18 October 2017
Human rights organizations are calling on the United States and Indonesia to declassify more documents regarding the 1965-66 anti-communist purges that took place under the leadership of Suharto, formerly an important ally of the U.S. government before his departure in 1998.
39 previously classified U.S. Embassy in Jakarta documents have been uncovered that show U.S. government knowledge of mass killings of civilians in Indonesia during the anti-communist purges.
The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) classified the killings as “one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century,” and “resulted in an estimated 100,000 deaths” within the first two months according to a diplomatic cable from the Political Affairs Counselor at the US Embassy in Jakarta to Washington D.C., December 21, 1965.
By 1966, the killings committed by soldiers and local militias, who were given the order to murder any suspected communists by General Suharto, killed at least 500,000 people ( figures suggest the number may be in the millions), many of whom were not affiliated with the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI).
In addition to extrajudicial execution, victims of the anti-communist purges were subjected to torture, rape, forced disappearance, forced labor, forced eviction, and arbitrary detention.
The massacres, which cables now confirm were known by U.S. diplomats and their State Department colleagues in Washington, targeted members of the communist party, student activists, intellectuals, trade unionists, progressives, artists, community leaders, women’s rights activists, and ethnic Chinese.
“We continue to receive reports [of] PKI being slaughtered by Ansor [a Muslim militia] many areas East Java. Killing of PKI continues in villages bordering Surabaya and wounded released from Surabaya refuse to return to their homes. According head East Java Railways, 5 stations closed because workers afraid to come to work since some of them have been murdered,” stated one cable from the U.S. Consulate in Surabaya to the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, November 26, 1965.
“Meanwhile, both in the provinces and Djakarta, repression of the PKI continued, with the main problem that of what to feed and where to house the prisoners. Many provinces appear to be successfully meeting this problem by executing their PKI prisoners, or by killing them before they are captured.”
The killings remain a controversial topic in Indonesia, as the prevailing interpretation claims that the attacks were necessary to prevent from a communist takeover in an alleged coup attempt on Sep. 30, 1965 in which six army generals were killed. This event was used by Suharto to justify the anti-communist massacres.
In Dec. 2014, U.S. Senator Tom Udall from New Mexico introduced a resolution on the floor of the United States Senate to condemn the 1965-66 massacres and demand the immediate declassification of relevant information.
The resolution notes that “six Indonesian Army generals were killed by military personnel, including members of Indonesia’s Presidential Guard, and these killings were blamed on the Indonesian Communist Party and labeled an ‘attempted Communist coup d’e´tat,’”and that “this alleged coup was used to justify the mass killings of alleged supporters of the Indonesian Communist Party, with estimates of the number of dead ranging from 500,000 to 1,000,000 killed.”
Udall’s resolution notes that most of the victims of Suharto’s massacres were unarmed civilians and that the U.S. knowingly provided military, financial, and logistical support during this period.
The 39 U.S. Embassy in Jakarta documents that were released by the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) are part of 30,000 pages of declassified embassy paperwork spanning from 1965 to 1968. These documents do not include CIA documents, which are still classified and are widely believed to include more evidence of U.S. complacence to the massacres.
The Indonesian military has responded to calls by activists for increased transparency surrounding the killings have been met with propaganda, according to human rights organizations.
The U.S. and Indonesian governments have not indicated that they will declassify further information.
But a U.S. State Department official has issued this response to teleSUR, “We are aware that George Washington University’s National Security Archive posted reportedly declassified U.S. documents online. The U.S. government has already made large amounts of documents and information public, including by declassifying documents, to shed light on the foreign relations of the United States with Indonesia during the mid-1960s period. For example, in 2015, the United States released all previously classified Presidential Daily Briefs and from 1964 through to the end of President Jonhnson’s term in January 1969 which included the period of the killings. We also released thousands of formerly classified State Department cables, phone transcripts and other official records from the period 1964-1968. These records are publicly available. The State Department supports the declassification of any relevant documents from the period which do not pose a national security risk.”