The Coup and the Aftermath
By 1965 Indonesia had become a dangerous cockpit of social and political antagonisms. The PKIs rapid growth aroused the hostility of Islamic groups and the military. The ABRI-PKI balancing act, which supported Sukarnos Guided Democracy regime, was going awry. One of the most serious points of contention was the PKIs desire to establish a “fifth force” of armed peasants and workers in conjunction with the four branches of the regular armed forces (army, navy, air force, and police). Many officers were bitterly hostile, especially after Chinese premier Zhou Enlai offered to supply the “fifth force” with arms. By 1965 ABRIs highest ranks were divided into factions supporting Sukarno and the PKI and those opposed, the latter including ABRI chief of staff Nasution and Major General Suharto, commander of Kostrad. Sukarno collapsed during a speech and rumors that he was dying also added to the atmosphere of instability.
The circumstances surrounding the abortive coup of September 30, 1965; an event that led to Sukarnos displacement from power; a bloody purge of PKI members on Java, Bali, and elsewhere; and the rise of Suharto as architect of the New Order regime still remain shrouded in mystery and controversy. The official and generally accepted account is that procommunist military officers, calling themselves the September 30 Movement (Gestapu), attempted to seize power. Capturing the Indonesian state radio station on October 1, 1965, they announced that they had formed the Revolutionary Council and a cabinet in order to avert a coup by corrupt generals who were allegedly in the pay of the United States Central Intelligence Agency. The coup perpetrators murdered five generals on the night of September 30 and fatally wounded Nasutions daughter in an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate him. Contingents of the Diponegoro Division, based in Jawa Tengah Province, rallied in support of the September 30 Movement. Communist officials in various parts of Java also expressed their support.
The extent and nature of PKI involvement in the coup are unclear, however. Whereas the official accounts promulgated by the military describe the communists as having a “puppetmaster” role, some foreign scholars have suggested that PKI involvement was minimal and that the coup was the result of rivalry between military factions. Although evidence presented at trials of coup leaders by the military implicated the PKI, the testimony of witnesses may have been coerced. A pivotal figure seems to have been Syam, head of the PKIs secret operations, who was close to Aidit and allegedly had fostered close contacts with dissident elements within the military. But one scholar has suggested that Syam may have been an army agent provocateur who deceived the communist leadership into believing that sympathetic elements in the ranks were strong enough to conduct a successful bid for power. Another hypothesis is that Aidit and PKI leaders then in Beijing had seriously miscalculated Sukarnos medical problems and moved to consolidate their support in the military. Others believe that ironically Sukarno himself was responsible for masterminding the coup with the cooperation of the PKI.
In a series of papers written after the coup and published in 1971, Cornell University scholars Benedict Anderson and Ruth T. McVey argued that it was an “internal army affair” and that the PKI was not involved. There was, they argued, no reason for the PKI to attempt to overthrow the regime when it had been steadily gaining power on the local level. More radical scenarios allege significant United States involvement. United States military assistance programs to Indonesia were substantial even during the Guided Democracy period and allegedly were designed to establish a pro-United States, anticommunist constituency within the armed forces.
In the wake of the September 30 coups failure, there was a violent anticommunist reaction. By December 1965, mobs were engaged in large-scale killings, most notably in Jawa Timur Province and on Bali, but also in parts of Sumatra. Members of Ansor, the Nahdatul Ulamas youth branch, were particularly zealous in carrying out a “holy war” against the PKI on the village level. Chinese were also targets of mob violence. Estimates of the number killed (both Chinese and others) vary widely, from a low of 78,000 to 2 million; probably somewhere around 300,000 is most likely. Whichever figure is true, the elimination of the PKI was the bloodiest event in postwar Southeast Asia until the Khmer Rouge established its regime in Cambodia a decade later.
The period from October 1965 to March 1966 witnessed the eclipse of Sukarno and the rise of Suharto to a position of supreme power. Born in the Yogyakarta region in 1921, Suharto came from a lower priyayi family and received military training in Peta during the Japanese occupation. During the war for independence, he distinguished himself by leading a lightning attack on Yogyakarta, seizing it on March 1, 1949, after the Dutch had captured it in their second “police action.” Rising quickly through the ranks, he was placed in charge of the Diponegoro Division in 1962 and Kostrad the following year.
After the elimination of the PKI and purge of the armed forces of pro-Sukarno elements, the president was left in an isolated, defenseless position. By signing the executive order of March 11, 1966, Supersemar, he was obliged to transfer supreme authority to Suharto. On March 12, 1967, the MPRS stripped Sukarno of all political power and installed Suharto as acting president. Sukarno was kept under virtual house arrest, a lonely and tragic figure, until his death in June 1970.
