March 17, 1998 in Nation/World

U.S. Trains Indonesians Despite Ban Pentagon Says Program Was Legal Under Different System

Tim Weiner New York Times

The Pentagon has been training Indonesian military forces since 1992, despite a congressional ban intended to curb human rights abuses by those soldiers, Defense Department documents show.

The Indonesian forces trained by the Pentagon include a special-forces commando unit called Kopassus, which human rights groups say has tortured and killed civilians. The unit has received training from U.S. special-operations soldiers in skills like psychological warfare and reconnaissance missions.

Pentagon officials said the training program was entirely legal, since it took place under a program different from the one curtailed by Congress. Deputy Secretary of Defense John J. Hamre said in a letter to a member of Congress last month that the training “enhances rather than diminishes our ability to positively influence Indonesia’s human rights policies and behavior.”

Some members of Congress question that. Rep. Christopher H. Smith, a R-N.J., said the training program “appears to be a dramatic end run around the rules that Congress has carefully prescribed for military training and education of Indonesian forces.”

Indonesia is undergoing its greatest political and economic crisis since President Suharto took power in 1965. Last week the newly appointed minister of defense, Gen. Wiranto, warned that the government would crack down hard on demonstrators protesting repression and corruption.

The troops trained by the Pentagon over the past five years include Kopassus, whose Red Berets have been deployed this year against street demonstrators in Jakarta; an army strategic command group called Kostrad that helps control the center of Java and Suharto’s presidential guard. General Wiranto did not specify what troops would be used in such a crackdown.

Hamre’s argument and the documents detailing the training were contained in a letter sent last month to Rep. Lane Evans of Illinois, a Democrat. The letter and the documents were made public Monday by the East Timor Action Network, which is a human rights group, and by a reporter and activist, Allan Nairn. Nairn, who was beaten severely, arrested and permanently banned from Indonesia in November 1991 after witnessing a massacre of more than 270 civilians by Indonesian troops on the island of East Timor, published an article in The Nation on Monday describing the training.

In 1992 Congress banned Indonesia from receiving Pentagon training in the arts of war under the program most commonly used for such courses, known as International Military Education and Training, or IMET.

The Pentagon kept up its training - but under a different program, known as Joint Combined Exchange and Training, or J-Cet. This was a legal way to avoid the congressional ban, since the joint program was financed through “a different pot of money” than was IMET, and thus was unaffected by the ban, a Pentagon official said.

Evans conceded that the training was legal, but called it “the Pentagon’s loophole to the ban.” He said he was “curious to know why U.S. taxpayer dollars are being wasted on aiding and abetting a ruthless military organization.”

The training “is certainly not within the spirit” of the law, said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a D-Calif. “It raises serious questions about a violation of congressional intent. It is clear that it is a circumvention of Congress.”

Grover Joseph Rees, an aide to Smith, said: “We have all these restrictions on IMET and they just get around it by using J-Cet.” He added: “They did the same thing in Rwanda - they give marksmanship training to people who may be participating in massacres.”

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