up militias to
terrorise the population, Howard and his foreign minister, Alexander Downer,
claimed they knew nothing; and the massacres went ahead. As leaked documents
have since revealed, they did know.
was only the latest in Australia's long complicity with state terrorism in
Indonesia, which makes a mockery of the self-deluding official declarations that
Australia "lost its innocence" in Bali. Certainly, few Australians are
aware that not far from their holiday hotels are mass graves with the remains of
some 80,000 people murdered in Bali in 1965-66 with the connivance of the
released files reveal that when the Indonesian tyrant Suharto seized power in
the 1960s, he did so with the secret backing of the US, British and Australian
governments, which looked the other way or actively encouraged the slaughter of
more than half a million "communists". This was later described by the
CIA as "one of the worst mass murders of the 20th Century".
Australian prime minister at the time, Harold Holt, quipped: "With 500,000
to a million communist sympathisers knocked off, I think it's safe to assume a
reorientation has taken place."
remark accurately reflected the collaboration of the Australian foreign affairs
and political establishment. The Australian embassy in Jakarta described the
massacres as a "cleansing process". In Canberra, officials in the
Prime Minister's department expressed support for "any measures to assist
the Indonesian army cope with the internal situation".
bloody rise might not have succeeded had the US not secretly equipped his
troops. A state-of-the-art field communications system, flown in at night by the
US Air Force, had high frequencies that were linked directly to the CIA and the
National Security Agency advising President Lyndon Johnson.
only did this allow Suharto's generals to co-ordinate the killings, it meant
that the highest echelons of the US administration were listening in and that
Suharto could seal off large areas of the country. In the US embassy, a senior
official drew up assassination lists for Suharto, then ticked off the names when
each was murdered.
bloodbath was the price of Indonesia becoming, as the World Bank described it,
"a model pupil of the global economy". That meant a green light for
Western corporations to exploit Indonesia's abundant natural resources. The
Freeport company got a mountain of copper and gold in the province of West
Papua. An American and European consortium got the nickel. The giant Alcoa
company got the biggest slice of Indonesia's bauxite. Other companies took the
tropical forests of Sumatra and Kalimantan; and Suharto
his cronies got a cut that made them millionaires and billionaires.
1975, the violence that had brought Suharto to power was transferred to the
Portuguese colony of East Timor. Suharto's troops invaded, and over the next 23
years more than 200,000 people, a third of the population, perished. During much
of East Timor's bloody occupation, Suharto's biggest supplier of arms and
military equipment was Britain. In one year, a billion pounds' worth of Export
Credit Guarantee loans went to Indonesia so that Suharto could buy British
Aerospace Hawk jets.
Suharto has gone, but decades of foreign plunder, in league with one of the
greatest mass murderers, have produced fault-lines right across Indonesian
society. The "model pupil" of the global economy is more indebted than
any country and millions of Indonesians have descended into abject poverty. It
is hardly surprising that there are resentments and tensions, and support for
extreme religious groups.
was responsible for the Bali bombings? We do not know, but Indonesia's generals
have plenty of motives to destabilise the elected government of President
Megawati Sukarnoputri. A number of them are implicated in war crimes, and,
unlike the Balkans, there has been minimal pressure from the West for the guilty
to be tried.
has ended important army privileges, including a block of guaranteed seats in
the parliament. In September, the army appeared to be sending a message that it
is now targeting foreigners when troops in West
Papua staged an "ambush" they claimed was the work of local guerrillas
and two Americans were murdered.
is likely is that the pressure exerted by the US, Australia and Britain on the
secular government in Jakarta to "crack down" on Islamist groups, in a
mostly Islamic country, will polarise communities. To some, this will seem a
familiar game of the powerful.
the 1960s, the West backed the Islamist groups when they thought Indonesia would
"go communist". They were expendable. When Bush, Blair and Howard are
next shedding their crocodile tears and grinding the language into a paean of
cliches about the "war on terror", those in Indonesia with long
memories might be forgiven for thinking nothing has changed.
Pilger's new book, The New Rulers Of The World, is published by Verso. Visit
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