The year 1966 marked the beginning of dramatic changes in Indonesian foreign policy. Friendly relations were restored with Western countries, Confrontation with Malaysia ended on August 11, and in September Indonesia rejoined the UN. In 1967 ties with Beijing were, in the words of Indonesian minister of foreign affairs Adam Malik, “frozen.” This meant that although relations with Beijing were suspended, Jakarta did not seek to establish relations with the Republic of China on Taiwan. That same year, Indonesia joined Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Singapore to form a new regional and officially nonaligned grouping, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which was friendly to the West.
New evidence on how the October 1st. coup was triggered
Damning new evidence has come to light pointing to the extent of the involvement of the United States government, closely supported by the Australian and British administrations, in the military coup staged in Indonesia by General Suharto on October 1, 1965 and the subsequent massacre of up to one million workers, peasants, students and political activists.
The Sydney Morning Herald in 1999, published a three-part series that included interviews with former Indonesian political prisoners and extracts from documents obtained from US and Australian archives. The material shows that the Western powers urged the Indonesian military commanders to seize upon false claims of a coup attempt instigated by the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), in order to carry out one of the greatest civilian massacres of the 20th century and establish a military dictatorship.
By most estimates, between 500,000 and a million PKI members and supporters, as well as people of ethnic Chinese origin, were murdered, and tens of thousands were detained in prisons and concentration camps, without any visible resistance. The documents show that throughout late 1965 and early 1966 US and Australian officials approvingly reported to their respective governments that army units and Muslim groups were working hand-in-hand to shoot, hack or club to death at least 1,500 suspected PKI sympathisers per day, sometimes parading their heads on sticks.
This enthusiasm in the Western embassies for the bloodbath reflected deep strategic and political interests. In the decade before the coup, the major powers had come into increasing conflict with the unstable nationalist regime of Indonesian President Sukarno. In late 1957 and again in 1964-65 he had barely contained mass movements of workers and peasants, whose strikes and occupations threatened first Dutch and then US and British banks, companies and plantations. By 1965 Sukarno was precariously balancing between the military commanders, the Muslim organisations and the PKI, which had some three million members and supporters, making it the third largest Communist Party in the world, after China and the Soviet Union.
The US had cut off foreign aid to Sukarno while building up relations with sections of the military. From the mid-1950s it began training and equipping Indonesian officers and troops, in preparation for a move to topple or sideline Sukarno. The first coup attempt came in November 1956 when Indonesian army Deputy Chief of Staff Colonel Zulkifli Lubis sought to take control of Jakarta and overthrow the government. Regional military takeovers followed the next month in Central and North Sumatra. Throughout 1957 and 1958 the CIA inspired a series of secessionist and right-wing revolts in the oil-rich regions of Sumatra and Sulawesi, where Caltex and other US oil firms had large investments. Then between 1959 and 1965, the US supplied $64 million in military aid to the Indonesian generals.
A huge amount was at stake for the US and its allies. Indonesia had immense natural resources, including some of the largest oil and rubber operations in the world, a teeming population and its 3,000 islands sat astride the sea routes from Asia to Europe. The US and the other capitalist powers regarded the archipelago as an absolutely crucial prize in the war against the anti-imperialist struggles that erupted across Asia after World War II. The 1949 victory of Mao Zedongs forces in China had been followed by that of Ho Chi Minhs in northern Vietnam. Insurgencies arose in Indochina, Malaya, Thailand and the Philippines from the late 1940s.
In the months prior to the Indonesian coup, the US administration of Democratic Party President Lyndon Johnson had dramatically escalated its intervention in Vietnam, sending in hundreds of thousands of troops and beginning its saturation bombing of the north. And the British and Australian governments were engaged in military conflict with Sukarnos regime over Indonesias opposition to the British-backed formation of Malaysia, which encompassed key portions of the large mainly Indonesian island of Borneo.
The September 30 affair
The first part of the Sydney Morning Heralds series is substantially based on an interview with former Sergeant Major Bungkus and earlier statements by former Lieutenant Colonel Abdul Latief. Both were jailed in 1965 for their involvement in a supposed military putsch instigated by the PKI on September 30, 1965. They were only released from prison in March this year (1999), apparently the only survivors of the participants in the September 30 affair. Hundreds of others were tortured and executed.
Their testimony completely undermines the official version of Suhartos coup; that he and his fellow generals were responding to a takeover bid instigated by the PKI through its supporters in the military. By this official account (presented in “documentary” form annually on all Indonesian TV stations until last year) PKI-inspired officers rounded up six of the Indonaias highest-ranking generals on the night of September 30 and brutally killed them, leaving their bodies horribly mutilated. The plot was only thwarted, the authorised story insists, and the nation saved from the “evil” of communism, when General Suharto heroically intervened and took control of Jakarta the next day.
According to the statements given by Bungkus and Latief, the alleged “PKI coup” was an internal military power struggle, engineered by Suharto as a pretext to destroy the PKI.
Bungkus, as a member of the Indonesian presidential guard, was ordered on the night of September 30 to participate in one of seven teams dispatched to kill or capture senior generals. At a briefing, Bungkus and other NCOs were told by their commanding officer, Lieutenant Dul Arief, that seven top generals had set up a ?Dewan Jenderal? or Council of Generals, and were planning to stage a coup against the then president, Sukarno.
