Suharto - Covering Up Western Complicity
The death of the former Indonesian dictator, Suharto, on January 27 could have unleashed a flood of revelations detailing British and American support for one of the 20th century’s worst mass murderers. Instead, the media continued the cover up that has so far lasted more than forty years.
The 1965-6 massacres that accompanied Suharto’s rise to power claimed the lives of between 500,000 and 1 million people, mostly landless peasants. A 1977 Amnesty International report cited a tally of "many more than one million” deaths. (http://www.fair.org/articles/suharto-itt.html) In the words of a leaked CIA report at the time, the massacre was "one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century". (Declassified US CIA Directorate of Intelligence research study, 'Indonesia - 1965: The Coup That Backfired,' 1968; http://newsc.blogspot.com/)
Infamously, while assuring readers of
"The Johnson administration believes that a dramatic new opportunity has developed both for anti-Communist Indonesians and for
Ralph McGehee, a senior CIA operations officer in the 1960s, described the terror of Suharto's takeover as "the model operation" for the US-backed coup that later destroyed
"The CIA forged a document purporting to reveal a leftist plot to murder Chilean military leaders... [just like] what happened in
The British government was secretly involved in the slaughter. Roland Challis, BBC south-east
"British warships escorted a ship full of Indonesian troops down the Malacca Straits so they could take part in the terrible holocaust... I and other correspondents were unaware of this at the time... There was a deal, you see. In establishing the Suharto regime, the involvement of the IMF and the World Bank was part of it... Suharto would bring them back. That was the deal." (Ibid)
The “deal” involved opening up what Richard Nixon had called "the richest hoard of natural resources, the greatest prize in south-east
The West, unsurprisingly, was delighted to do business with
Blood Red - Green Light
In media coverage immediately following Ford’s death in December 2006, we found a single sentence in the entire
"It was Kissinger and Ford who gave permission to the Indonesian generals for their illegal annexation of
Philip Liechty, CIA desk officer in
"We sent the Indonesian generals everything that you need to fight a major war against somebody who doesn't have any guns. We sent them rifles, ammunition, mortars, grenades, food, helicopters. You name it; they got it. And they got it direct... No one cared. No one gave a damn. It is something that I will be forever ashamed of. The only justification I ever heard for what we were doing was there was concern that East Timor was on the verge of being accepted as a new member of the United Nations and there was a chance that the country was going to be either leftist or neutralist and not likely to vote [with the United States] at the UN.” (Quoted, John Pilger, Hidden Agendas, Vintage, 1998, pp.285-6. See our media alert for more detail: http://www.medialens.org/alerts/02/020601_east_timor.html)
A month after Indonesia invaded, as tens of thousands of people were being massacred, a US State Department official told a major Australian newspaper that "in terms of the bilateral relations between the US and Indonesia, we are more or less condoning the incursion into East Timor... The
In December 1975, the British ambassador in Jakarta informed the Foreign Office: "it is in Britain's interest that Indonesia should absorb the territory as soon and as unobtrusively as possible, and that if it should come to the crunch and there is a row in the United Nations, we should keep our heads down and avoid taking sides against the Indonesian government”. (Quoted, Mark Curtis, The Ambiguities of Power, Zed Books, 1996, pp.219-220)
“The soldiers marched straight up to us [Western journalists]. They never broke their stride. We were enveloped by the troops, and when they got a few yards past us, within a dozen yards of the Timorese, they raised their rifles to their shoulders all at once, and they opened fire. The Timorese, in an instant, were down, just torn apart by the bullets. The street was covered with bodies covered with blood. And the soldiers just kept on coming. They poured in, one rank after another. They leaped over the bodies of those who were down. They were aiming and shooting people in the back. I could see their limbs being torn, their bodies exploding. There was blood spurting out into the air. The pop of the bullets, everywhere. And it was very organized, very systematic. The soldiers did not stop. They just kept on shooting until no one was left standing.“ (http://www.democracynow.org/2008/1/28/massacre_the_story_of_east_timor)
Burying The Dead - British Media Performance
How much of this information has been communicated by the mainstream media since Suharto’s death?
Jonathan Head wrote on the BBC website of Suharto:
“His accession to power coincided with the escalation of the Vietnam War, when the
As we have seen, this was about far more than just turning a “blind eye”. In fact, the
“I think it is entirely inappropriate to rank Suharto alongside Sadaam [sic] Hussein. There was never anything like the pervasive terror here that existed in
In 1998, Jim Naureckas of FAIR (www.fair.org) responded to the argument that Suharto could not be compared to Saddam Hussein:
"‘Suharto is no Saddam,’ the New York Times’ ‘Week in Review’ assured us on March 8. How so? The Indonesian dictator’s rule is no less autocratic than Saddam Hussein’s. Like Hussein, Suharto has attempted to annex a smaller neighbor - in fact, his ongoing occupation of East Timor has been far bloodier than Hussein’s assault on
BBC News online invited readers to ‘Have Your Say’:
“Mr Suharto was accused of embezzling $600m (£303m) of state funds during his 32 years of power, but the criminal charges were dropped in 2006 on account of his ill health. A civil case brought by state prosecutors seeking $1.5bn in damages and funds allegedly stolen from the state was never settled.
