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Howard's Way With Terror: Kopassus and Australia

William Hardiker for the World Crisis Web

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In considering what constitutes an act of terrorism, one must first determine if terrorists were in fact those responsible. Next, one must ask what exactly is a terrorist. It would seem that the general consensus, despite the nature of the atrocity, is that those who act without government support and sponsorship are those who in fact constitute terrorists. This, however, leaves the greater proportion of terrorist acts outside of the accepted definition. That is, government supported and condoned terror is by far the greatest perpetrator of terrorism past and present. Israeli terrorism against Palestinians for instance is of a level unsurpassed today, yet it does not fall into the accepted definition of terrorism. As a consequence, Israel cannot condone a Palestinian state, for that would cease to allow Palestinians to be labeled “terrorists”, just as Israel is not considered a terrorist state. Israel would be forced into treating Palestinians as the enemy, but also as a people who possess dignity and who are entitled to respect and humanity.

The notion that terrorism only encompasses non-state actors conveniently ignores the murderous activities of organisations like Indonesia's Kopassus.

The notion that terrorism only encompasses non-state actors conveniently ignores the murderous activities of organisations like Indonesia’s Kopassus.

Their is a moral and ethical issue that Australian’s must consider, after the announcement that the Australian Howard government, at the behest of the Bush Administration, is determined to renew ties with the 10,000 strong elite Indonesian special forces unit known as Kopassus. The unit that has a proven track record in terrorism - from the torture and murder of political opponents, to systematic violence against the entire population in East Timor, West Papua and Aceh. Kopassus has a long and comprehensive record of human rights abuses, all overlooked, and thus condoned by the American and Australian governments and military. The renewal of ties with Kopassus, broken off after invasion of East Timor, is, like so much else, flimsily justified as part of the “war on terrorism” alone.

Few things however expose the fraudulent nature of the “war on terrorism” as much as the Australian governments decision. This is the dilemma that we face when considering normalizing relations with the foreign policy of nations that are widely considered by human rights groups and other international organizations to constitute human rights abusers, but deemed in the National interest. No nation comes even close to matching the number of terrorist acts committed by the worlds leading exemplar of democracy, the USA. The record stands in excess of two hundred, as defined under the English dictionary, definition since 1945. The power of the USA propaganda apparatus has ensured that it’s human rights record and foreign policy insurrection into the business of other states has been down played, white washed or politically manipulated in order to enable justification, leaving the domestic population in full compliance, and even proud of their countries global efforts to promote peace, democracy, and equality.

There is no doubt that Kopassus is a formidable military unit, as its daring actions, such as the 1998 storming of a hijacked Geruda plane in Bangkok by Muslim extremists, exemplifies. However, Kopassus forces are called upon whenever the most violent and heinous tasks are deemed necessary by Jakarta. They are associated with political killings and disappearances during the Suharto period, and were very much involved in the struggle against East Timor’s independence, where they incited the violence in the wake of the 1999 referendum. Recently a Kopassus Lieutenant colonel and six soldiers were convicted of murdering Papuan leader, Theys Eluay- the intention being to suppress separatist sentiment in the province. Complicating matters for the USA in their desire to renew close ties with the Indonesian government (TNI) and Kopassus was the attack last August that left three teachers dead, including two American citizens. This issue is a major stumbling block for the renewal of USA/TNI relations, and one suspects that George Bush has asked his Asia Pacific “pal” to step in on his behalf and shore up support whilst the “dust settles”, and has promised that financial and military aid and military exercises with Indonesia can proceed.

However 'inconvenient' the atrocities of Indonesia's special forces, Uncle Sam expects Australia to do its duty, and to support its 'friends' to the north.

However ‘inconvenient’ the atrocities of Indonesia’s special forces, Uncle Sam expects Australia to do its duty, and to support its ‘friends’ to the north.

However it is not all plain sailing fort the Howard government. According to a report initiated by Action In Solidarity With Asia And The Pacific (ASAP) on September 3rd, 2003, by restarting co-operation with Kopassus, the Howard government is “interfering with Indonesian politics on the side of the most militaristic and anti-democratic groups. It is helping Jakarta to defeat the movements for genuine democracy and social justice, which began with the overthrow of Suharto in 1998”.

The Australian government is following the USA lead yet again in renewing closer ties with Indonesia’s Kopassus Special Forces. Australian Defense secretary Robert Hill has stated that military ties with the Indonesian army and it’s special forces unit, Kopassus, would not be affected by their involvement in Jakarta’s attack on the “rebellious” Aceh Province (in other words the crimes committed against the independence fighters and civilians, of which reports have leaked out despite a strict banning of journalists to cover the crushing of the insurgents and indiscriminate killing of the population; something Kopassus has proven itself more than proficient at).

If the record of these forces do not constitute acts of terrorism over many years, then one wonders what in fact does. Few things expose the fraudulent nature of Australia?s participation in the USA led “war on Terrorism” than such a decision. It just does not work that certain terrorist organizations can be overlooked, or even benefited from, and others pursued and eliminated. John Howard’s decision to overlook Kopassus? conspicuous record is a transparent indication of the real meaning of “the war on terrorism”, and we should all take careful note.

The true nature of John Howard's concept of freedom and democracy is revealed by who he chooses to be his political allies.

The true nature of John Howard’s concept of freedom and democracy is revealed by who he chooses to be his political allies.

Having established Australia’s presence in East Timor, the government has been quick to resume relations. Canberra has regarded the TNI as important in ensuring political stability, to the advantage of Australian capitalism in Indonesia. The “war on terror”, and the argument that such specialist forces as Kopassus would be essential in the event of, for instance, the hijacking of an Australian commercial aircraft in Indonesia, may have some merit, but one can be sure the Australian militaries plans go a lot further in their desire to re-establish close ties. Australian Defense force chief General Peter Cosgrove revealed as much by indicating that joint military exercises will be considered in the future. “Hostage rescue” is clearly a poor attempt to dismiss the concerns of broader co-operation.

Foreign Affairs Minister Downer, known for his unusually na?ve and deliberately misleading take on Australia’s position in world affairs, made the absurd claim that Kopassus units would be carefully “screened” to make sure none of their rank had been involved in untoward behaviour - that is, one presumes, human rights abuses - or ties to militia such as Laskar Jihad. As far as criticism of Kopassus’ deplorable record of atrocities, Downer simply dismissed this as an “esoteric debate”.

There is no doubting that the essential role of Kopassus remains unchanged since the days of President Suharto along with TNI forces. They were directly involved in the militia violence on East Timorese in 1999 that caused the deaths of hundreds of pro-independence supporters. There is also little doubt that Kopassus trained Laskar Jihad. South East Asia is of essential geo-strategic importance to the United States in developing a military presence in the region. China, an emerging powerful world player will be Washington?s principle motive for establishing such a presence in order to maintain a strong ally, whilst addressing it?s ?War on Islam/terrorism?. It is impossible to know what atrocities are being carried out in Aceh Province, since the Indonesian government has banned all media coverage of the conflict. Despite this, the Howard government sees no contradiction in resuming relations with Kopassus, and continues to insist on the importance of supporting the United States in its war against Islam.

Published Wednesday, February 18th, 2004 - 09:31am GMT

William Hardiker is a journalist and activist living in Australia.

An original publication for the World Crisis Web.

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