By September 1965, the situation in Indonesia was extremely tense. Rumours abounded that the army was going to once more move against Sukarno and the PKI through the establishment of such a Council of Generals.
Yet, the operation against the generals on September 30 had two obvious flaws. In the first place, the squad sent to the home of the Indonesian Defence Minister General A. H. Nasution (the officer with the closest links to the US Embassy and the CIA) somehow failed its assignment, allowing Nasution to escape. Secondly, no-one was sent to deal with General Suharto, then the commander of the Army Strategic Reserve. On October 1, Suharto, backed by Nasution, was able to quickly mobilise the necessary units to take control of Jakarta and then extend his rule across the country.
Bungkus was only a junior figure in the events but he insists that the officers from whom he took his instructions were
not linked to the PKI. And he and other members of the presidential guard who took part in the assassinations were simply following orders. In his view, Suharto carefully orchestrated the September 30 affair as a means of moving against the entire left-wing movement in Indonesia.
This is corroborated by Latief, who revealed a number of critical facts upon his release from prison. He said that he
had personally reported the coup plan to Suharto before the killings. “Pak Harto [Suharto] knew for sure that on September 30, the seven generals were to be brought to Bung Karno [Sukarno],” Latief said.
Latief said he went to the military hospital where Suharto was with his ill baby Tommy, to alert him to the intended move against the seven generals, but Suharto took no action. “I think it is clear Pak Harto used the opportunity of the arrest of the generals to blame the PKI and reach power.”
Latief also referred to a document proving British and American involvement in a plot by the seven generals to effectively seize power from Sukarno. “The plan to arrest the generals was related to the existence of a “Council of Generals” which was first revealed through the leaking of a British Embassy document, which said the council was to supervise Sukarnos policies. The document, a letter from the British Ambassador, Sir Andrew Gilchrist, also revealed the British were working with the CIA.”
Unanswered questions remain about the events of September 30-October 1. It is not certain whether Suharto merely allowed the murder of the generals, or helped organise them. The involvement of the CIA and the British in Suhartos actions requires further investigation. Noticeably, none of the archives dealing with the lead up to the coup have yet been opened. But the speed with which Suharto moved on October 1 supports the conclusion that, acting in concert with the US agencies, he engineered the whole operation to eliminate his rivals and provide a pretext for moving against Sukarno and the PKI.
Finally, it is highly unlikely that the PKI planned to overthrow Sukarnos government, in which the party participated as coalition partners with the military and Muslim leaders. In line with the Stalinist doctrine of maintaining an alliance with Sukarno and the national capitalist class, the PKI leaders had repeatedly helped quell the struggles of workers and peasants. Under the “two-stage” theory, they had insisted that socialism would only arise peacefully and gradually after a prolonged capitalist stage of development in Indonesia. Even as signs grew of preparations for a generals coup, they had urged their followers to have faith in the so-called pro-peoples aspect of the military apparatus.
Moreover, there was no mobilisation of the vast membership of the PKI and its associated trade unions, student organisations, womens movements and peasant organisations. In the subsequent holocaust there was no sign of PKI-led resistance. In fact, even as the death squads were set loose, the surviving PKI leaders and their patrons in Moscow and Beijing urged PKI followers to offer no opposition but to continue to subordinate themselves to Sukarno, who collaborated with Suharto and was retained as titular president until 1967.
The new evidence of direct US, British and Australian involvement in triggering and exploiting the 1965-66 events provides a critical lesson in the so-called democratic and humanitarian concerns of the major capitalist powers. They stand ready to orchestrate and sanction mass killings and repression to pursue their economic and strategic requirements in Indonesia and elsewhere.
US orchestrated Suhartos 1965-66 slaughter in Indonesia
Who plotted the 1965 coup?
Suharto always said it was the communists. Yet from the start, says Colonel Latief, Suharto himself was involved.
Indonesian President BJ Habibie has refused to release Colonel Latief, whose arrest in 1965 for involvement in a military coup was followed by Major-General Suhartos rise to the presidency.
Habibie has granted amnesty to 73 other political prisoners, even to members of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) accused of involvement in the 1965 coup attempt. Refusing amnesty to Latief now shows how Suharto overshadows Habibie.
Interviewed in Cipinang Prison, Jakarta, three days after Suharto resigned, Latief told me that he expected never to be released. Despite various kidney operations and the stroke he suffered last year, Latief is still very alert. His explanation for his involvement in 1965 directly implicates Suharto.
By late 1965, President Sukarno was ailing and without a successor. Tension between the PKI and the armed forces was growing. Conspiracies rumours were rife. Who would make the first move?