“What are your memories of the former strongman? What is his legacy? Should the charges against him have been dropped” (http://newsforums.bbc.co.uk/nol/thread.jspa?forumID=4166&edition=2&ttl=20080127171140)
The charges of mass murder apparently do not exist.
A Daily Telegraph news report accepted that Suharto was “one of the 20th century's biggest killers and greatest thieves... It began with the massacre of at least 500,000 communists in 1965. Two hundred thousand were killed when he annexed the former Portuguese colony of
But what of US-UK support for his killing, motivated by corporate greed for
“His friends among western governments, attracted by his strong anti-communism, helped protect him in office.”
As ever, media reporting promotes the alleged concern to save the world from the former bete noire, “communism” (a role currently being played by al Qaeda) - just as a sincere concern to save the world from Saddam Hussein’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction was the motive for invading
A single letter in the Guardian made the point that is unthinkable for mainstream journalists:
“The collusion of the British with Suharto's murderous regime is not some throwback to cold-war realpolitik, but an integral and ongoing dimension of a foreign policy in thrall to the avaricious interests of big business. In 1967, following Suharto's western-backed coup, oil companies and multinational corporations divided up
A Daily Telegraph obituary observed:
“Suharto, however, had made a serious mistake in 1975 when he took advantage of civil war in
In fact, there was no “widespread international disapproval” - while the Timorese buried their dead, Western politicians and journalists buried the story. In 1979, when
"ABC, NBC and CBS 'Evening News' never mentioned the words East Timor and neither did 'Nightline' or 'MacNeil Lehrer' between 1975, the day of the invasion, except for one comment by Walter Cronkite the day after, saying Indonesia had invaded East Timor - it was a 40 second report - until November 12, 1991." (Amy Goodman, ‘Exception to the Rulers, Part II,’ Z Magazine, December 1997)
In its January 28 obituary, the Telegraph also referred to “Western revulsion” at the 1965-6 massacres. Presumably they had in mind the exultation and joy expressed on both sides of the
The Independent chose to focus on lesser crimes - how Suharto had used his power to enrich himself and his family. The dictator had clung on too long, the paper lamented:
“Had Suharto stepped down earlier,
As Allan Nairn notes, the idea that Suharto’s record can be defended on grounds of increased prosperity - he may have presided over vast massacres but he also presided over rapid economic growth - is “Pravda thinking”. The argument being, after all, “the same one once used to justify Stalin”. (http://newsc.blogspot.com/)
What of US-UK complicity in Suharto’s “failings”? The Independent noted that his coup “was particularly welcome to the
Again, we are to understand that the goal was to stave off ‘the Commies’. Nothing more was said about US-UK involvement in the killings in
To its credit, the Guardian shamed the Independent’s performance simply by publishing John Pilger's honest analysis of US-UK complicity in Suharto’s crimes: ‘Our model dictator - The death of Suharto is a reminder of the west's ignoble role in propping up a murderous regime.’ (January 28, 2007; http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,2247948,00.html)
The Financial Times found that Suharto’s “achievements” were punctuated by “severe shortcomings”. (John Aglionby and Shawn Donnan, ‘Corrupt autocrat who fostered stability,’ Financial Times, January 28, 2008)
It is interesting to consider the language used. In 1998, the
“When Pol Pot died in April 1998, the media were unstinting in condemnation, calling him ‘wicked,’ ‘loathsome,’ and ‘monumentally evil’ (Chicago Tribune, 4/18/98), a ‘lethal mass killer’ and ‘war criminal’ (L.A. Times, 4/17/98), ‘blood-soaked’ and an ‘egregious mass murderer’ (Washington Post, 4/17/98, 4/18/98). His rule was repeatedly described as a ‘reign of terror’ and he was guilty of ‘genocide.’...”
“Although Suharto's regime was responsible for a comparable number of deaths in
The FT identified one of the “severe shortcomings“: “Suharto drew international condemnation after he ordered the 1975 invasion of
A single, cryptic comment on US-UK involvement followed: “Suharto sought a more intimate relationship with the
Pilger’s article aside, it would be impossible to guess from this media performance the central role US-UK political and military support played in the rise and massacres of president Suharto.
In December 2006, we reviewed, with near-identical results, media coverage of the death of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. A Guardian obituary commented on Pincohet‘s overthrow of Allende:
“The coup, in which CIA destabilisation played a part...” (Malcolm Coad, ‘Augusto Pinochet,‘ The Guardian, December 11, 2006; www.guardian.co.uk/news/story/0,,1968953,00.html)
And that, as we noted at the time, was that! No more information was provided. (See: http://www.medialens.org/alerts/06/061219_born_in_usa.php)
When Bill Clinton’s presidency has been reviewed, his responsibility for suffering and death has been a non-issue. (See: http://www.medialens.org/alerts/04/040706_Covering_Mr_President.HTM)
And, as discussed, Gerald Ford’s complicity in Suharto's crimes was also blanked.
It is crucial that the truth of US-UK violence not be admitted or seriously explored. Within that silence the myth of benevolence can be cultivated - and this is the key illusion allowing the West to attack, invade and kill with impunity, freed from decisive public opposition. We always ’had to’. We always ’meant well’. We always 'have hopes for a brighter future'.
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