By Allan Nairn
General A.M. Hendropriyono, one of Indonesia’s most powerful figures, has admitted “command responsibility” in the assassination of the country’s leading rights activist.
In two nighttime interviews at his Jakarta mansion on October 16 Hendropriyono made statements that appear to open him to prosecution and may create problems for the CIA, the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI), and for Joko Widodo — Jokowi — Indonesia’s new president.
Hendropriyono is a key Jokowi adviser, is a core leader of the TNI, and was working with the CIA when his intelligence unit, BIN, killed the activist Munir.
In detailed, on-the-record discussions with me Hendropriyono, perhaps inadvertently, ended up submitting himself to close questioning.
By the time it was over he had abandoned some of his and TNI’s longest standing defenses, and had agreed to stand trial for three major atrocities: the Munir murder, the 1999 terror campaign that devastated occupied East Timor, and the 1989 Talangsari massacre that earned him the nickname “the Butcher of Lampung.”
Hendropriyono also ended up agreeing that he was calling for the release of all internal documents held by the Indonesian and US governments relating to these cases.
By admitting “command responsibility” and opening to the door to certain facts, Hendropriyono places legal pressure on two men — the general, Wiranto and the intelligenge man, As’ad — who have moved to the center stage of Indonesian politics after being touted for the Jokowi cabinet.
The encounter with Hendropriyono was unexpected and at times bizarre. The first session started with him trying to flatter me, and ended with me telling him that I hoped Munir’s killers would be jailed for life.
In between, the discussion was, at times, complex. It will be described in several installments.
I had called Hendropriyono’s cell phone, from New York, on October 14 hoping that I could get a comment from him on his role in killing civilians.
During last summer’s Indonesian presidential campaign that resulted in Jokowi’s election, I had repeatedly called for Hendro to be tried for crimes against humanity.
But what got far more attention, indeed, at times saturation coverage, was my running confrontation with Jokowi’s opponent, General Prabowo. I had published an off-the record interview with Prabowo in which Prabowo ruminated on fascist dictatorship, talked about how to do massacres, discussed his extensive work with the Pentagon/ US Intelligence, and insulted the highly regarded cleric and late President, Gus Dur.
Prabowo demanded that the army capture me, called me a liar, an American imperialist, an “enemy of the state,” and pointed out — correctly — that the TNI had previously captured me seven times and that Suharto had banned me from the country as “a threat to national security.” Responding to Prabowo, TNI declared that I had become an “Operational Target” (TO).
I challenged the army to grab me, challenged Prabowo to bring me to court, and — on the matter of American Imperialism — challenged Prabowo to join me in calling for the living US presidents to be put on trial for atrocities, and for the US mining giant, Freeport McMoRan, to be expelled from Indonesia. Prabowo backed down on all fronts and received ridicule, so finally, on the campaign’s last day, he filed criminal charges against me. His aides later explained that among other things the charges related to “inciting hatred of the army,” and, after the election results were in, “causing Prabowo to lose.”
It was against this background that Hendropriyono, one of the pillars of the Jokowi campaign, indicated that rather than talking on the phone he wanted to talk in person, in Jakarta. I was heading to Jakarta anyway, and within hours of entering the country, went to Hendro’s corner estate in Senayan, Jakarta.
As he entertained a delegation from Malaysian intelligence, and I waited in a sitting room, a member of Hendro’s family told me that Jokowi had already offered him three ministries, including MENKOPOLKAM, the top military/ intelligence post. Relatedly, just that day, Hendro’s son-in-law, General Andika, had been announced as the new head of PASAMPRES, Jokowi’s personal security detail. In a cabinet in front of me was a photo of Hendro with Generals Wiranto and Sutiyoso, and to the right a photo of Hendro with his old aide, General Susilo, who later became President. In between was a bust of Napoleon — a Hendro favorite, a family member explained.
After he ushered me in, Hendro started by saying that he was “honored” to meet and receive me because I had hurt Prabowo in the campaign. He suggested that Prabowo was “totalitarian.”
I replied that I attacked all the generals, including him. Hendropriyono said he knew that, and said that if he was not mistaken I had attacked him particularly for Talangsari.
I said that was true, but I had attacked him for many things, also including Munir and 1999 Timor.
Hendro wanted to talk about Talangsari first.
By all accounts — including Hendro’s to me, what had happened there had been a bloodbath, but he started by saying: “There was no other way to do it, Allan Nairn.”
