The US backed the invasion of East Timor
December 4, 2005 7:25 AM   Subscribe

Newly declassified US documents show that the US government knew well in advance about the invasion plans of Indonesia into East Timor. Once in East Timor, Indonesian forces committed a mass genocide of the local population - anywhere from 100,000 to 250,000 people, which was only 600,000 to begin with according to Wikipedia. As the first link shows, The US government actively suppressed news stories from getting out about the genocide. This isn't exactly news to Those who followed the invasion, But most people are unaware of the US government's support, perhaps the number of Newspapers covering the story according to GoogleNews can go some way to explain why many are unaware of this fact.
posted by JokingClown (28 comments total)
I was reading this intently until I saw "according to Wikipedia".
posted by StarForce5 at 7:31 AM on December 4, 2005

I was reading this intently until I saw "according to Wikipedia".
posted by StarForce5 at 7:31 AM PST on December 4

You have anything more accurate? I'd honestly appreciate a correction if you have better data.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:15 AM on December 4, 2005

My bad. I thought that Wikipedia had a link to another article on the subject. Anyways, how about BBC? (at the bottom).

1976: Indonesia annexes East Timor. About 200,000 are killed in violence and the famine that follow.
posted by JokingClown at 8:17 AM on December 4, 2005

In 1977, officials of the administration of Ford's successor, Jimmy Carter, blocked declassification of an explosive cable transcribing President Ford and Secretary of State Kissinger's meeting with Indonesian President Suharto.

Kissinger and Ford I get, but the East Timor disaster sure is a blot on Jimmy Carter's record as a noble humanitarian. Carter continued shipping arms to Indonesia, even at the height of the atrocities. What an awful, heartless mistake.
posted by mediareport at 9:00 AM on December 4, 2005

Its interesting you use the word "mistake".

Oh, and thanks for mentioning the shipment of arms to Indonesia, it slipped my mind when I was writing up the post.
posted by JokingClown at 9:11 AM on December 4, 2005

I was reading this intently until I saw "according to Wikipedia".
posted by StarForce5 at 7:31 AM PST on December 4

So the veracity of the Wikipedia article has been well established. I look forward to your apology to JokingClown.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:25 AM on December 4, 2005

Its interesting you use the word "mistake".

I almost used "move." I didn't intend to let Carter off the hook with it, if that's what you mean.
posted by mediareport at 9:27 AM on December 4, 2005

source document:
Mr. Habib: I think what we are doing is like Jack -- keeping our mouth shut about the thing.

Kissinger: Is that conceivable?

Mr. Habib: We've been doing it, so I think it's quite conceivable.

Kissinger: No moral --

Mr. Habib: There's not that much interest. I think they'll probably be --

Kissinger: There are no moral lessons to be learned from this?

Mr. Habib: Yes. The moral lesson is that we have the guns to go in. (laughter.)
online version, in case you don't have a viewer installed.
posted by Chuckles at 9:33 AM on December 4, 2005

That was Document 9 from A Quarter Century of Support for Occupation at The National Security Archive. I have a suspicion that many more of those documents will be similarly disturbing...
posted by Chuckles at 9:39 AM on December 4, 2005

Great post. And to the GoogleNews link - holy shit.
posted by blendor at 9:52 AM on December 4, 2005

The Nation Magazine got hold of some of the back channel cables at the State Dept.Henrey was furious that the invasion was launched before his plane departed and that there were cables about it,Congress would find out ect. The cover up was mostly a success,BTW the second assault 1998, troops were trained by the fine folks at The School of the Americas (Fort Benning Georgia, USA). operating from memory here, no links.grain of salt ect.
posted by hortense at 10:17 AM on December 4, 2005

No apology needed. His comment was not particularly harsh, but thanks for standing up for me. :)
posted by JokingClown at 10:54 AM on December 4, 2005

I've read on this extensively. In this case, Wikipedia is a slightly more honest source than the BBC.

One underlying problem is that the Portuguese authorities, for decades, never took a proper census. Any attempt to nail down numbers too closely is suspect. The range quoted in Wikipedia is more honest than the BBC's round number, which almost sounds like it was lifted from a protest pamphlet from years ago.

But, people love to hear an exact number, because simply saying "a large and unacceptable number of people died" isn't satisfying enough.
posted by gimonca at 11:04 AM on December 4, 2005

Great post. And to the GoogleNews link - holy shit.

The most damning news will not ever be reported by mainstream American media sources, as witnessed in this case. This isnt a liberal or conservative media bias, this is a Pro-American media bias.

And for the record, this is just one of many similiar incidents. I dont feel like backing that statements up with links at the moment. With that said, this is my first post on metafilter, so I'll probably post similiar things from time to time. (since the response what more friendly than I expected)
posted by JokingClown at 11:05 AM on December 4, 2005

It looks as though the East Timorese government is covering up the findings of its own Reception, Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up to report into the Indonesian occupation.