On the night of 30th. September 1965, six hours before the military coup, Latief confirmed with Suharto that the plan to kidnap seven army generals would soon start. Latief was an officer attached to the Jakarta military command. As head of the Army Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad), Suharto held the optimum position to crush the operation, so his name should have been at the top of the list. When troops who conducted the kidnappings asked why Suharto was not on the list, they were told: “Because he is one of us”
There was a rumour the seven generals were intending to seize power from Sukarno. Latief and two other army officers in the operation, Lieutenant-Colonel Untung (in charge of some of the troops guarding Sukarno’s palace) and General Supardjo (a commander from Kalimantan), planned to kidnap the generals and bring them before President Sukarno to explain themselves.
The 30th September Movement was thus a limited pre-emptive strike by pro-Sukarno officers against anti-Sukarno officers. They kidnapped the generals and occupied strategic centres in Jakarta’s main square, without touching Suharto’s headquarters. The plan involved no killing, but it went terribly wrong and six of the seven died.
Although Untung was assigned responsibility for collecting the generals, this crucial task was then taken over by a certain Kamaruzzaman alias Sjam, evidently a “double agent” with contacts in the Jakarta military command as well as the PKI. At his trial, Sjam admitted responsibility for killing the generals but blamed the PKI under Aidit. In 1965 when Suharto accused the PKI of responsibility for killing the generals, the Sjam-Aidit link gave Suharto enough leverage to convince his contemporaries.
Between Sjam and Suharto there was a twenty-year friendship going back to the fight against the Dutch in Central Java in 1948-49. This strengthened in the late 1950s when both attended the Bandung Staff College.
Suharto was also on close terms with Untung, who served under him during the campaign to reclaim Netherlands New Guinea in 1962 and who became a family friend.
During his trial in 1978, not only did Latief explain that he met Suharto on the night of the coup, but also that several days before he met both Suharto and his wife in the privacy of Suhartos home to discuss the overall plan. The court declared that this information was “not relevant”.
Suharto, more than anybody, described the events that night as “communist inspired”. Suhartos claim that he saw the slain generals bodies had been sexually mutilated was shown to be deliberately false by post-mortem documents, not revealed till decades later. This false claim provoked months of killings against communists, particularly in Bali and Central and East Java.
The PKI, numbering 20 million, were mostly rice farmers. Accused en masse they became victims in one of the worst massacres this century. In the opinion of the author, many writers underestimated the death toll, which may be as high as one million persons. Another 700,000 were imprisoned without trial. The most notorious general involved, Sarwo Edhie, claimed not one but two million were killed. “And we did a good job”, he added. Traumatised by violence, the nation became politically malleable.
Using Suhartos own categorisation of crimes related to 1965, his prior knowledge of the alleged coup places him in “Category A” involvement; the same as those who faced execution or life imprisonment.
The release of Colonel Latief is a litmus test of Habibies willingness to promote genuine reform. Fewer than ten long term prisoners remain. Latief has pleaded: “Most of them are already 70 years old and fragile. For the sake of humanity, please take notice of us.”
The Indonesian Massacres and the CIA
In a recent story in the San Francisco Examiner, researcher Kathy Kadane quotes CIA and State department officials who admit compiling lists of names of the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI), making those lists available to the Indonesian military, and checking names off as people were “eliminated.” The killings were part of a massive bloodletting after an abortive coup attempt taking, according to various estimates, between 250,000 and 1,000,000 lives and ultimately led to the overthrow of President Sukarnos government.
Since then a debate has simmered over what happened. A recent study based on information from former Johnson administration officials, asserted that for months the U.S. “did their damnedest” through public pressure and more discreet methods, to prod the Indonesian army to move against Sukarno without success.
Debate continues over the origins of the coup attempt called Gestapu. Was it the result of CIA machinations, a takeover maneuver by General Suharto, a revolt by leftist officers under the control of the PKI, a power play by the Peoples Republic of China, a pre-emptive strike by Sukarno loyalists to prevent a move by officers friendly to the CIA, some combination of these factors, or others as yet unknown? I confess to no inside knowledge of the Gestapu.
It is well known that the CIA had long sought to unseat Sukarno: by funding an opposition political party in the mid-1950s, sponsoring a massive military overthrow attempt in the mid-1958, planning his assassination in 1961, and by rigging intelligence to inflame official U.S. concerns in order to win approval for planned covert actions.
Before attempting to describe one aspect of the CIAs role, it is essential to provide background on the scope and nature of its worldwide operations. Between 1961 and 1975 the Agency conducted 900 major or sensitive operations, and thousands of lesser covert actions. The majority of its operations were propaganda, election or paramilitary. Countries of major concern, such as Indonesia in the early 1960s, were usually subjected to the CIAs most concerted attention.
Critics of the CIA have aptly described the mainstays of such attention: “discrediting political groups… by forged documents that may be attributed to them. . . ,” faking “communist weapon shipments,” capturing communist documents and then inserting forgeries prepared by the Agency Technical Services Division. The CIAs “Mighty Wurlitzer” then emblazoned and disseminated the details of such “discoveries.”
