Pentagon trains Indonesian “terrorists”

From the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN), Dec. 19:

Bush Administration Trains Members of Indonesian Terrorist Groups
Human rights advocates have learned that the US is training members of Kopassus, the notorious Indonesian Special Forces unit with a long record of human rights violations. The similarly-brutal Brimob, the para-military mobile police brigade, is receiving training as well.

The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) and the West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAT) today strongly condemned US training for the two units, saying that it undermines the little credibility the U.S. has left in promoting human rights and accountability in Indonesia. ETAN and WPAT urged Congress to intervene to prevent such training and called on the administration to publicly pledge not to provide further assistance to the two units.

“The Bush administration promised Congress that it would ‘carefully calibrate’ any security assistance to promote reform and human rights,” said John M. Miller, National Coordinator of ETAN. “Getting in bed again with Kopassus and Brimob promotes the opposite. Clearly, the administration’s moral gauges are in need of a major realignment.”

“The Bush administration may see Kopassus and Brimob—the worst of the worst among Indonesia’s security forces—as allies against terrorism, but, to most, they act like terrorist groups, regularly targeting civilians for political ends,” added Miller.

“Up until the present, Kopassus and Brimob have long histories of violating human rights throughout Indonesia, notably in West Papua, in East Timor and elsewhere,” said Ed McWilliams of WPAT and former Political Counselor at the US Embassy in Jakarta from 1996 to 1999. “There can be no doubt that Kopassus and Brimob will portray the training as an exoneration by the US. Their many victims will shake their heads in disbelief at the US government claim that it is using security assistance to promote human rights.” In the past, Congress has cut off military assistance for the Indonesian military specifically because of the kind of brutality that Kopassus—identifiable by their red berets—is known for.

“Assertions that the trainees were vetted for past human rights violations before receiving International Military and Education Training (IMET) or other training are pointless. They will bring the experience gained by such training back to their units. This can only make them more efficient at their villainous activities,” added McWilliams. He also noted that a 2005 Congressional study revealed that vetting for IMET programs was ineffective. The State Department continues to describe its defective vetting program as a “work in progress.”


The poor human rights records of both Kopassus and Brimob are well-documented by Amnesty International and other human rights organizations. This week in the Consolidated Appropriations bill, Congress again recognized the need to hold accountable those responsible for past human rights violations in Indonesia and East Timor, many of which involved Brimob and Kopassus. The bill also seeks to strengthen U.S. law to prevent training of units that have “committed gross violations of human rights.”

A covert Kopassus operations manual, found in the ashes of East Timor after Indonesia withdrew in 1999, states that Kopassus personnel were to be prepared in the “tactic and technique” of “terror” and “kidnapping.”

Dr. Damien Kingsbury, an Australian expert on the Indonesian military, has written that “Kopassus has murdered and tortured political activists, trade unionists and human rights workers. It has also trained, equipped and led militias in East Timor, West Papua and Aceh, and Kopassus members trained the notorious Laskar Jihad Islamic militia, which stepped up conflict in the Ambon region, leaving up to 10,000 dead. It was Kopassus that murdered Papuan independence leader Theys Eluay in 2001.” Kopassus was also involved in the 1998 killing of students and the kidnapping of pro-democracy activists in Jakarta.

Major General Sunarko, the current commander of Kopassus, was stationed in East Timor in 1996 and 1997 and again in 1999, where he was Intelligence Assistant to the Kopassus Commander. Kopassus played a key role in organizing the militia in East Timor at that time.

Current Brimob Commander Police General Inspector Sylvanus Wenas was accused, along with others, of gross violations of human rights in an attack on a student hostel in Abepura, West Papua, in 2000. Several times this year, Brimob attacked the Kingmi Church in Jayapura, West Papua.

A report commissioned by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights states that Brimob officers committed most of the violations of human rights by police in East Timor in 1999. Brimob was involved in massacres in Liquiça in April and at the Suai cathedral in September and an attack on the UN compound in early September.

In all cases, senior Kopassus and Brimob personnel have not been brought to justice.

See our last posts on Indonesia, and East Timor.