He said that as regional commander he controlled both the army and the National Police BRIMOB, and moved in to confront religious militants who were armed with “bows and arrows.”
He said “They said I was togut. Togut means extremist who will always finish the Muslims…”
He said of the rifles vs. arrows showdown, “Of course … we won because we were stronger.”
Hendro said: “We encircled the huts that they built in the village together with the villagers. Nobody was out (of the huts) because of forbidden by their chiefs, by their leaders… I said that ‘we will attack you and I ask you to go out from the house and surrender.'”
Then at some point, by Hendro’s account — and that of everyone else — the encircled huts went up in flames.
Survivors and witnesses say Hendro’s men lit the fires, and shot and tortured unarmed villagers.
Their testimony to the government human rights commission (KOMNASHAM) and to human rights groups like Munir’s Kontras is detailed.
But, to my astonishment, as we sat there in his Jakarta mansion, Hendropriyono said that the dead at Talangsari had actually killed themselves.
“Suddenly they burned their own huts. That made so many people die,” he said.
(He estimated the death toll at 100, maybe 200, overwhelmingly unarmed, with many women and children)
I asked incredulously, “So you’re claiming they killed themselves?”…
“Yes, they burned, they burned their huts.”
“In effect you’re saying they committed suicide.”
“Bunuh diri?” (‘Committed suicide?’), I asked in Indonesian.
“Bunuh diri” (‘Committed suicide’), General Hendropriyono replied.
He suggested they might have done this out of fanaticism.
I returned to the point, seeking clarity:
“Jadi, bapak kata bahwa orang itu bunuh diri?” (‘So you’re saying that those people committed suicide?’)
“Bunuh diri,” — suicide, Hendro replied with finality.
So I said:
“As I’m sure you know, there are many witness testimonies from survivors of Talangsari given to KOMNASHAM and others that say that those hundred or 200 were killed by your troops, were killed by you in a massacre. So why not face this in a trial? Would you agree to be put on trial and make the argument in a court like you’ve just made to me?”
“Yeah, of course it was not true,” Hendro replied, skirting the question.
I said: “You could say that in court. You could tell it to the judge.”
But again, Hendro did not want to answer.
Instead, he digressed. He started with an attack on “the Indonesian human rights organizations,” i.e. Munir’s Kontras, and similar groups.
Hendro said that the human rights groups had paid off witnesses to implicate him, a charge that was ironic since it had been extensively reported that Hendro himself had made payments to witnesses, for, he said at the time, religious purposes.
(When I later mentioned Hendro’s payoff charge to a table full of Kontras people, they were shocked — and couldn’t stop laughing; “As if we had the cash!,” one exclaimed.)
But the thing that most bothered Hendro was the fact that the rights groups, including KOMNASHAM, had agreed to hear testimony from child survivors of Talangsari, ie. from people who were still minors at the time of the inferno.
He was evidently upset that these surviving children had been taken seriously.
They “were still kids,” he said. They “didn’t know what was going on.”
It was, of course, the case that Talangsari child witnesses were resorted to.
But this was because Hendro and his men had killed their parents, according to the rights groups.
And in fact there was testimony from adult survivors as well, and in any event child testimony was often used in such cases.
In 2013 I was called to testify in a genocide trial in Guatemala. In the dock was the US-backed ex dictator, General Efrain Rios Montt.
In that case, then-child testimony was used extensively. Rios Montt was convicted of planned massacres and sentenced to 80 years (the oligarchy later froze the case; the General remains under house arrest.)
General Hendropriyono didn’t want such testimony here.
But while complaining about the children, General Hendro appeared to slip up.
He himself reopened the issue of possibly being compelled to stand trial.
“I’m quite sure that if we go to court, (the) court will go and look at the witness(es),” he remarked, his point being that the court would disregard the children and false, paid-off witnesses.
So I jumped in: “So then what you’re saying is that it should go to court, and you should be put on trial for Talangsari, and you do not fear that, you would accept that? You would accept being put on trial for Talangsari?
Hendro, paused, recoiled and mumbled: “I cannot, mmm, I think I have…”
“What would you do? Tell me, what you would do if you were me,” the General insisted.
“I would not kill people,” I said, but I wanted to get back to the point:
“Oh yes of course!,” Hendropriyono replied.
“At that time,” he replied.
“I’m talking about now,” I said. “Because that time has passed. I’m talking about now.”
“Everything that I did,” he said, “everything that they accused me (of), there is nothing for me to prefer not to accept. I will face.”
This concession was fundamental, and it opened doors.