The Mighty Wurlitzer was a worldwide propaganda mechanism consisting of hundreds or even thousands of media representatives and officials including, over a period of years, approximately 400 members of the American media. The CIA has used the Wurlitzer and its successors to plant stories and to suppress expository or critical reporting in order to manipulate domestic and international perceptions. From the early 1980s, many media operations formerly the responsibility of the CIA have been funded somewhat overtly by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).
From the earliest days, the Agencys International Organizations Division (IOD) implemented and coordinated its extensive covert operations. The divisions activities created or assisted international organizations for youth, students, teachers, workers, veterans, journalists, and jurists. The CIA used, and continues to use, the various labor, student, and other suborned organizations not only for intelligence and propaganda purposes, but also to participate in elections and paramilitary operations and to assist in overthrowing governments. At the same time, the CIA manipulates their organizational publications for covert propaganda goals.
The labor unions the CIA creates and subsidizes, in their more virulent stages, provide strong-arm goon squads who burn buildings, threaten and beat up opponents, pose as groups of the opposition to discredit them, terrorize and control labor meetings, and participate in coups.
Use of “Subversive Control Watch Lists”
As a matter of course, the Agency develops close relationships with security services in friendly nations and exploits these in many ways-by recruiting unilateral sources to spy on the home government, by implementing pro-U.S. policies, and by gathering and exchanging intelligence. As one aspect of those liaisons, the CIA universally compiles local “Subversive Control Watch Lists” of leftists for attention by the local government. Frequently that attention is the charter of government death squads.
After the CIAs overthrow of Arbenzs government in Guatemala in 1954, the U.S. gave the new government lists of opponents to be eliminated. In Chile from 1971 through 1973, the CIA fomented a military coup through forgery and propaganda operations and compiled arrest lists of thousands, many of whom were later arrested and assassinated. In Bolivia in 1975, the CIA provided lists of progressive priests and nuns to the government which planned to harass, arrest and expel them. To curry the favor of Khomeini, in 1983 the CIA gave his government a list of KGB agents and collaborators operating in Iran. Khomeini then executed 200 suspects and closed down the communist Tudeh party. In Thailand, I provided the names of hundreds of leftists to Thai security services. The Phoenix program in Vietnam was a massive U.S. backed program to compile arrest and assassination lists of the Viet Cong for action by CIA created Provisional Reconnaissance Unit death squads. In fact, former Director of the CIA William Colby compared the Indonesian operation directly to the Vietnam Phoenix Program. Colby further admitted directing the CIA to concentrate on compiling lists of members of the PKI and other left groups.
In 1963, responding to Colbys direction, U.S. trained Indonesian trade unionists began gathering the names of workers who were members or sympathizers of unions affiliated with the national labor federation, SOBSI. These trade unionist spies laid the groundwork for many of the massacres of 1965-1966. The CIA also used elements in the 105,000 strong Indonesian national police force to penetrate and gather information on the PKI.
Providing “Watch Lists” based on technical and human penetration of targeted groups is a continuing program of CIA covert operators. Today, U.S.-advised security services in El Salvador, using the techniques of the Phoenix program, operate throughout El Salvador and have taken a heavy toll on peasants, activists and labor leaders in that country. In the late 1980s, the CIA began assisting the Philippine government in the conduct of “low-intensity” operations by, among other things, computerizing security service records of leftists and assisting in the development of a national identity card program. Wherever the CIA cooperates with other national security services it is safe to assume that it also compiles and passes “Subversive Control Watch Lists.”
Putting the Pieces Together
All of this is essential to understanding what happened in Indonesia in 1965 and 1966. In September and October of 1965, the murder of six top military officers during the Gestapu coup attempt provided a pretext for destroying the PKI and removing Sukarno. Surviving officers-principally General Suharto, who was not a target-rallied the army and defeated the coup, ultimately unseating Sukarno.
Two weeks before the coup, the army had been warned that the PKI was plotting to assassinate army leaders. The PKI, nominally backed by Sukarno, was a legal and formidable organization and was the third largest Communist Party in the world. It claimed three million members, and through affiliated organizations-such as labor and youth groups-it had the support of 17 million others. The Army’s anxiety had been fed by rumors throughout 1965 that mainland China was smuggling arms to the PKI for an imminent revolt. Such a story appeared in a Malaysian newspaper, citing Bangkok sources which relied in turn on Hong Kong sources. Such untraceability is a telltale mark of the Mighty Wurlitzer.
Less subtle propaganda claimed that the PKI was a tool of the Red Chinese and planned to infiltrate and divide the armed forces. To bolster these allegations, “communist weapons” were discovered inside Chinese crates labeled as construction material. Far more inflammatory news reporting prior to October 1965 claimed the PKI had a secret list of civilian and military leaders marked for beheading.
