[ETAN-key] Crimes Against Humanity From Ford to Saddam
John M Miller
fbp at igc.org
Sun Jan 7 07:58:00 PST 2007
for more links on Ford's role in Indonesia's
invasion and occupation of East Timor]
CounterPunch.org Weekend Edition January 6 / 7, 2007
Standards for Rembrance
Crimes Against Humanity From Ford to Saddam
By JOSEPH NEVINS
Now that both Gerald Ford and Saddam Hussein are
dead and buried, the question of how they will be
remembered here in the United States arises. If
the talk of officialdom and the mainstream media
outlets thus far is any indicator-and surely it
is-the U.S. collective memories of the two
leaders will be diametrically opposed.
As one might expect, official Washington's
reactions to the two deaths have been as
different as night and day, with Democrats
following the White House lead in lockstep.
President Bush expressed sadness in the wake of
Ford's death, calling the former president a
"great man" while Representative Nancy Pelosi
voiced respect for Ford's "fair and reliable
leadership." By contract, George Bush welcomed
Hussein's execution, characterizing it as "an
important milestone on Iraq's course to becoming
a democracy," and Senator Joseph Biden, the new
chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, declared with satisfaction that "Iraq
has . . . rid the world of a tyrant."
On the surface, it makes sense to judge the two
men in such divergent ways. After all, an Iraqi
court convicted Hussein of a crime against
humanity for ordering the deaths of 148 Shiite
villagers in Dujail. While the court was of the
kangaroo variety, there's no doubt that the
Dujail massacre was only one of many atrocities
he oversaw while ruling Iraq. Gerald Ford, to the
contrary, was never even indicted for any such crime.
But this distinction, it turns out, reflects a
double standard for judging similar conduct. If
we do not limit our analysis of Ford to his role
as a U.S. "statesman," and instead examine his
behavior through an internationalist lens similar
to that employed to judge Saddam Hussein and
concerned with crimes against humanity, we find
that Ford, too, was responsible for mass
murder-in East Timor. The responsibility goes
further than Ford's now-well-known giving to
Indonesia the proverbial green light to invade.
What the green light metaphor obscures is just
how decisive Ford's authorization was, and how
his complicity with Indonesia's crimes continued
throughout his brief White House occupancy.
On Dec. 6, 1975, Ford and Henry Kissinger, his
secretary of state, were in Jakarta, Indonesia to
meet the country's dictator, General Suharto.
Ford was fully cognizant of Indonesia's plans to
launch an imminent invasion of the former
Portuguese Timor. According to declassified
documents published by the Washington-based
National Security Archive, Ford assured Suharto
that with regard to East Timor, "[We] will not
press you on the issue. We understand . . . the intentions you have." (1)
Suharto needed Washington's go-ahead due to a
1958 agreement that prohibited Indonesia from
using U.S.-origin weaponry, which made up 90
percent of Jakarta's arsenal at the time, except
for "legitimate national self-defense." (2) For
this reason Kissinger suggested that the invasion
be framed as self-defense, thus circumventing any legal obstacles.
Kissinger then expressed understanding for
Indonesia's "need to move quickly" and advised
"that it would be better if it were done after we
[he and Ford] returned [to the United States]."
About 14 hours after their departure, Indonesian
forces invaded neighboring East Timor.
While Indonesian forces massacred civilians
during the first hours of the Dec. 7 invasion,
Ford spoke at the University of Hawaii. There, he
declared-apparently with a straight face-his
commitment to a "Pacific doctrine of peace with
all and hostility toward none," and spoke of an
Asia "where people are free from the threat of foreign aggression." (3)
Ford and his White House successors helped make
sure that his lofty vision was not realized in
Indonesia-ravaged East Timor. According to the
now-independent country's truth commission
report, released late last year, Indonesia's war
and illegal occupation resulted in many tens of
thousands of East Timorese deaths, widespread
rape and sexual enslavement of women and girls,
and, in the waning days of Jakarta's presence,
systematic destruction of the territory's
buildings and infrastructure. (4) Today, East
Timor is one of the world's poorest countries. It
is, according to a 2006 United Nations
Development Program (UNDP) report, a country "chained by poverty." (5)
Over the almost 24 years of Indonesian rule,
Democratic and Republican administrations alike
provided invaluable diplomatic cover and billions
of dollars' worth of weapons, military equipment
and training, and economic aid to Jakarta. For
such reasons the truth commission report
characterizes U.S. assistance as "fundamental" to
the invasion and occupation, and calls upon
Washington to apologize and pay reparations to East Timor.
Washington's considerable share of the blame for
East Timor's plight does not rest solely at
Ford's feet. But it was Gerald Ford that opened
the door to this dreadful chapter in history.
There is little doubt that Ford's authorization
was key to Indonesia's invasion. Intelligence and
diplomatic documents reveal that Jakarta was so
worried about how the U.S. would react to its
aggression that Suharto had vetoed earlier plans
to invade. Had the United States (along with its
allies, especially Australia and Britain) said
"no" to Jakarta's invasion prior to its
launching, the Suharto regime would have been in
a very difficult bind and most likely have
reversed course. And, given the profound
anti-communism of the regime, it could hardly
have turned to the likes of the Soviet Union as an alternative.
