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FEATURE The U.S. Roots of the East Timor Slaughter BY NOAM CHOMSKY here are three good reasons why Americans should care about East Timor. First, since the Indonesian invasion of December 1975, East Timor has been the site of some of the worst atrocities of the modern era atrocities which are mounting again right now Second, the U.S. government has played a decisive role in escalating these atrocities and can easily act to mitigate or terminate them. It is not necessary to bomb Jakarta or impose economic sanctions. Throughout, it would have sufficed for Washington to withdraw support and to inform its Indonesian client that the game was over. That remains true as the situation reaches a crucial turning point the third reason. President Clinton needs no instructions on how to proceed. In May 1998, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called Upon Indonesian President Suharto to resign and provide for “a democratic transition.” A few hours later, Suharto transferred authority to his handpicked vice president. Though not simple cause and effect, the events illustrate the relations that prevail. Ending the torture in East Timor would have been no more difficult than dismissing Indonesia’s dictator in May 1998. Not long before, the Clinton administration welcomed Suharto as “our kind of guy,” following the precedent established in 1965 when the General took power, presiding over army-led massacres that wiped out the country’s only mass-based political party \(the popular base in “one of the worst mass murders of the twentieth century.” According to a Central Intelligence Agency report, the 1965 massacres were comparable to those of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao; hundreds of thousands were killed, most of them landless peasants. The achievement was greeted with unrestrained euphoria in the West. The “staggering mass slaughter” was “a gleam of light in Asia,” according to two commentaries in The New York Times, both typical of the general western media reaction. Corporations flocked to what many called Suharto’s “paradise for investors,” impeded only by the rapacity of the ruling family. For more than twenty years, Suharto was hailed in the media as a “moderate” who is “at heart benign,” even as he compiled a record of murder, terror, and corruption that has few counterparts in postwar history. Suharto remained a darling of the West until he committed his first errors: losing control and hesitating to implement harsh International Monetary Fund prescriptions. Then came the call from Washington for “a democratic transition” but not for allowing the people of East Timor to enjoy the right of self-determination that has been validated by the United Nations Security Council and the World Court. In 1975, Suharto invaded East Timor, then being taken over by its own population after the collapse of the Portuguese empire. The United States and Australia knew the invasion was coming and ef A On the mountains near Maubisse, East Timor William Seaman fectively authorized it. Australian Ambassador Richard Woolcott, in memos later leaked to the press, recommended the “pragmatic” course of “Kissingerian realism,” because it might be possible to make a better deal on Timor’s oil reserves with Indonesia than with an independent East Timor. At the time, the Indonesian army relied on the United States for 90 percent of its arms, which were restricted by the terms of the agreement for use only in “self-defense.” Pursuing the same doctrine of “Kissingerian realism,” Washington simultaneously stepped up the flow of arms while declaring an arms suspension, and the public was kept in the dark. OCTOBER 1, 1999 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9