After the coup attempt the Indonesian Army in the main left the PKI alone, as there was no credible evidence to substantiate the horror stories in the press. [Eight sentences censored.] As noted, a favorite tactic is to arrange for the capture of communist documents and then insert forgeries prepared by the Agency’s Technical Services Division.
Suddenly documents were serendipitously discovered providing “proof” of PKI guilt. On October 23, 1965, the Suara Islam reported:
…millions of copies of the text of a proclamation of the counterrevolutionary Gestapu…have been recovered…. The text…was obviously printed in the CPR [People’s Republic of China]. Steel helmets and a large quantity of military equipment have also been found…. There is in controvertible evidence of the CPR’s involvement…. The arms sent by the CPR were shipped under cover of “diplomatic immunity.” …other important documents offer irrefutable evidence of the involvement of the CPR Embassy and the CPR ambassador….
On October 30,1965 Major General Suharto, in a speech before a military audience, angrily denounced the PKI saying that captured documents proved the PKI was behind Gestapu. Suharto demanded that the “Communists be completely uprooted.”
On November 2, the Indonesian Armed Forces Bulletin asserted that the PKI had a plan for revolution, and published supposed PKI directives for the period following the October coup attempt. The document stated that the PKI “is only supporting the revolutionary council” that the coup tried to establish. It added that if the council were crushed the PKI would “directly confront” the generals whom the coup leaders accused of planning to overthrow President Sukarno. The document also said, “when the revolution is directly led by the PKI, we can achieve victory because the command will be under the PKI-our hidden strength is in the armed forces.”
Military leaders [seven words censored] began a bloody extermination campaign. Civilians involved were either recruited and trained by the army on the spot, or were drawn from groups such as the army- and CIA-sponsored SOKSI trade unions [Central Organization of Indonesian Socialist Employees], and allied student organizations. Media fabrications had played a key role in preparing public opinion and mobilizing these groups for the massacre.
The documents, manufactured stories of communist plans and atrocities, and claims of communist arms shipments created an atmosphere of hysteria, resulting in the slaughter and the establishment of a dictatorship that still exists today.
The Agency wrote a secret study of what it did in Indonesia. [One sentence censored.] The CIA was extremely proud of its [one word censored] and recommended it as a model for future operations [one half sentence censored].
Yesterdays Fake News, Todays Fake History
The CIA desperately wants to conceal evidence of its role in the massacre, which it admits was one of the centuries worst. The U.S. media seem equally determined to protect the American image from consequences of covert operations.
Reaction to Kadanes new revelations was swift. An Op-Ed by columnist Stephen S. Rosenfeld in the July 20, 1990 Washington Post, and an article by correspondent Michael Wines in the July 12, 1990 New York Times, each deny any CIA role in the massacre. Rosenfeld, reversing his conclusions of a week before, ignores the new evidence, cites one of many academic studies, and concludes with certainty: “For me, the question of the American role in Indonesia is closed.”
New light on an active Australian involvement
Previously-secret documents at the Australian Archives in Canberra indicate that the Australian government; then led by Liberal Party Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies, and the Australian military, intelligence and diplomatic services were closely involved in the 1965-66 Indonesian coup carried out by General Suharto.
In publishing some of the records on July 12, the Sydney Morning Herald chose the headline, “The silent watchers”. Its introduction said the documents showed that the federal government had “turned a blind eye” to the “indiscriminate slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Indonesians”.
But the documents themselves confirm that the Australian role was as active as that of the US government, if only on a smaller scale. Its military had trained some of the officers taking part in the massacre, and during 1965-66 the Menzies government and its officials shared intelligence sources, reports and assessments on the most intimate basis with their American, Canadian and British counterparts.
Moreover, the records demonstrate that the cables sent to and from the Australian Embassy in Jakarta mirrored, at times word for word, those from the US Embassy in their insistence that the Indonesian generals led by Suharto had to act ruthlessly to crush all support for the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), especially among industrial workers.
Nor was this an “indiscriminate slaughter”. The documents point to a common view, shared by the American, British and Australian governments, that the establishment of a military dictatorship in Indonesia was an essential contribution toward the wider war against the anti-imperialist struggles that had erupted in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia.
Earlier in 1965 the Menzies government had committed troops to both Borneo and South Vietnam. In January, it had agreed to the deployment of a combat battalion and a 100-strong SAS unit to Borneo to combat Indonesian forces mobilised by the Sukarno government as part of its campaign against the British-sponsored formation of Malaysia, which included the resource-rich former British colonies of Sabah and Sarawak. In April, the Menzies cabinet had committed the first battalion of infantry to the US intervention in Vietnam
The documents published by the Sydney Morning Herald relate to the period after Suhartos seizure of power on October 1, 1965. Thus, they only indirectly shed light on the Australian involvement in the US preparations for the coup. In addition, the present Howard government continues to block access to hundreds of pages of material held in the Archives on the 1965-66 events in Indonesia. No doubt, the documents that have been released are the least incriminating.
