Allan Nairn, an American investigative journalist having covered atrocities made by US-supported regimes in East Timor, Guatemala, Haiti, and Indonesia, released his 2001 interview with Prabowo Subianto, former chief of Indonesia’s special forces (Kopassus) implicated in numerous human rights abuses, and also currently a presidential candidate, as the world’s third largest democracy is coming increasingly near to the election scheduled on July.
By Allan Nairn
On July 9 the world’s fourth most populous country, Indonesia, will hold an election that could result in General Prabowo Subianto becoming president.
General Prabowo, the brother of a billionaire, was the son-in-law of the dictator Suharto, and as a US trainee and protege was implicated in torture, kidnap and mass murder.
In June and July, 2001 I had two long meetings with Prabowo.
We met at his corporate office in Mega Kuningan, Jakarta.
I offered Prabowo anonymity.
I was looking into recent murders apparently involving the Indonesian army, and was hoping that if he could speak off-the-record General Prabowo might divulge details.
I came away disappointed. Prabowo shed little light those killings.
But we ended up speaking for nearly four hours.
My impression then was that his comments were extraneous.
Prabowo talked about fascism, democracy, army massacre policy, and his long, close relationship with the Pentagon and US intelligence.
But at that time he was out of power and in political isolation. Other generals were the threat.
But now Prabowo is on the verge of assuming state power. And looking back at my notes I realize that some of what he said has now become relevant.
I have contacted General Prabowo asking permission to discuss his comments publicly, but not having heard back from him have decided to go ahead anyway.
I think the harm of breaking my anonymity promise to the General is outweighed by what would be the greater harm of Indonesians going to the polls having been denied access to facts they might find pertinent.
Prabowo and I had a revealing discussion about the Santa Cruz Massacre.
This was an Indonesian armed forces slaughter of at least 271 civilians.
It was done on November 12, 1991 in Dili, occupied East Timor, outside a cemetery where a crowd of men, women and children had gathered.
I happened to have been present at that massacre and managed to survive it.
Prabowo told me that the army order to do those killings had been “imbecilic.” (He said he thought the order came from Gen. Benny Murdani, but said he wasn’t certain).
Prabowo’s complaint was not with the fact that the army had murdered civilians, but rather that they had done so in front of me and other witnesses who were then able to report the massacre and mobilize the outside world.
“Santa Cruz killed us politically!,” Prabowo exclaimed. “It was the defeat!”
“You don’t massacre civilians in front of the world press,” General Prabowo said. “Maybe commanders do it in villages where no one will ever know, but not in the provincial capital!”
The remark was telling as an acknowledgement that the army routinely massacres, and in establishing that Prabowo finds this acceptable if the killings are done in places where “no one will ever know.”
In September, 1983, there was just such a series of massacres around the little-seen village of Kraras on the mountain of Bibileo, East Timor.
The official UN-chartered Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor, the CAVR, later reported regarding the Kraras slaughter:
“421. The Commission received evidence that Prabowo was stationed in the eastern sector of Timor-Leste at this time. Several sources have told the Commission that he was involved in the operation to bring the civilian population down from Mount Bibileo, shortly after which several hundred were killed by ABRI [the Indonesian Armed Forces]. The Commission also received evidence of Kopassus being involved in these killings. (See Chapter 7.2: Unlawful Killings and Enforced Disappearances).”
As Suharto pulled Prabowo up through the ranks, his commands were implicated in other mass murders, including one in West Papua where Prabowo’s men masqueraded as the International Red Cross (ICRC), and the now well-known covert operation in Jakarta where they disappeared pro-democracy activists.
The fact that Prabowo and I had agreed to sit down was in itself a bit unusual.
I had called for Prabowo to be tried and jailed along with his US sponsors, and had helped lead a successful grassroots campaign to sever US aid to the Indonesian armed forces. I had been banned from Indonesia as “a threat to national security,” and General Prabowo’s men had tortured friends of mine.
But, for my part, I had made the cold calculation that if it helped solve the recent murders sitting down with Prabowo would be worth it.
For Prabowo’s part, I do not know, but I did get the impression that he enjoyed the chance to talk shop and compare notes with an adversary.
At that time, two years after Suharto’s fall, Indonesia had a civilian president.
He was the blind cleric, Abdurrachman Wahid, popularly known as Gus Dur.
The Indonesian armed forces had undermined Gus Dur’s presidential authority. They had done so in part by facilitating ethnic/ religious terror attacks in the Malukus. Three weeks after my second meeting with Prabowo, Gus Dur was impeached and ousted.
Today, Gus Dur is often remembered fondly. The current Prabowo campaign uses footage of him.
But that day, to me, Prabowo ranted about Gus Dur and democracy.
“Indonesia is not ready for democracy,” Prabowo said. “We still have cannibals, there are violent mobs.”
Indonesia needs, Prabowo said, “a benign authoritarian regime.” He said the many ethnicities and religions precluded democracy.
Prabowo said, regarding Gus Dur:
“The military even obeys a blind president! Imagine! Look at him, he’s embarrassing!”
“Look at Tony Blair, Bush, Putin. Young, ganteng [handsome] — and we have a blind man!”
Prabowo called for a different model.
He mentioned Pakistan’s General Pervez Musharraf.
Musharraf had arrested his country’s civilian prime minister and imposed dictatorship. Prabowo said he admired him greatly.
Prabowo ruminated on whether he could measure up, whether he could be an Indonesian Musharraf.
“Do I have the guts,” Prabowo asked, “am I ready to be called a fascist dictator?”
“Musharraf had the guts, ” Prabowo said.
As to himself, he left that question unanswered.
End of Part 1.
Coming Up, Part 2: Prabowo: “I was the Americans’ fair-haired boy.” The Nationalist General and US Intelligence.