January 29, 2008
THE US declassified documents today detailing how Washington propped
up ex-Indonesian leader Suharto, who died at the weekend, at the
expense of democracy and human rights.
The documents, declassified following requests under a freedom of
information law, showed the US administration did not use its
leverage to bring Suharto to account during his 32-year reign until
his last months in office.
"One thing that is clear from the tens of thousands of pages of
which we had declassified concerning US ties with Suharto from 1966
to 1998 - at no moment did US presidents ever exercise their maximum
leverage over his regime to press for human rights or
The body, a non-governmental research institute at George Washington
University in Washington, collects and publishes declassified
documents obtained through the US Freedom of Information Act.
Mr Simpson, who directs the archive's Indonesia and East Timor
documentation project, said the only time Washington "decisively
intervened" in Indonesia was in 1998 when it was reeling from a
financial meltdown amid unprecedented riots.
Bill Clinton, the Democratic US president at the time, phoned
Suharto about half a dozen times, pressing the Indonesian leader to
adopt a stringent adjustment program demanded by the International
Monetary Fund, according to the documents.
Suharto adhered to the demands of the United States and IMF.
"I think it is indicative of the kinds of pressure US could bring to
bear when it decides that it is in our interest to do so, but this
was done on behalf of international financial institutions, never on
behalf of human rights activists and the pro-democracy movement in
Indonesia," Mr Simpson said.
The declassified documents include transcripts of Suharto's meetings
with presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, as
well as secretary of state Henry Kissinger.
They also mirrored US perceptions of Suharto from the earliest years
of his violent rule, including the 1969 annexation of West Papua,
the 1975 invasion of East Timor, and the so-called "mysterious
killings" of 1983-1984.
The US was a steadfast ally of Suharto for much of his rule,
providing him aid, weapons and diplomatic support as it regarded him
as an effective bulwark against communism.
Suharto made his first visit as head of state to the US in May 1970
amid rampant corruption and a major crackdown on political parties
at home, but at the White House meeting, Nixon told the Indonesian
leader he was presiding over one of the "largest democratic
countries in the world".
"There are no issues between the US and Indonesia," Kissinger wrote
to Nixon approvingly, "and relations are excellent".
In his talks with Gerald Ford at the White House five years later,
Suharto brought up the question of Portuguese decolonisation in East
Timor and declared "the only way is to integrate the territory into
Ford gave no response, according to the documents.
There also was no mention of human rights in Indonesia in the
briefing papers of Suharto's meeting with Reagan in October 1982.
Two years later, when vice president George HW Bush visited Jakarta
on the heels of an alleged massacre of hundreds of civilians in East
Timor and "mysterious killings" in Indonesia, the discussions
centred largely on US ties with the Soviet Union and China.
The US embassy in Jakarta estimated that the government had
summarily executed at least about 4000 people at that time,
Human rights abuses during Suharto's rule included a 1965-1966
crackdown on suspected communists and sympathisers estimated by
historians to have killed at least half a million people.
Following Suharto's death on Sunday, he was hailed by the US embassy
in Jakarta as a "historic figure" who "achieved remarkable economic
"Though there may be some controversy over his legacy ... (he) left
a lasting imprint on Indonesia and the region of South-East Asia",
the embassy statement read.