According to the article, human rights groups are suggesting that the current leadership is bowing to ' "certain interests", both international and national', to keep the details under wraps for the time being.

There's also this article from The Times on what the British and Australians knew, and supressed, about the killing of foreign journalists during the invasion.
posted by Sonny Jim at 2:19 PM on December 4, 2005

It may be worth noting that the East Timorese were able to put up considerable armed resistance, using the weapons of the former Portuguese garrison. See James Dunn, Timor: A People Betrayed.

Unfortunately, they had almost no international support; it wasn't just the US which backed Indonesia. Margo Picken, writing in the New York Review of Books, 1986:

Indonesia's invasion and occupation of East Timor are illegal. Indonesia has no legitimate claim to the territory or its people under international law, and up to the early Seventies its leaders explicitly disavowed any claims to the territory. In its conduct toward the East Timorese, Indonesia has behaved with appalling brutality. Yet hardly anyone outside East Timor has seemed to care. Indonesia is the fifth most populous nation in the world, containing the world's largest Moslem population; it is an important oil producer and a founding member of the Nonaligned Movement; and it occupies an important strategic position on the sea lanes between the Pacific and Indian oceans. As a consequence most governments have supported or quietly consented to Indonesia's actions.

In the view of independent critics of Indonesia, however, some governments carry a greater burden of responsibility for what has happened. More than any other government, neighboring Australia, which has close relations with Indonesia, could have interceded effectively on behalf of the East Timorese, but it failed to act. Portugal has a clear case against the Indonesians, but it has failed to pursue it with strong conviction. The US and much of Western Europe adopted a benevolent attitude toward Indonesia, thereby lending support to its brutal behavior. The Nonaligned Movement has remained virtually silent, and the United Nations has stood inertly by while the right of a people to self-determination has been violated in what amounts to an act of recolonization.


The General Assembly continued to adopt similar resolutions on East Timor each year until 1982, but support for them declined. Both Dunn and Horta explain how the votes reflect the perceptions of different nations of their relations with Indonesia. India, they say, has drawn a false parallel with its own control of the former Portuguese colony of Goa and has supported Indonesia in part for this reason. The US, Japan, and Australia evidently believe that supporting Indonesia serves their own strategic and economic interests. Arab countries (except for Algeria) support Indonesia for reasons of Islamic solidarity. France, West Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden value their commercial interests with Indonesia. Yugoslavia prefers not to act against a fellow member of the Nonaligned Movement. The USSR supports resolutions on East Timor but avoids doing anything else so as not to disrupt its own relations with Indonesia. Several Eastern European governments abstain or do not vote at all in what Horta claims to be a private deal between Moscow and Jakarta.
posted by russilwvong at 4:08 PM on December 4, 2005

My take on the Times article:

"So Sir John, can you give us any information about your cable advising colleagues to say they have no information of Indonesian atrocities in East Timor?"

No. I can give you no information about that."

Ahh the irony.
posted by pots at 11:50 PM on December 4, 2005

Less comments than I’d’ve thought for an important topic.
Anyone have any ideas as to what we in the U.S. had to gain by allowing this and shipping weapons over?
posted by Smedleyman at 10:51 AM on December 5, 2005

Well for starters there is a huge oil deposit under the Timor sea. I believe a Canadian deal got dibs.
posted by hortense at 11:07 AM on December 5, 2005

Indonesia's a major power in the region (with 240 million people, it's the fourth-largest country in the world). The US, like pretty much everyone else, had nothing to gain from backing the East Timorese against Indonesia. And Suharto was staunchly anti-Communist; hundreds of thousands of people were killed or imprisoned for being Communists when he took over in 1967.

The only major powers that backed East Timor, that I'm aware of, were China and Vietnam (presumably because they were already hostile towards Indonesia and Suharto).
posted by russilwvong at 11:12 AM on December 5, 2005

Along with the oil, which hortense already mentioned, I have heard that control of shipping lanes was an issue. Oil sounds more convincing on first glance though...
posted by Chuckles at 12:03 PM on December 5, 2005

Oil, strategic positioning, Suharto being anti communist, and I believe large corporations employed many people at slave wages. I would have to check.
posted by JokingClown at 1:20 PM on December 5, 2005

... I believe large corporations employed many people at slave wages.

Not in the 1970s.
posted by russilwvong at 1:34 PM on December 5, 2005

Well, this continued into the 90s.
posted by JokingClown at 1:16 AM on December 6, 2005

Could we stick to one US crime at a time?

My point is that multinational corporations operating in Indonesia in the 1990s wouldn't be a reason for Kissinger to back Indonesia's invasion of East Timor in 1975.
posted by russilwvong at 11:06 AM on December 6, 2005

That last link is the US trained INDONESIAN death squads. Its not a seperate thing all together.
posted by JokingClown at 11:43 AM on December 6, 2005

I know. But Kissinger and Clinton are two different people; they're each responsible for their own crimes.
posted by russilwvong at 12:28 PM on December 6, 2005

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