The release of a new cache of declassified documents on the Indonesian killings of 1965 has provided new evidence of State Department complicity in this historic crime.
The documents show how State Department employees meticulously documented the pogroms being launched by the Indonesian military following an anti-communist coup led by General Mohammed Suharto. They reported how the Indonesian authorities responded to the problem of overflowing prisons by “executing PKI [Indonesian Communist Party] prisoners or by killing them before they [were] captured.”
Muslim clerics according to the documents advised their “flocks that atheistic PKI members represented the lowest order of infidel, the shedding of whose blood [was] comparable to killing a chicken.”
The New York Times article on the new revelations by Hannah Beech is informative and represents a major shift from James Reston’s depiction of Indonesia in 1965 as “A Gleam of Light in Asia.”
The Times article is somewhat misleading, however, in proclaiming that the “U.S. Stood By as Indonesians Killed a Half a Million People.”
In fact, American government employees did not just stand by – but were deeply complicit with the Indonesian killings.
The CIA helped to lay the groundwork for the 1965 coup by mobilizing Muslim and regional separatists to overthrow the Socialist President President Achmed Sukarno, who had threatened to expropriate U.S. owned rubber plantations and oil companies.
The CIA also created a police mobile brigade as a counterweight to the military when it was still loyal to Sukarno, and mobilized “goon squads” that were to be activated in case the communists attempted to seize power.
CIA agents working under the cover of USAID, including possibly Barack Obama’s mother Ann Dunham, provided information on the political affiliation of villagers in the countryside while USAID’s Office of Public Safety assisted in the modernization of record keeping functions through police training programs, which aided in the creation of blacklists.
In a post-retirement interview, Robert Amory, the CIA’s Deputy Director from 1952-1962, commented that the “groundwork done there [with police training] in Indonesia may have been responsible for the speed with which [the Suharto coup]…. was wrapped up.” (See Jeremy Kuzmarov, Modernizing Repression: Police Training and Nation Building in the American Century. Massachusetts, 2012, ch. 5).
These comments suggest an important level of complicity with the mass killing going beyond merely allowing them to happen.
In the early 1970s, records show that the CIA resumed arms shipments to the police through CIA front companies and helped Jakarta’s chief of police, Benny Soebianto, locate arms dealers in Western Europe and Japan.
Rockwell Standard had delivered 200 light aircraft in the midst of the genocidal killings and Stanvac (later Exxon-Mobil) increased payments to the Indonesian army’s oil company, Permina, headed by an ally of Suharto instrumental to the coup.
Bechtel Corporation of San Francisco subsequently became Permina’s chief contractor for oil and liquefied natural gas projects, and developed a telecommunications network in Papua New Guinea and copper mine on the Indonesian port of New Guinea. (See Sally Denton, The Profiteers: Bechtel and the Men Who Built the World. Simon and Shuster, 2016)
Goodyear Tires meanwhile used slave labor from death camps to harvest its rubber on plantations that Sukarno had threatened to expropriate. (See Peter Dale Scott, “North American Universities and the 1965 Indonesian Massacre. http://apjjf.org/2014/12/50/Peter-Dale-Scott/4234.html)
The Times in its article attributes U.S. intervention in Indonesia to the domino theory and fear that Indonesia would fall to communism when U.S. troops were already stationed in Vietnam.
This analysis obscures how American strategic planners valued Indonesia far more than Vietnam because of its oil and mineral wealth, and its geographic location next to the principal lines of communication between the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
The use of proxy forces to consolidate a client government would in turn become a model for covert operations in Cambodia in 1970 and Chile in 1973, where ample blood was also spilled.
In 2015, Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico reintroduced a resolution in the Senate calling for the United States to account for its “military and financial support” for the bloodbath in Indonesia. This support included providing lists of possible leftist sympathizers to the Indonesian government and, as one cable released Tuesday showed, pushing to bury foreign news coverage of the killings.
Mr. Udall’s resolution should be broadly supported so the American public can know the full truth about its governments’ actions during the Cold War and work to prevent like-minded atrocities from happening again. The Indonesian case shows the destructive consequences of our covert interventions, which continue to be felt right up through the present.
Jeremy Kuzmarov teaches at the University of Tulsa and is author of Modernizing Repression: Police Training and Nation Building in the American Century (Massachusetts, 2012) among other works.