Former Indonesian president Suharto died this week. One of the greatest mass murderers of the 20th century, he was responsible for the invasion and genocide in East Timor after its independence in the 1970s and “[b]etween 300,000 and 1 million [deaths] in what the CIA called ‘one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century'” in his liquidation of the Indonesian Communist Party. The CIA apparently helped out because the “CIA provided lists of thousands of leftists, including trade union members, intellectuals, and schoolteachers, many of whom were executed or sent to remote prisons.” He did what we couldn’t do in Vietnam.
Suharto came to power after overthrowing the father of Indonesia, President Sukarno, in 1965 and ruled until the 1997 Asian financial crisis. And he did it all with the bipartisan presidential support of the United States (and apparently Australia). His invasion of East Timor was greenlighted by Gerald Ford and Henry Kissinger in a 1976 visit where we supplied 90 percent of the weapons for the invasion.
Closer to home, the University of Texas at Austin has a new building named after Jim Bob Moffet, the owner of Gulf Coast-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. Freeport-McMoRan’s mining in Indonesia has polluted the local river so bad you can see it on Google Earth. Local Indonesians that complain of environmental abuse are killed by the Indonesian military which Freeport-McMoRan uses as a sort of rent-a-cop.
After the Indian Ocean tsunami, when no one was watching, the United State re-normalized relationships with Indonesia’s notorious military that had been cut off after the 1999 East Timor massacre.
And unlike Saddam, who fell from America’s favor and died at the gallows, Suharto died as a rich, old man without ever being prosecuted for his crimes. Unlike Saddam, Suharto’s name will not be a synonym for “mass murderer” for Americans. He died surrounded by adoring authoritarian Asian leaders at his side. Suharto casts a long shadow in Southeast Asia. Too bad none of us have heard about him or our assistance rendered to him.
Asia Sentinel – “Death won’t End Suharto’s Malign Influence”
Asia Times – “Obituary”
Asia Times – “Economic Upside – and downside“
Project Censored 2005 – “#5 U.S. uses Tsunami to military advantage in Southeast Asia“