As William Colby, the head of the Central
Intelligence Agency in 1975, told an interviewer
during the 1990s, if the United States had vetoed
Indonesia's plan to invade, "[w]e certainly would
have had a little diplomatic strain there," but
nothing beyond that, the implication being that
Jakarta would have backed down. He went on to
suggest that Jakarta had no other options apart
from securing Washington's compliance and to ask
rhetorically, "where would have [Suharto] gone"
had the Indonesian ruler not been not happy with the U.S. position? (6)
Nonetheless, Ford's administration had previously
warned Indonesia against using American weaponry
in any planned aggression. But any reservations
that the administration may have had about the
employment of U.S. weaponry seem to have
disappeared by Dec. 6, 1975, with horrific
results for the people of Timor-Leste, as the
now-independent country is officially known..
One week after the meeting in Jakarta, Ford sent
Suharto a package of golf balls as "a personal
gift." (7) In the months that followed, his U.N.
ambassador, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, prevented
the United Nations from taking effective steps to
compel Jakarta to end its illegal aggression. (8)
Later in 1976, Ford's administration shipped a
squadron of U.S. OV-10 "Bronco" ground-attack
planes to Indonesia's military, ones ideal for
counterinsurgency of the type it was waging in East Timor.
In the 1990s, journalist Allan Nairn interviewed
Gerald Ford and asked him if he had authorized
the invasion, Ford replied, "Frankly, I don't
recall." As Nairn recounted recently on Democracy
Now!, Ford explained that there were many topics
on the December 6, 1975 meeting agenda, and East
Timor was one of the lesser items. (9)
While Ford had the luxury of forgetting-an
example of what we might call imperial
privilege-the people of East Timor are condemned
to remember: they will live with the physical,
social, and psychological effects of the horrific
war and occupation for decades.
According to the 2006 UNDP report, 90 out of
1,000 children there die before their first
birthday; half the population is illiterate; 64
percent suffers from food insecurity; half lack
access to access to safe drinking water; and 40
percent live below the official poverty level of
55 cents a day. Meanwhile, a study conducted by
the International Rehabilitation Council for
Torture Victims determined that about one-third
of East Timor's population suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. (10)
This is a legacy for which we should remember
Gerald Ford, just as Saddam Hussein will
justifiably be memorialized for his role in crimes against humanity.
Joseph Nevins is an assistant professor of
geography at Vassar College. He is the author of
Operation Gatekeeper: The Rise of the "Illegal
Alien" and the Making of the U.S.-Mexico Boundary
(Routledge, 2002) and, most recently, A
Not-so-distant Horror: Mass Violence in East
Timor (Cornell University Press, 2005). His email is jonevins at vassar.edu.
(1) Quotes taken from William Burr and Michael L. Evans, eds.,
East Timor Revisited: Ford, Kissinger and the Indonesian Invasion,
197576, National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No.
62, Document 1, December 6, 2001. Available
online at http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB62/.
(2) Text of agreement reprinted in United States Congress, House
of Representatives, "Human Right in East Timor and the Question
of the Use of U.S. Equipment by the Indonesian Armed Forces,"
Hearing before the Subcommittees on International Organizations
and on Asian and Pacific Affairs of the Committee on International
Relations, March 23, 1977, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government
Printing Office, 1977: 76.
(3) Address of President Gerald R. Ford at the University of
Hawaii, December 7, 1975; available online at
(4) Chega!, Final Report of the Commission for Truth, Reception,
and Reconciliation (CAVR) in East Timor, Dili, 2005; available
online at http://www.etan.org/news/2006/cavr.htm
(5) United Nations Development Programme, The Path out of Poverty:
Timor-Leste Human Development Report 2006, Dili, Timor-Leste:
United Nations Development Programme, January 2006.
(6) Quoted in Allan Nairn, "Foreword," in Constâncio Pinto and
Matthew Jardine, East Timor's Unfinished Struggle: Inside the
Timorese Resistance, Boston: South End Press, 1997: xiii-xiv.
(7) See Brad Simpson, "'Illegally and Beautifully': The United
States, the Indonesian Invasion of East Timor and the International
Community, 1974-76," Cold War History, Vol. 5, No. 3, August
2005: 281-315; available online at
(8) Daniel Moynihan (with Suzanne Weaver), A Dangerous Place,
Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1978: 247. In the same statement,
Moynihan boasts of blocking U.N. action to end Morocco's illegal
(and ongoing) occupation of the Western Sahara.
(9) See "President Gerald Ford Dies at 93; Supported Indonesian
Invasion of East Timor that Killed 1/3 of Population," Democracy
Now!, December 27, 2007; transcript available at
(10) J. Modvig et al., "Torture and Trauma in Post-Conflict East
Timor," The Lancet, Vol. 356, Nov. 18, 2000: 1763.
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