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Kissinger's Green Light to Suharto | The Nation

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Kissinger's Green Light to Suharto

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In a few weeks, East Timor will be able to celebrate both its independence as a country and its status as a democracy. Elections will have produced a government able to seek and receive international recognition. An undetermined number of Timorese, herded by the Indonesian Army into the western part of the island during the last spasms of cruelty before Jakarta formally abandoned its claim to the territory, will not be able to celebrate. And the entire process is gruesomely overshadowed by the murder of at least a quarter of a million Timorese during the illegal Indonesian occupation. The new nation will need friends, and help of all kinds, and everybody should consider contributing something (send checks to Global Exchange/East Timor Relief, PO Box 420832, San Francisco, CA 94142).

About the Author

Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens, longtime contributor to The Nation, wrote a wide-ranging, biweekly column for the magazine...

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The elections and the independence ceremony were supposed to take place twenty-seven years ago, when the Portuguese colonial power surrendered its authority. But the Indonesian military dictatorship had another idea, which was to engulf its tiny neighbor by force. General Suharto and his deputies made it fairly obvious that they wanted the territory but not the people. They came horribly close to succeeding in this foul design. Ever since, there has been an argument over the precise extent of US complicity with the 1975 aggression. It was known that President Gerald Ford and his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, were in Jakarta on December 6 of that year, the day before Indonesian air, land and naval forces launched the assault. Scholars and journalists have solemnly debated whether there was a "green light" from Washington.

Kissinger, who does not find room to mention East Timor even in the index of his three-volume memoir, has more than once stated that the invasion came to him as a surprise, and that he barely knew of the existence of the Timorese question. He was obviously lying. But the breathtaking extent of his mendacity has only just become fully apparent, with the declassification of a secret State Department telegram. The document, which has been made public by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, contains a verbatim record of the conversation among Suharto, Ford and Kissinger. "We want your understanding if we deem it necessary to take rapid or drastic action," Suharto opened bluntly. "We will understand and will not press you on the issue," Ford responded. "We understand the problem you have and the intentions you have." Kissinger was even more emphatic, but had an awareness of the possible "spin" problems back home. "It is important that whatever you do succeeds quickly," he instructed the despot. "We would be able to influence the reaction if whatever happens, happens after we return.... If you have made plans, we will do our best to keep everyone quiet until the President returns home." Micromanaging things for Suharto, he added: "The President will be back on Monday at 2 pm Jakarta time. We understand your problem and the need to move quickly but I am only saying that it would be better if it were done after we returned." As ever, deniability supersedes accountability.

There came then the awkward question of weaponry. Indonesia's armed forces, which had never yet lost a battle against civilians, were equipped with US-supplied matériel. But the Foreign Assistance Act forbade the use of such armaments except in self-defense. "It depends on how we construe it; whether it is in self-defense or is a foreign operation," Kissinger mused. (At a later meeting back at the State Department on December 18, the minutes of which have also been declassified, he was blunt about knowingly violating the statute. For a transcript of the minutes, see Mark Hertsgaard, "The Secret Life of Henry Kissinger," October 29, 1990.)

An even more sinister note was struck later in the conversation, when Kissinger asked Suharto if he expected "a long guerrilla war." The dictator replied that there "will probably be a small guerrilla war," while making no promise about its duration. Bear in mind that Kissinger has already urged speed and dispatch upon Suharto. Adam Malik, Indonesia's foreign minister at the time, later conceded in public that between 50,000 and 80,000 Timorese civilians were killed in the first eighteen months of the occupation. These civilians were killed with American weapons, which Kissinger contrived to supply over Congressional protests, and their murders were covered up by American diplomacy, and the rapid rate of their murder was something that had been urged in so many words by an American Secretary of State. How is one to live with the shame of this? How is one to tolerate the continued easy and profiteering existence of such a man, who had no sooner left office than he went into business partnership with the same genocidal dictatorship he had helped arm and encourage? Read with any care, this State Department telegram shows a knowing conspiracy--there isn't another legal term for it--to break international law, US law and (it could well be argued) the Genocide Convention. Ford may have been an abject moron, but Kissinger was a professional: He knew perfectly well that a colony of a NATO country could not be invaded and occupied except in flat defiance of every international covenant and principle. He also knew that US law explicitly forbade the use of US weapons for such a purpose.

The disclosure of the new and unarguable documents merited a few inches in the Washington Post and got me a whole minute on the BBC World Service. So there you have it. Henry Kissinger the mass murderer (and pal of Ted Koppel). Henry Kissinger the errand boy for dictatorship (and confidant of Charlie Rose). Henry Kissinger the profiteer from genocide (and orator at Kay Graham's funeral). Henry Kissinger the man who told Suharto to hurry up and get on with it (and chum of Harold Evans and Tina Brown). Henry Kissinger, the man who has hired Bill Clinton's disgraced Chief of Staff, Mack McLarty, to be a partner in the firm of Kissinger Associates. What can one say about countries and cultures so corrupt and depraved that they will give succor, and even acclaim, to those who murder without conscience?

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