Yet they are damning enough. They show that on October 5, 1965; just four days after Suhartos takeover; the Australian Ambassador in Jakarta, K. C. O. “Mick” Shann used identical language to that of the US Ambassador, Marshall Green, in welcoming Suhartos coup. It was “now or never” for the Indonesian army to deal with the PKI, Shann advised Canberra. On the same day, Green had told Washington that: “Army now has opportunity to move against PKI if it acts quickly … In short, it’s now or never.”
If anything, Shann was more vitriolic than his American colleague in demanding decisive action by the Indonesian generals. “Change there will be”, he said in a dispatch to Canberra the next day. “We will never get back to the status quo ante. But if Sukarno and his greasy civilian cohorts get back into the saddle it will be a change for the worse.”
By October 12, External Affairs Department officials in Canberra were encouraged by the developments. Arrests, murders and executions had begun, and mobs had ransacked the houses of PKI members of Sukarnos cabinet.
In a memo to External Affairs Minister Paul Hasluck, a first assistant secretary in the department, Gordon Jockel, said: “Since our last note to you the army has been more vigorous and independent. Despite a presidental call for unity, the army and the Muslim groups are taking strong practical action to disarm the PKI and disrupt its organisation.” Jockel described these trends as “favourable,” although there were “still great uncertainties”.
Three days later, the Embassy informed Canberra that: “Almost daily, offices, houses and bookshops have been ransacked or burned and the momentum does not seem to be faltering.” On the same day, Shann sent a report in which he noted that mass killings of PKI supporters were underway. “At least a few (suspects) have been brutally murdered. We will never know how many people have lost their lives. We think it is a lot.”
Shann indicated that the Western powers were still not fully confident in the militarys role. There was likely to be no great joy for the West if the army came to power, he thought. It would remain “Implacably anti-imperialist and therefore … anti-American, anti-British and, to the extent that we bother them, anti-Australian.”
Two days later, on October 17, according to US documents, US and Australian officials met in Washington to discuss Indonesia and the armys strategy. A US State Department memo indicates that the US Assistant Secretary of State, McGeorge Bundy, met the head of Australias External Affairs Department, Sir James Plimsoll, and the Australian Ambassador to the US, Keith Waller and exchanged views on the armys intentions.
By October 22, Shann, like Marshall Green, was more optimistic. The Embassy reported that Indonesia was experiencing “a mounting wave of anti-communist demonstrations and sentiment and a general army-condoned, or perhaps army-inspired, blackening of the communist image.”
It referred to a “cleansing operation” that included “nocturnal army operations” at all levels of society. Shann himself had witnessed about 250 prisoners being “whisked off” by military police. “It is impossible to make any estimate of the number of people killed or detained,?” the Embassy said. “It cannot be small.”
The Embassy report concluded, enthusiastically: “He would be a very cautious man who did not derive some encouragement from events in Indonesia over the past week.”
American documents also show that when, at the end of October, the Johnson administration determined that Suharto should establish a military government, it consulted the Menzies government, together with the British.
Workers and Peasants massacred
The Australian authorities were aware that workers and villagers were among the main targets of the military repression.
In the month of November, the Australian Embassy noted that the wave of terror had been extended down to the factory floor. According to its report of November 17, it had apparently become the practice in factories and other workplaces “for the army to assemble the labour force and ask them whether they wish to continue work as usual. Those who decline are asked again and, unless they change their mind, summarily shot.”
Two days later, the Australian Embassy proudly reported on an “action”; a massacre, led by an Australian-trained officer. Colonel Sarwo Edhie was a 1964 graduate from an 18-month course at the Australian Army Staff College at Queenscliff, near Melbourne. On November 10, 1965, just a year after graduating, he commanded 400 soldiers of the feared RPKAD (Special Forces, now known as Kopassus) on a sweep through Central Java, hunting for opponents of the military junta.
At 6.30 am the troops approached a village at the foot of Mount Merapi, in the Boyolali district, 40 km north-east of Jogjakarta, firing “test shots” into the air. Between 100 and 200 people, many of them women and children, appeared at the side of the road. According to the report sent to Canberra, the villagers advanced on the troops with cries of “Nekolim,” meaning “neo-colonialists and imperialists” and were armed with bamboo spears, knives and “one or two guns”. “Shots fired over their heads by the patrol failed to deter them and the army was obliged to shoot at them, killing seven and wounding 17.”
That report was derived from a first-hand account supplied by an Indian journalist, B. K. Tiwari, who had spent 11 days in Central Java as Sarwo Edhies guest. Tiwaris account also confirmed that the military was training Muslim militia groups. In an interview with Tiwari, the Colonel had “spoken of the training he was giving Muslim groups (as yet no arms had been issued)”. Muslim youth were acting “as the ears and eyes of the army, guiding patrols and generally informing”.
