INDONESIA: Military seeks more power after Marriott bombing

Issue 

BY JAMES BALOWSKI

JAKARTA — Taking a leaf out of US President George Bush's cynical manipulation of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the Indonesian military (TNI) is trying to take advantage of public fear and anger over last month's deadly bomb attack at the Marriott Hotel in central Jakarta to get more power to deal with "internal security threats".

The August 5 bombing of the Marriott Hotel — the largest since the October 12 terrorist bombings in Bali — left 12 people dead and 147 wounded. The Islamist organisation Jemaah Islamiyah — which was also blamed for the Bali bombing — is believed to be responsible and a number of alleged JI members are being sought by police.

Indonesians were shocked and angered by the attack — the latest in a string of bombings in Jakarta over the last two years — partly because the majority of the victims were ordinary Indonesians (taxi drivers and security guards).

Given that the Indonesian authorities had been forewarned that the Marriott Hotel was a likely target for an imminent terrorist attack, questions have inevitably arisen as to why police and intelligence agencies were not able to prevent the attack.

However, rather than focusing on these questions, President Megawati Sukarnoputri's government has sought to focus on "inadequacies" in the recently passed anti-terrorist law, which it claims fails to give the security forces enough power to take "preemptive" action against suspects.

In apologising to the victims of the bombing, the chief of Indonesia's State Intelligence Body (BIN), Hendropriyono, was quoted in the August 9 Jakarta Post as saying that BIN wanted the power to act, not just to give early warnings.

"How can we prevent a certain action from taking place if we know a suspect but we cannot make an arrest", he said. "Without the power to make an arrest, BIN would be like a German shepherd dog whose tail was held by its owner so that it could not run after the target."

Indonesia has several intelligence agencies, including the BIN, the TNI's intelligence body (BAIS) and intelligence units within the national police and in the attorney general's office. BIN has been tasked to coordinate their work.

Public debate over the apparent failure of the intelligence agencies to stop the Marriott bombing began in earnest on August 12 when defence minister Matori Abdul Djalil floated the idea of adopting a draconian Singapore- or Malaysia-style Internal Security Act (ISA). Matori's suggestion was quickly supported by political and security affairs minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and TNI chief Endriartono Sutarto.

All three took the line that existing anti-terrorist laws are not strong enough to prevent terrorist attacks. "The [anti-terrorist] law says that judges can use intelligence reports to legalise the arrest of a suspect", said Yudhoyono. "But that is not enough. We are in a very weak position when it comes to stopping things from happening."

Matori's proposal sparked immediate protests from human rights activists. Their concerns centre on the fact that Singapore's and Malaysia's internal security laws give security officials the power to detain anyone suspected of planning a terrorist attack for two years without trial.

Indonesia used to have a similar law — the notorious "anti-subversion" law. But this was scrapped in 1999 following the overthrow of the Suharto dictatorship. During Suharto's New Order regime, the anti-subversion law was used to jail thousands of political opponents for long periods without trial.

Human rights activists like Hendardi from the Indonesian Legal Aid Association and Munir from the National Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) slammed Matori's proposal, saying that it was aimed at deflecting attention from the government's own failure to prevent the Marriott bombing. They argued that the government should improve the work of its intelligence agencies and use the existing laws, including the criminal code, to stop terrorist attacks.

In the face of a growing chorus of opposition from human rights activists, analysts, politicians and even top government officials, Yudhoyono admitted on August 13 that the government was unlikely to enact an ISA as it would only stir up strong opposition around the country.

"We will not adopt an internal security act like Singapore's or Malaysia's. Our situation is different from that of Singapore or Malaysia. The ISA does not provide guarantees for political freedom", he told Jakarta Post.

Yudhoyono went on to say that he now favoured the option of revising the anti-terrorist law, saying: "Having enacted this law, we now believe that the powers of the security authorities to prevent terrorist attacks are inadequate. Our security agencies need more legal powers than they have been given by the current law so as to allow them to carry out early detection of terrorist threats."

It may be, however, that talk of introducing an ISA was merely an exercise in kite-flying to prepare the ground for the TNI's real agenda — reasserting its internal security role. This was supposed to have been handed over to police when the two institutions were formally separated in 2000.

On August 14, Yudhoyono said that the government would give more power to the military to "detect" and "find" possible terrorist threats. "There has been a long-standing impression that the TNI should only handle external defence while internal security is in the hands of the police", he told reporters. "The government will give a greater role, or appropriate space, for the TNI to carry our their duties as long as it is related to national interests, although the focal point remains the police."

This is consistent with the policy position outlined in the TNI's white paper released in March. This described various threats facing the country including separatist movements, terrorism, piracy, illegal logging and people trafficking, and argued that it was the TNI's task to "safeguard the nation" from all these threats.

Under the Suharto regime, the TNI's internal security role was carried out through the military's territorial command structure, which gave the TNI a presence at every level of civil administration, from the cabinet and national legislature down to local districts and villages.

The TNI is determined to reassert this role, not just because it entrenches its political power, but because it provides its officers with huge business opportunities — ranging from protection rackets, gambling, prostitution, monopolies on commodity distribution and bribes from the massive informal sector. TNI officers can use the wealth thus accumulated to deliver or withhold electoral support to civilian politicians.

The TNI's role as the "guardian of the nation" has been greatly enhanced since the government launched the "integrated operation" in Indonesia's northern-most province of Aceh on May 19 — an operation which has been dominated by a vicious military campaign to crush the Free Aceh Movement and characterised by widespread human rights abuses.

Sydney Jones, Indonesia's project head of the International Crisis Group told Reuters on August 20: "The army wants nothing more than to regain total control over internal security. They are extremely dismissive, if not contemptuous, of the police in this regard."

Munarman, head of the Legal Aid Institute, concurred. "The military could abuse new regulations, because they have the experience, they already own a powerful political machine with a wide territorial structure that reaches into the villages", he told Reuters.

So far, the government has only indicated it wants to make amendments to Article 26 of the anti-terrorist law which specifies what information can be used and what preemptive action can be taken against a suspect.

"The shift in the anti-terror laws is not clear at this stage", Damien Kingsbury, head of Indonesian studies at Deakin University in Victoria, told Reuters. "But it would seem any talk of increases to security powers regarding terrorism would implicitly include the military, at least through the [national intelligence agency] and Kopassus."

The elite Kopassus special forces unit has been widely condemned for its role in the torture and abduction of dissidents during Suharto's rule and for gross human rights violations in East Timor and West Papua. Australia recently announced it would be renewing military ties with Kopassus to help "fight terror in the region".

From Green Left Weekly, September 3, 2003.
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