In my film
Death of a Nation, there is a sequence filmed on board an
Australian aircraft flying over the island of Timor. A party is
in progress, and two men in suits are toasting each other in champagne.
"This is an historically unique moment," says one of them,
"that is truly uniquely historical." This is Gareth Evans,
Australia’s foreign minister. The other man is Ali Alatas, principal
mouthpiece of the Indonesian dictator, General Suharto. It is 1989,
and the two are making a grotesquely symbolic flight to celebrate
the signing of a treaty that allowed Australia and the international
oil and gas companies to exploit the seabed off East Timor, then
illegally and viciously occupied by Suharto. The prize, according
to Evans, was "zillions of dollars."
lay a land of crosses: great black crosses etched against the sky,
crosses on peaks, crosses in tiers on the hillsides. Filming clandestinely
in East Timor, I would walk into the scrub and there were the crosses.
They littered the earth and crowded the eye. In 1993, the Foreign
Affairs Committee of the Australian Parliament reported that "at
least 200,000" had died under Indonesia’s occupation: almost
a third of the population. And yet East Timor’s horror, which was
foretold and nurtured by the US, Britain and Australia, was actually
a sequel. "No single American action in the period after 1945,"
wrote the historian Gabriel Kolko, "was as bloodthirsty as
its role in Indonesia, for it tried to initiate the massacre."
He was referring to Suharto’s seizure of power in 1965—6, which
caused the violent deaths of up to a million people.
the significance of Suharto, who died on Sunday, is to look beneath
the surface of the current world order: the so-called global economy
and the ruthless cynicism of those who run it. Suharto was our model
mass murderer — "our" is used here advisedly. "One
of our very best and most valuable friends," Thatcher called
him, speaking for the West. For three decades, the Australian, US
and British governments worked tirelessly to minimize the crimes
of Suharto’s Gestapo, known as Kopassus, who were trained by the
Australian SAS and the British army and who gunned down people with
British-supplied Heckler and Koch machine guns from British-supplied
Tactica "riot control" vehicles. Prevented by Congress
from supplying arms direct, US administrations from Gerald Ford
to Bill Clinton, provided logistic support through the back door
and commercial preferences. In one year, the British Department
of Trade provided almost a billion pounds worth of so-called soft
loans, which allowed Suharto buy Hawk fighter-bombers. The British
taxpayer paid the bill for aircraft that dive-bombed East Timorese
villages, and the arms industry reaped the profits. However, the
Australians distinguished themselves as the most obsequious. In
an infamous cable to Canberra, Richard Woolcott, Australia’s ambassador
to Jakarta, who had been forewarned about Suharto’s invasion of
East Timor, wrote: "What Indonesia now looks to from Australia
…is some understanding of their attitude and possible action to
assist public understanding in Australia …" Covering up Suharto’s
crimes became a career for those like Woolcott, while "understanding"
the mass murderer came in buckets. This left an indelible stain
on the reformist government of Gough Whitlam following the cold-blooded
killing of two Australian TV crews by Suharto’s troops during the
invasion of East Timor. "We know your people love you,"
Bob Hawke told the dictator. His successor, Paul Keating, famously
regarded the tyrant as a father figure. When Indonesian troops slaughtered
at least 200 people in the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili, East Timor,
and Australian mourners planted crosses outside the Indonesian embassy
in Canberra, foreign minister Gareth Evans ordered them destroyed.
To Evans, ever-effusive in his support for the regime, the massacre
was merely an "aberration." This was the view of much
of the Australian press, especially that controlled by Rupert Murdoch,
whose local retainer, Paul Kelly, led a group of leading newspaper
editors to Jakarta, fawn before the dictator.
Here lies a
clue as to why Suharto, unlike Saddam Hussein, died not on the gallows
but surrounded by the finest medical team his secret billions could
buy. Ralph McGehee, a senior CIA operations officer in the 1960s,
describes the terror of Suharto’s takeover of Indonesia in 1965—6
as "the model operation" for the American-backed coup
that got rid of Salvador Allende in Chile seven years later. "The
CIA forged a document purporting to reveal a leftist plot to murder
Chilean military leaders," he wrote, "[just like] what
happened in Indonesia in 1965." The US embassy in Jakarta supplied
Suharto with a "zap list" of Indonesian Communist Party
(PKI) members and crossed off the names when they were killed or
captured. Roland Challis, the BBC’s south east Asia correspondent
at the time, told me how the British government was secretly involved
in this slaughter. "British warships escorted a ship full of
Indonesian troops down the Malacca Straits so they could take part
in the terrible holocaust," he said. "I and other correspondents
were unaware of this at the time …. There was a deal, you see."
The deal was
that Indonesia under Suharto would offer up what Richard Nixon had
called "the richest hoard of natural resources, the greatest
prize in southeast Asia." In November 1967, the greatest prize
was handed out at a remarkable three-day conference sponsored by
the Time-Life Corporation in Geneva. Led by David Rockefeller, all
the corporate giants were represented: the major oil companies and
banks, General Motors, Imperial Chemical Industries, British American
Tobacco, Siemens and US Steel and many others. Across the table
sat Suharto’s US-trained economists who agreed to the corporate
takeover of their country, sector by sector. The Freeport company
got a mountain of copper in West Papua. A US/ European consortium
got the nickel. The giant Alcoa company got the biggest slice of
Indonesia’s bauxite. America, Japanese and French companies got
the tropical forests of Sumatra. When the plunder was complete,
President Lyndon Johnson sent his congratulations on "a magnificent
story of opportunity seen and promise awakened." Thirty years
later, with the genocide in East Timor also complete, the World
Bank described the Suharto dictatorship as a "model pupil."
before he died, I interviewed Alan Clark, who under Thatcher was
Britain’s minister responsible for supplying Suharto with most of
his weapons. I asked him, "Did it bother you personally that
you were causing such mayhem and human suffering?"
in the slightest," he replied. "It never entered my head."
the question because I read you are a vegetarian and are seriously
concerned with the way animals are killed."
that concern extend to humans?"
Pilger was born and educated in Sydney, Australia. He has been
a war correspondent, filmmaker and playwright. Based in London,
he has written from many countries and has twice won British journalism’s
highest award, that of "Journalist of the Year," for his
work in Vietnam and Cambodia. His new book, Tell
Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism and Its Triumphs, is
published by Jonathan Cape in June.
John Pilger 2008