Two days before Christmas 1965, the Australian Embassy estimated that, on average, 1,500 people had been murdered every day since September 30. “Estimates of the number of people killed vary between 100,000 and 200,000, the latter being the figure accepted by the American and West German embassies. The West Germans have heard that 70,000 people have been killed in East Java alone. Without having any firm basis for making an estimate we would if we had to name a figure put it at between 100,000 and 150,000. This works out at about 1,500 assassinations per day since September 30th.”
Up to one million workers and peasants were slaughtered in a CIA-organised army coup led by General Suharto which swept aside the shaky bourgeois regime of President Sukarno, crushed the rising movement of the Indonesian masses, and established a brutal military dictatorship.
Retired US diplomats and CIA officers, including the former American ambassador to Indonesia and Australia, Marshall Green, have admitted working with Suhartos butchers to massacre hundreds of thousands of workers and peasants suspected of supporting the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). They personally provided the names of thousands of PKI members from the CIAs files for the armed forces death lists.
According to Howard Federspeil, who was an Indonesian expert working at the State Department at the time of the anti-communist program: “No one cared, so long as they were communists that they were being butchered.”
The coup was the culmination of a prolonged operation by the CIA, with the help of agents of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, to build up and train the Indonesian armed forces in preparation for a military dictatorship to suppress the revolutionary strivings of the Indonesian masses.
At the time of the coup, the PKI was the largest Stalinist party in the world, outside China and the Soviet Union. It had 3.5 million members; its youth movement another 3 million. It controlled the trade union movement SOBSI which claimed 3.5 million members and the 9 million-strong peasants’ movement BTI. Together with the womens movement, the writers and artists organisation and the scholars movement, the PKI had more than 20 million members and active supporters.
Yet by the end of 1965, between 500,000 and a million PKI members and supporters had been slaughtered, and tens of thousands were detained in concentration camps, without any resistance being offered.
The killings were so widespread that the rivers were clogged with the corpses of workers and peasants. While the CIA-backed military death squads rounded up all known PKI members and sympathisers and carried out their grisly work, Time magazine reported:
“The killings have been on such a scale that the disposal of corpses has created a serious sanitation problem in northern Sumatra where the humid air bears the reek of decaying flesh. Travellers from these areas tell us small rivers and streams have been literally clogged with bodies. River transportation has become seriously impeded.”
While the bloodbath was taking place in Indonesia, the Menzies government and the External Affairs Department sought to control and censor the news broadcast to Indonesia by Radio Australia. On October 10, 1965 Ambassador Shann advised Canberra that Radio Australia should “do nothing to engender sympathy for President Sukarno”.
Two days later, the External Affairs Departments public information officer, Richard Woolcott noted in a memo that he and a colleague had told contacts at Radio Australia that it should “by careful selection of its news items, not do anything which would be helpful to the PKI and should highlight reports tending to discredit the PKI and show its involvement in the losing cause of the September 30 movement.”
The Departments Gordon Jockel wrote to Shann on October 15, asking to be advised “whether there are any problems with the ABC representatives in Jakarta”. In a memo to his Minister, Paul Hasluck, on October 18, David Hay, another first assistant secretary, said: “Radio Australia should be on guard against giving information to the Indonesian people that would be withheld by the army-controlled internal media, e.g. disavowals [of coup involvement] by the PKI …”
On October 21, Woolcott reported that he had insisted that Radio Australia refer to Suharto and other key generals as “non-communist” rather than “anti-communist”and “rightist”. “I stressed again to [Radio Australia news editor John] Hall that the danger of inaccurate reporting could have an adverse effect on the army …”
By November 5, the Indonesian army was so confident that the Menzies government would do its bidding that it relayed a message to Canberra, via Shann, that news items critical of Indonesian Foreign Minister Subandrio “should be used” by Radio Australia.
It also said “reports should never imply that the army or its supporters” were in any way “pro-Western or right wing”. At that stage in the coup, given the strength of anti-colonial feeling among the Indonesian masses, it was still unwise for the generals to openly identify themselves with their Western patrons.
The events of 1965-66 reveal the essential outlook of the Australian political and military establishment. For public consumption, government leaders extol “democratic values,” but the actual record is one of demanding and supporting, whenever it is deemed necessary, military violence … and media manipulation.
This participation in the Indonesian holocaust was not a passing phase, nor an aberration. The figures who led the Australian involvement in the 1965-66 coup were all well rewarded for many years to come. Paul Hasluck, the Minister, was later knighted and became Governor-General of Australia. David Hay, a key official, was also knighted and then appointed Administrator of Papua New Guinea from 1967 to 1970. Gordon Jockel, also from External Affairs, went on to serve as Ambassador in Indonesia from 1969 to 1972. Richard Woolcott, another high-ranking official, became Ambassador to Indonesia too?from 1975 to 1978?then headed the Foreign Affairs Department.
As for the Labor Party, while it was not in office in 1965-66, its support for the Indonesian massacre was best summed up in the early 1990s by the then prime minister, Paul Keating. He referred to Suhartos coup as “the most important and beneficial event in Australian post-war strategic history”.